GDB 59.0: PDX
(Photo Courtesy: Oregon Sports News)
I’ve said it before – I love when teams from the US Division are in town. There always seems to be a refreshing jolt of energy in the rink when visitors come from the South-West. Few teams arrive with more fanfare or bravado than the Portland Winterhawks. The’Hawks have a strong fanbase and it sounds like it will be out in full force tonight.
Word has it there are bus loads of Portland fans making the treck, a few more fans flying-in, and others who are local that will be invading the Enmax to support their team. Hurricane fans might need to step their game up a little if they want to keep up with what I am sure will be a rowdy bunch from Oregon.
I for one can’t wait to see it all play out.
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It might seem like Portland and Lethbridge don’t have much in common, but there are some interesting parallels between the two organizations. Prior to four straight WHL finals appearances (2011-2014) – the Winterhawks – like Lethbridge – went through a nasty playoff drought. Between 06-09 (a period where the Hurricanes were quite good), the Winterhawks were cellar dwellers (finishing dead last in their division three years in a row). While it may never have reached Lethbridge levels of painful, you didn’t need to look far in that time to find nay-sayers and critics intent on ripping the franchise.
The ‘Hawks eventually found their way, and from a winning and developmental perspective, have evolved into one of the WHL’s premier organizations. It’s an admirable turnaround and one the Hurricanes can hopefully replicate.
As far as tonight’s game is concerned, Portland should be well rested and ready to roll. From all accounts the team made it into Lethbridge early and spent the evening taking in the sights and sounds of our windy city. I bumped into them at a restaurant and it sounds like they hit up the movie theater afterwards. That’s what big these trips are all about. Being on the road is a grind, but it’s also where some of the best memories happen.
Lets take a deeper look at the ‘Hawks.
I couldn’t think of anyone who would be able to tell you about the Winterhawks season better than Chad Balcom. Chad lives in the Portland area and follows the team closely. He also runs one of the best grassroots WHL podcasts around. I asked Chad if he would be willing to do a little write-up on the team to set the stage for tonight’s contest.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The 2015-16 Portland Winterhawks are two memorable teams for Portland fans. Sometimes they go out and beat Brandon 5-0, like they did at a point in the season when it seemed like they may have a bad year. Other times they win, on the road, against a 1st place team – while putting up 2 shots on goal in the 3rd period – like they did in Everett last weekend. One time this season the Winterhawks were shut out by a Vancouver team who was on something like a 18 game losing streak – earning a goalie’s 1st WHL win.
Portland currently sits 7th or 8th in the west – depending if you’re going off of the WHL app VS the WHL website (not joking – look it up). My point being this is about the most wildly inconsistent team I’ve seen in junior hockey. They look like they can beat anyone for a game or 3, then look intent on beating themselves.
They’re down 1 or 2 of their top 6 forwards at the moment, with Blue Jackets pick Paul Bittner out for the regular season, and Rihards Bukarts missing the last few games. Stepping into this void has been 1st round bantam pick Cody Glass (Winnipeg native) who has been really solid. Red Wings pick Dominic Turgeon (pictured) doesn’t score like his father did, but he plays a well rounded game starting from his own end, while wearing the “C”. North Dakota native Alex Shoenborn plays right on the edge & has been scoring goals lately as he fights for a contract from SJ as an overage.
The back end is led by Jack Dougherty, who has an NHL deal in his pocket (Predators) & Caleb Jones (Oilers). Both players play pretty well rounded games, and love to jump into the O zone. Overage Minnesotan Blake Henirich is playing for a contract, after the Capitals passed on signing him.
The real wild cards are Rodigo Abols (eligible ’16) & Keegan Iverson (Rangers) who they need more out of as 19’s on this team, and are capable of breaking out at any point. The skills are there, and they both do the little things as they say, but they need to make an impact on the scoresheet.
The last line of defense is Adin Hill, who was getting WJC consideration at one point. A Calgarian drafted by the Coyotes, he’s been a little up & down, but mostly solid. He’s got all the starts but about 3, and was hurt for 2 of those games he didn’t appear in.
- The Winterhawks have played in 21 playoff rounds since the last time Lethbridge was in the post season.
- Over that time, Ty Rattie scored 50 playoff goals.
- Portland is on a four games point streak (3-0-1-0)
- Like Lethbridge, the ‘Hawks are better at home (18-12-1-0) than they are on the road (11-13-2-0)
- This is the ‘Hawks first game against a Central Division team this season.
The Hurricanes are coming off a disappointing performance against Calgary. After a great week of hockey that saw the team capture 7 of 8 possible points, the team followed it up in underwhelming fashion. They were badly outplayed Wednesday evening. I wrote immediately afterwards that the Hitmen just seemed to want it more and based on some of the post-game reaction I read, the players and coaches felt similar.
The Hurricanes will have their chance to exact revenge on Calgary tomorrow, but it’s just as important that they find a way to win tonight. The danger, of course, is they look past the Winterhawks and get caught up in Saturday’s game.
I’ll be very interested to see how they start tonight’s game. If Lethbridge storms out of the gates throwing the body, skating hard, and imposing their will (like they did against Tri City) – then I’m hopeful tonight’s game will be a win. If, however, the team is tentative, unwilling to raise their compete level, and generally caught puck watching (as they were against Calgary) – this one could quickly swing the way of the visitors.
Egor Babenko drew back into the lineup on Wednesday, and frankly, wasn’t all that impressive. The rookie import winger struggled to do much with the puck and finished the night with zeros across the board. He wasn’t able to adapt to how Calgary was standing him up at their blueline, and instead of getting it in deep, Babenko often tried to stick handle through a sea of Hitmen. The result was, more often than not, a loss of possession, or worse, the loss of possession and an odd-man rush the other way. Babenko was skating on the top line with Burke and Wong and I’ll be watching to see how long that lasts or if he can find some chemistry.
Since Giorgio went down, Kisio hasn’t been able to find a winger who meshes well with Burke and Wong on the topline. Further, Babenko has looked lost with anyone but Justin Gutierrez. If the top line doesn’t find it’s way at even strength, the weight of goal scoring will fall on the powerplay, the young trio of Bellerive, Kroeker, and Vandervlis, and the third line of Millette, Lindgren, and Folk.
It’s going to be interesting to see who gets the call in goal. Jayden Sittler got the yank in the 1st period Wednesday, but in my mind, he was not at fault on any of the four goals he allowed. Would a stop or two have been nice? Yes. Absolutely. But his team hung him out to dry and you simply can’t point the finger at the goalie when your skaters abandon him as they did (3rd and 4th Calgary goals). I would like to see Jayden get a bounce back start tonight and Skinner get the call tomorrow in Calgary. That’s an outsiders perspective of course and I’m sure they have a solid plan in place.
No matter who they start, the team will need to play better in front of him if they want the win.
- Dylan Purcell noted in his post-game article Thursday that Gutierrez may be getting closer to a return.
- Despite the loss – on Wednesday night the Hurricanes became the first team to clinch a playoff spot. The drought is over baby!!
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Portland plays a solid road game and rides a strong performance by Hill to a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GDP: At least one casual bandwagon fan will confuse Portland for a Blackhawks farm team.
NOT SO OBVIOUS GDP: PA announcer Vince will literally bring an Indiana Jones replica bull whip to ensure all t-shirt canon promotions are run in a prompt and orderly fashion.
What do you think? Who are you excited to watch tonight and what will be the outcome. Comment below.
Don’t forget to check out the sponsor of all this season’s game day articles, Graham Reimer of Dominion Lending here in Lethbridge. I personally know and vouch for the amazing work he does. If you need any advice or help with a mortgage or want to look into getting one, I cannot say enough good things about Graham and the Mortgage Crusher team.
Remember to tell him Canes Domain sent you!