Portland Winter Hawks Weekly Update

By Michael Conkey

The columnist has returned. The computer has been tamed. For those of you that read this column regularly, both of you, sorry for the long delay.

Much has occurred since my absence. However, lets focus on last week’s games. There were a pair of games for the Hawks last weekend, one that showed some promise, another that showed again what happens when you have a young team with potential and not a lot of actual touch.

The Hawks played the Kamloops Blazers to a 2-2 draw on the first game of a back-to-back pair. Joey Hope opened the scoring on a coast-to-coast rush up the left wing side, putting a second effort past Davis Parley. Portland controlled most of the play in the first period, in front of what was in my estimation, the liveliest crowd to see a Hawks game this season. Perhaps it was because this was the first of six televised games. Or maybe it was just because the Hawks got a number of quality chances early on. Either way, it was nice to hear the Garden start rocking like that. The second period saw the Hawks start to get complacent, and it cost them. Jeff Schmidt scored the first goal of the period, sneaking a puck under Lanny Ramage‘s pad. Then, late in the period, Kamloops took the lead on a gorgeous play. Erik Christensen, one of the leading scorers in the WHL, got the puck off the boards and skated into the Hawks zone. He delivered a nice pass across the slot to Bryan Lampman, who barged towards the Portland net, and roofed a top-notch backhand, scoring a shorthanded goal. Portland kept pace with a goal coming very late in the period, however. Braydon Coburn fired a shot from the point during a prolonged Portland attack, forcing Parley to make a tough save. Cody McLeod swooped towards to the net, picked up the rebound, and knocked the puck in with only one second left in the period. The third period was a bit of a seesaw battle, that saw the goaltenders take center stage. The shots weren’t numerous, but the quality chances were. Both Ramage and Parley made a number of good saves to keep the score level. Both teams had trouble generating any offense in the overtime, leading to the tie.

While Portland did a good job of creating chances against the Blazers, they found it much tougher to do against the Vancouver Giants. Both teams played a stodgy defensive game the entire way, with only a few good chances showing up. Adam Courchaine, Vancouver’s top forward, had a breakaway in the first period, but Krister Toews made a solid save to keep the game scoreless. Vancouver, who are easily the most improved team in the WHL this season, had most of the chances in the second period as well, but nothing as dangerous as the Courchaine breakaway. The game remained scoreless midway through the third period, with Portland starting to control play a bit more. Darren Lynch then made a nice pass to Courchaine who fired a shot from the left point. Toews made the save, but Mark Ardelan was there to put the rebound home to score the game’s first goal. This happened with 5:13 left to play in the game. That set a new record for the longest a Portland Winter Hawks game has gone scoreless. After that, Portland tried a few times to get the equalizer, but couldn’t break through Joel Martin, and Darren Lynch ended up scoring an empty net goal, to make the final score 2-0.

News, Notes and Rants

As was written before, I haven’t written one of these in quite some time. In that time, we had one trade go down. Patrick Wellar being traded to Calgary in exchange for 19 year old forward Chad Wolkowski. Wolkowski is currently out with a concussion, though he may play in Saturday’s game against Seattle. In the short time he played with Portland before going down, he should a good nose for the puck, and tenacity around the net. He’s the kind of guy who can score goals for Portland, and that’s exactly what the Hawks need most. Wellar was a good stay at home defenseman, who had an edge to his game. It’s nice to have a player like him on the team, but Portland already has plenty of quality defensemen to fall back on, especially with David Turon waiting to come back after the Christmas break. This was something that had to be expected. And it’s quite possible that this won’t be the last deal Ken Hodge makes before the trade deadline comes around.

Portland also had two players on the WHL Western Conference All-Star team that defeated the OHL Eastern Conference team on Tuesday to win the Hershey Cup for the WHL. Richie Regehr not only was selected to play, but he was named team captain before the game. Braydon Coburn was also selected to play.

More good news for Portland fans: The power play is coming close to no longer being a league-wide joke. Portland is still last in the league with the man advantage, but they’re getting better. At least it’s up above ten percent now. The younger players are growing in confidence every game, and are starting to make an impact on the power play. The main issue now with the power play is no longer scoring on it. Portland has been up around 25 percent over the last few games for scoring on the PP. The main issue is stopping other teams from scoring shorthanded goals against them. It’s been a common theme. Portland has done a good job of crashing the net, but while the defense is doing a good job of jumping into the play, they have been caught quite a few times. The Hawks have allowed 8 shorthanded goals against. I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure that’s the most in the WHL. On a team that’s as defensively sound as Portland is, that’s almost inexcusable. Coach Mike Williamson is probably very aware of this as well. Expect to see less pinching by the Hawks defensemen on the power play. The forwards are going to have to be more responsible for attacking the nets and putting away rebounds off of shots fired from the defensemen at the point.

Three Stars of the Week

The Third Star – #33 Lanny Ramage/#35 Krister Toews

Both players made some good saves in their respective starts, so I couldn’t pick just one. Ramage continues to show his form of two seasons ago. He’s amongst the league leaders in goals against average and save percentage. Toews, after having a bit of trouble early on in the season, appears to be getting better with every start. This is a nice luxury for Portland to have, having two quality goaltenders.

The Second Star – #8 Cody McLeod

He showed some promise in limited time last season, and is now becoming a decent goal scorer. His forte, not unlike most of the other leading scorers for the Hawks, is picking up any rebound the opposing goaltender leaves out, and stuffing it back in the net. He did it again on Saturday night for the Hawks, and will have to keep doing it for Portland’s continued success.

The First Star – #31 Joey Hope

A fine performance in both games for the overage defenseman. Not only did he play rock solid defense in both games, he also scored a great end-to-end goal, showcasing his superior skating ability. If he’s going to make it in the next level, it’s going to be based on his skating.

A Look at the Week Ahead

Saturday – @ Seattle Thunderbirds (10-9-3-1 overall, 2-0-0-0 vs. Hawks) Last Meeting: Seattle 3-1 @ Seattle

After a rough start, including a disastrous East Division swing, Seattle has righted the ship to an extent, and Portland’s main rival is now leading the US division. Most of their success can be attributed to Brooks Laich, who has 30 points in 25 games. He also scored a hat trick on Friday against Kelowna. Tyler Metcalfe and Darren McLachlan have also been consistent scorers as of late for the T-Birds.

Sunday – vs. Kelowna Rockets (13-7-2-1, 2-1-0-0) Last Meeting: Kelowna 5-1 @ Kelowna

Jesse Schultz has been one of the top goalscorers in the league this season with 18 already. Tomas Slovak and Josh Gorges continue to pile up the assists in this quick moving offense as well. Kelly Guard has been one of the major surprises amongst goaltenders in the WHL. He’s second in the league in GAA and third in save percentage.

That wraps up this week’s column. And from now on it WILL be a weekly column again, though probably coming out on Saturdays instead of Thursdays from now on. Hope you didn’t go through too much withdrawl.

See you all next week.