Portland Winter Hawks Weekly Update

By Michael Conkey

If the Hawks were to plot out the most disastrous week they could’ve had……..it would’ve been worse than this week. Though not by much.

Portland started out the week with a decent result, getting their first tie of the season with the Vancouver Giants, a 3-3 draw at Pacific Coliseum. The Winterhawks played yet another defensive first period, taking seven shots on goal while only allowing five. It looked like the Hawks would be done in the second period yet again, when the Giants took a 3-1 lead after the second period. Richard Hamula struck first on the power play, deflecting a Mark Ardelan shot to give Vancouver the first goal of the night. Tyson Marsh scored eight minutes later during a four-on-four to give them a two run lead. Craig Valette scored yet again to put the Hawks back within one. Vancouver’s top forward, Adam Courchaine, scored one minute later to put Vancouver back ahead by two. Down two on the road with one period to go, it looked like Portland might suffer their first loss ever to the Giants. Richie Regehr worked quickly to narrow the gap in the third period, scoring in just over a minute of the period. The Hawks continued to press, and got past Vancouver goalie Joel Martin near the midway point of the period, when Brian Woolger scored on a less than challenging shot that Martin actually got his stick on before it dribbled over the line. Neither team could get past the opposing goalie in the last half of the third period or in overtime. Lanny Ramage made some particularly strong saves in the overtime to preserve the draw.

Portland couldn’t quite get the victory in Vancouver, but it was a far superior performance to the one they put on the next evening. To put it kindly, it was a disaster from start to finish. The final score of 3-0 in the Seattle Thunderbirds’ favor is misleading. It really could’ve been much worse. A slew of penalties were called early in the game by referee Darelle Mitchell, trying to keep this often intense rivalry from blowing up. Seattle drew three straight to start the game. Portland was then given a pair of their own, making it a 4-on-3 on the ice. Seattle then got control in the Portland zone, when Brooks Laich centered a pass to a wide open Tomas Mojzis in the slot. Mojzis fired a shot over Ramage’s shoulder for a power play goal. Both teams controlled play at times in the first period, but after that it was all Seattle. The Hawks defense was able to fend off Seattle for a while, but early in the second period, the T-Birds broke through again. Seattle got a period of sustained pressure on the Portland defense, concluding with a rebound goal from Steven Goertzen off of a slapper from David Svagrovsky. The Hawks looked like a team of players that had just met that day. Passes were missing the mark, there was no structure to the attack, everything looked disjointed. It was all the defense and Ramage could do to keep the Hawks in the game. Things got a little better in the third period, but at that time Seattle was in a defensive shell. Portland was getting shots, but nothing that challenged T-Bird goaltender Blake Ward. Mojzis was assessed a match penalty for tripping Valette early in the third period and was shown the gate. The Hawks still could not manage any offense on the major penalty. Portland then received two separate minor penalties at the same time, giving Seattle a 4-on-3 power play. Once again, the T-Birds cashed in, when Matthew Spiller scored on a slap shot from the point that deflected off a Hawks player. Portland never threatened the rest of the way, looking increasingly defeated. Ward only had to make a couple of decent saves the entire game, notching a relatively easy shutout.

Portland seemed to be behind the 8-ball before their next game even began. The Kelowna Rockets had won their previous two games by a combined score of 16 to 2. The injury bug bit hard before Wednesday night’s game in Kelowna. Joey Hope, Aaron Roberge and C.J. Jackson all were scratched due to injury. Brandon Dubinsky did not play due to disciplinary reasons. Brad Priestlay played the entire game through and injury, and was a game time decision. On top of all of this, less than three minutes into the game, Roman Prazak was hit hard into the boards, and did not play the rest of the game. Tyler Grover also was hurt earlier in the game, and did not play in the third period. At the end of the evening, the Hawks had only eight forwards available to play. Kelowna felt no pity as they blasted the Hawks 5-1, in a contest that was still a better performance than the Seattle game on Saturday. Richard Kelly scored first on a slapshot from the point that was considered to be harmless looking shot. The puck still got over Krister Toews‘ shoulder to put the Hawks down early once again. Portland finally got the offense going in the first period for the first time in a while. They started out the period with a 7-2 shot advantage before Kelly’s goal. Craig Valette scored on the backhand to tie the game with less than seven minutes to go in the first period. The Hawks were on their heels the rest of the way after that. Kelowna gained control early, finally scoring after a prolonged period of possession, when Tyler Moisenko scored during a scramble in front of Toews. Portland’s defense held strong the rest of the period, but the Hawks’ offense was non-existent. Jesse Schultz gave the Rockets an insurance goal six minutes into the third period. Schultz has now scored a goal in nine consecutive games. The Hawks tried to find a way to break through and get back within one. They had some power plays in the third period, but Josh Gorges was a one-man penalty killing machine. He was all around the best player on the ice all evening for either team. Then, the team’s collective heart was broken on a fluke play. Braydon Coburn and Regehr were going back behind Toews to play the puck on a Portland power play, when it took a wicked bounce off the endboards, and right to the stick of Cam Paddock who had an easy shorthanded goal. Kelowna added a meaningless marker barely over a minute later when Ryan Mayko put the puck past Toews after he had lost his goal stick in a scramble. It all added up to a relatively miserable 5-1 loss for Portland.

Weekly News, Notes and Rants

This was not a banner week for Portland by any stretch of the imagination. After the dismal performance against Seattle, many fans started openly questioning the team’s heart and their effort. Most of these players are playing in the WHL so they can play in higher levels of hockey later on in their careers, with the ultimate goal being to play in the NHL. Coach Mike Williamson has stated that he feels there were some players late last season that were thinking past that season and were playing only for the future. Many Hawks fans have started to show those feelings over this current team. My problem is not a question of effort. It’s obvious that this team is not the best in the league, and there are too many young players to seriously consider a league championship this season. I feel the players are giving a good effort out there every night. Nobody is playing solely for the future here. My question is one of execution. Yes, most of these players are young, and they can’t be expected to be razor sharp immediately. However, there has been some disconcerting play out there. These guys have been playing together for over a month now, and it looks at times like they wouldn’t know who they were passing to if they didn’t have names on the backs of their jerseys. It’s imperative, especially for a team with as few snipers as Portland has, to put a premium on puck control, especially in the attack zone. The Hawks are getting one shot and no more, if they don’t turn the puck over first. If I were running practice for Portland, I’d be spending less time working on shooting, and more time working on passing in traffic.

For all that’s wrong with this team, there are still some bright spots if you look hard enough. There have been questions as to which young players would step up and start to make their presence felt. It appears that two of the younger players are starting to make a difference. Brandon Dubinsky and Alex Aldred have done a good job of playing with older and much bigger players, and have held their own, even if it hasn’t exactly shown up on the stat sheet. Aldred, in particular, had a good game last night, playing against arguably Kelowna’s best player, Kiel McLeod, and made a difference. This is despite being over half a foot shorter than the 6’5″ McLeod. Dubinsky has been sticking his nose around the opponent’s nets and making a nuisance down low for other teams. He was benched last night for team reasons, but has still made a strong impression. Eventually, if both of these young men keep it up, they’ll find a way to start lighting the lamp for the Hawks.

Three Stars of the Week

The Third Star – #6 Patrick Wellar

He has been part of the defense that has played so well to keep the Hawks in games. The Washington Capitals prospect also registered two assists during the week, showing well in even strength and on special teams.

The Second Star – #5 Richie Regehr

The team captain, and WHL Western Conference All Star, has been one of the better players for the Hawks this season. He’s been one of the few players to control the puck with consistency. He tallied a goal and an assist this week, along with his usually strong defense.

The First Star – #12 Craig Valette

Were you expecting someone else? Another three games, another three points. He has six goals in his last six games. He’s always around the net and is the most threatening offensively player on the ice for Portland every night. Again, he could really use some help out there. If he gets it, the Hawks just might have something going.

A Look at the Week Ahead

Saturday – @ Seattle Thunderbirds (Overall: 3-6-1-1, Vs. Hawks: 1-0-0-0) Last Meeting: Thunderbirds 3-0

The Hawks get a chance for redemption at the most hostile arena in the WHL for the Winterhawks, Key Arena. Expect the fans that do show up to be boisterous. Brooks Laich wasn’t too involved in the first meeting, but is as dangerous as any Thunderbird. Greg Black is notorious for being a thorn in the sides of the Hawks. Blake Ward managed to get the shutout last game, but was never really tested. Despite losing all 5 of their games on the East Division road swing, they still lead the U.S. Division. Does that say anything about the state of affairs in the U.S. Division this season?

Sunday – vs. Tri-City Americans (1-5-0-1, First Meeting)

Tri-City won their first game under new head coach, former Hawks assistant, Shaun Clouston. But since then, they’ve gone winless. The streak is now six games, with one loss occurring in overtime. Shawn Belle is a good young defenseman, who will likely be picked high in the upcoming NHL draft along with Coburn. Tyler Weiman is also a very competent goaltender. The problem is that those two have no help. The rest of the defense hasn’t been good at all. There is still some quality offensive talent on this team. The Ams just recently acquired Colin McRae from the Brandon Wheat Kings, and he has already paid dividends for them. Ben Kilgour is dangerous when he’s on the move with the puck.