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WHL US Division: Portland Winterhawks finding ways to win despite costly injuries

The Portland Winterhawks are beginning to turn their season around in spite of a rash of injuries.

Bukarts in action.
Bukarts in action.
Jimmy Budinski

The Portland Winterhawks are just like any other team in the WHL. You find a way to continue to win and be successful while some of your players heal from their injuries.  The Hawks are doing just that.  After losing Veteran Forward and San Jose Prospect Alex Schoenborn earlier in the year to a shoulder injury and now Columbus Blue Jacket Prospect Forward Paul Bittner who underwent a successful surgery to repair his injured hip. Schoenborn has returned to the roster, however; Bittner is likely done for the season. They have also lost Import Product forward Rodrigo Abols for almost two months to play for Latvia in the World Juniors. But don't bring these set backs up with the Winterhawk's coaching staff. Kompon and the crew have created several different line changes to breed successful out of the young squad.

Portland Winterhawks 7, Everett Silvertips 5

Portland Winterhawks were on their final game of an east swing road trip which ended at the Xfinity Arena in Everett, WA. In a game that saw many goals and an unlikely comeback, this game had it all. Forward Alex Schoenborn for Portland was returning from a shoulder injury and looking to help the Hawks in the scoring department.  The first period saw little to no stop in the action as the first seven minutes were nearly whistle free until C. Stadnyk at the 7:24 mark scored the first goal of the game for Everett. Hawks would later score while on the power play on a top shelve goal by Rihards Bukarts to bring the Hawks back to a tie game.  However, that would last just 12 seconds as C. Stadnyk would score his second goal of the period to regain the lead for the Silvertips. With Cody Glass taking a tripping penalty with three seconds left in the first period, this put Everett on the power play to start the second period.

With 33 seconds left in the Power play for Everett, Alex Schoenborn made his return to the squad the only way he knows how, by scoring a shorthanded goal to bring the Hawks to a 2-2 tie. But once again, that was short lived as Y. Khomenko for Everett notched his second of the season off of a ricochet that bounced off of a Winterhawk's defensemen and past the Portland net minder Adin Hill. Everett entered the third period with the 3-2 lead, but fans from both teams had no idea how exciting this period was going to be. Everett started the scoring spree with a goal just 28 seconds into the period for give the Silvertips the 4-2 lead with a pretty goal from R. Laurencelle.

The Silvertips were not done scoring as they scored yet again just 1:53 seconds later to increase the Everett lead to 5-2 on a goal by J. Christiansen. It seemed the game was controlled by Everett until the Silvertip's squad started taking penalties. After a timeout taken by Hawks head coach Jamie Kompon, something clicked with the somber Portland team. Y. Khomenko for Everett took a "Roughing" penalty and that's when the young Portland squad took advantage. With another Power play goal from Portland Forward R. Bukarts he brings the Hawks closer to a 5-3 Everett lead. Twenty-three seconds later, Everett's C. Stadnyk takes a "Hooking" penalty to put the Hawks back on the power play. With Portland already 2-for-3 on the Power play for the game, it seemed almost certain the Hawks were going to score again, and they did. Just four seconds into the Power play chance, Portland Defenseman Caleb Jones gets the puck by Silvertip's net minder Carter Hart to bring the Hawks within a goal at 5-4.

With the Winterhawks having all of the momentum in the game, they get another power play chance when Everett was caught with a bench minor of "too many men on the ice". Considering Portland was 3-for-4 on the Power play, Everett would surely stop the surging Winterhawks this time.  Unfortunately for Everett, that was not the case as Portland Forward R. Bukarts would make history by scoring a "Power play Hat Trick" to tie the game at five a piece. Everett would then take a timeout, but the damage was done and it did little to bring the Silvertip's squad out of their funk. Hawks would later add two more goals by Cody Glass and Colton Veloso to put the Hawks up for good and winning the game 7-5 over the Everett Silvertips. Bukarts received the first star that night as he went on to score three goals, all on the power play, and collecting an assist on the Cody Glass goal to have a four point night.  Alex Schoenborn, on his first game back from injury, also had a 4 point night with one goal (shorthanded) and three assists, collecting the third star of the night.

Prince George Cougars 4, Portland Winterhawks 5

The Portland Winterhawks came home after coming off the come from behind win in Everett to face a tough Prince George team in back to back games at the VMC. Portland having their annual "Toy Drive" during the game would hope that the Cougars would be in a giving mood and hand the Hawks a win.  Prince George decided to come out in a "taking" mood as they took the lead early in the Game.  Just 54 seconds into the game, C. Witala for Prince George would tally his 18th goal of the season to put the Prince George Cougars in the lead 1-0.

Witala was not finished as he netted another goal just 29 seconds later to give the Cougars a very early 2-0 lead over the Hawks. As the last game versus Everett would show, the young Winterhawk squad do not back down from a challenge. 4:55 into the period,  Keoni Texeira for Portland would score his fifth of the season and cut the Prince George lead in half at 2-1. Hawks would add another goal in the second period when Tanner Nagel for the Winterhawks scored against the Cougars back stopper Ty Edmonds for his first goal of the season.

The Cougars would regain the lead 3-2 though off of a K. McDonald goal that hit the back of the net past Portland goaltender Adin Hill.  Once again, the Hawks saw themselves down two goals in the third period when J. Gabrielle for Prince George scored his 17th of the season to increase the lead for the Cougars 4-2.  However; the Portland Winterhawks have been the comeback kids this season and this game would be no exception.  Portland gets a goal from Rihards Bukarts (his forth in two games) to cut the Prince George lead to 4-3.

Being at home this time for a probable comeback, another comeback would send the Portland faithful to a cheering frenzy. Exactly six minutes later, the Portland crowd went bonkers when Portland forward Dominic Turgeon scored his 14th of the season to tie the game for the Winterhawks. Will it possible that the Portland Winterhawks make two impossible comebacks in two straight nights? You betcha! R. Bukarts, who has been scoring goals like he was playing a video game scores his 14th of the season on a pretty pass by Dominic Turgeon who backhanded a pass between his legs and to an awaiting Bukarts who had nothing but net in front of him. That put the Hawks up for good to get their second comeback win in a row 5-4.

Bukarts notched his second straight first star award with two goals and the game winner. Dominic Turgeon received the second star with a goal and the pass to Bukarts to win the game.  Although he did not get the third star, he was not far behind in the Voting.  Alex Schoenborn in just his second game back tallied three assist in the last three goals for the Winterhawks.

Prince George Cougars 3, Portland Winterhawks 2

When it comes to the fans and players, the "Teddy Bear Toss" is one of the most special games to be a part of. Tonight, the Winterhawk's first goal of the game will start a "sea of fuzzy" when the lamp light goes on. In the Teddy Bear Toss game, fans bring teddy bears to donate to needy kids with them to the game.  When Portland scores their first goal of the game, the fans are allowed to throw these teddy bears onto the ice, to be collected by the organization and donated to the kids. It is one of the most pleasurable experiences in sports.

The Winterhawks faithful would have to wait for a while as there was no scoring in the first period.  So the teddy bears waited patiently to be launched into the air, over the glass, and make the bounce off of the ice. The Portland fans didn't have to wait too long in the second period when Alex Schoenborn lit the lamp with a power play goal to insight a downpour of teddy bears. In one of the most memorable goals scored by Schoenborn, this one would be extra special.

When celebrating his goal with his team mates, Schoenborn caught a big stuffed toy out of the air (seen in video). A plush toy called "corn man" thrown over the glass by Portland Winterhawk fan Stephanie Roberts.  The team celebrated the special occasion by taking pictures and helping the Winterhawk staff collect the special toys.

When the game ensued, Prince George took control.  Scoring two goals within 3 ½ minutes of it each to take over the lead in the second period. Entering the third period, the Winterhawks were yet again, down by a goal. This time, the Hawks scored first with a pretty goal by Rihards Bukarts (his sixth goal in 3 three games) to bring the score level at 2.

But the Prince George Cougars kept their poise, and scored the eventual game winner at the 13:53 mark of the third period.  Portland gave it a gallant effort and almost scored numerous times, but could not get it past Prince George Goaltender Ty Edmonds. Hawks would fall 3-2 to the Cougars.

All in all, the Portland Winterhawks (15-15-0-0) have been close in nearly every game, losing only by one or two goals.  In the third period alone in the last three games, the Winterhawks have outscored their opponents 9-4 with forward Rihards Bukarts scoring six of the nine goals.  Portland has three games remaining before the winter break against Tri-City, and two games against Spokane, all on the road.

Catch all the game action for these road games on KPAM 860am with @toddvrooman with the play by play. You can catch the December 19 game, in Spokane, on Television on Local Comcast Channel 3 the "C.W". Game time at 7:05pm.  Of course on selected games, if you cannot go to, listen to, or watch the games, please tune into my play by play coverage on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/946672248691074/