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WHL US Division - Portland Winterhawks' Notebook: Midseason Awards

We have reached the halfway point in the season and it's time to take a closer look at the season so far.

Dominic Turgeon had three goals in three games this week, including an OT winner
Dominic Turgeon had three goals in three games this week, including an OT winner
Ben Nelms/Getty Images

The Portland Winterhawks are at the Christmas break and sit right at the .500 mark with a 16-16-1 record.  This currently has them in the right spot for the playoffs and five points behind Spokane for the number three spot in the U.S. Division playoff bracket. Where that puts them as far as buyers or sellers at the trade deadline is up for debate, as the Christmas-time roster freeze was lifted today.

Recent Games:

Tri-City 6 Portland 4:

-The Tri-City Americans stormed out to an early 4-0 lead over Portland in the first period, behind two goals from Jordan Topping and one each from Brian Williams and Tyler Sandhu. Backup goalie Michael Bullion struggled early to make big saves when his team needed him to and the rust was noticeable. Bullion, a native of Alaska, was making his first start in place of regular starter Adin Hill, in well over a month.

Portland came out of the locker room fired up to start the second and made Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou feel it.  Portland scored four straight goals of their own in the period to tie the game after two. 16-year-old rookie center Cody Glass scored his fifth of the year to get things started, before a pinching Blake Heinrich added another. Then, Alex Schoenborn scored Portland's fourth shorthanded goal of the year and his second on a rush up the ice. The come back was capped by a great effort from Dominic Turgeon and we had a whole new hockey game entering the game's final frame.

Portland had quality chances to take the lead in the early part of the third period, but could not net the go-ahead goal. The Americans' defenseman Parker Wotherspoon, who was playing despite multiple recent injuries to his face and jaw, floated in a  shot from the point that baffled Bullion. The goal would be the eventual game-winner. Tri-City's Jordan Roy added his first career WHL goal for the 6-4 final.

Portland was led in the loss, by Schoenborn, who had a three-point night with one goal and two assists.

Portland's record vs. Tri-City this year fell to 4-.2.

Portland 2 Spokane 1 (OT)

-Entering a a weekend series in Spokane, trailing them by five points in the standings, meant that Portland needed a great effort before the Christmas break. What happened was two great games that both went into extra-time.

Portland goalie Michael Bullion made his second straight start for the first time since the season's first two games and was much better between the pipes. He made 42 saves on 43 shots, in his best effort of the season.

Portland got the scoring started with a great individual play by team captain Dominic Turgeon. He made an nifty move at the Chiefs' blue line and walked around Hudson Elynuik, before picking a corner on Spokane goalie Tyson Verhlest. The chiefs got that goal back off a terrific tic-tac-toe passing play that led to a Hudson Elynuik goal. We then headed to another extra period as Verhlest and Bullion traded quality saves as the game wound down.

The game winner was eventually scored on another great effort by Turgeon. With Spokane defenseman Tyson Helgesen draped all over his back, he mesmerized Spokane's defense by moving back and forth behind the Chiefs' net before slipping the puck past Tyson Verhelst on the wraparound.

This was the first OT winner of Turgeon's WHL career.

Spokane 5 Portland 4 (OT)

-What followed the next night was something of a gong show for 19-year-old Portland defenseman Jack Dougherty. With his team leading and on the power play with seconds to play, Dougherty took exception to some chippy play in front of the Portland net and tossed the offending forward to the ice. Dougherty's penalty opened the door for Spokane, who tied the game with seven seconds left off of a floating wrist shot from Jason Fram that Michael Bullion could not stop. Them with the ensuing four-on-three power play in the OT session, Kailer Yamamoto skated around the Portland zone, before picking a corner on Bullion and winning the game 5-4 for the Chiefs.

Instead of heading into the break with four points and 34 overall (two behind Spokane), Portland ended up heading into the second half of the season five points back.

Portland got another hat trick from Latvian overage forward Rihards Bukarts in the loss and he now has a ten-game point streak going, during which he has 18 points. Evan Weinger also netted his third of the year in the loss.

Bullion had another rough outing as several of Spokane's goals looked relatively stoppable, including the game-tying one, as he did not appear to be screened.

Without further ado, here are my first-half superlatives for Portland:

MVP: Adin Hill

Honorable Mentions: Rihards Bukarts and Dominic Turgeon.

-This one was a lot closer then it would have been in October, as Hill's game has slipped a little, especially in the month of November. The fact is though, that Hill is the reason Portland seems to be in every game they play, despite how the rest of the team is playing.

Top Rookie: Jack Dougherty

Honorable Mentions: Caleb Jones and Cody Glass.

-Have to go with the number one d-man, who has improved a lot as the season has gone on. He is legitimately one of the premier shutdown d-men in the WHL and looks well on his way to a long NHL career.

Most Improved Player: Colton Veloso

Honorable Mentions: Alex Schoenborn and Alex Overhardt.

-Veloso has seven goals already on the year and has provided, along with Skyler McKenzie and Alex Overhardt, Portland with a great energy, depth line that can still score. Veloso also has earned himself a spot on Portland's top penalty killing unit with his strong defensive play.

Other News and Notes:

-Rodrigo Abols was an assistant captain on the Latvian U-20 team that captured the World Junior Championships' Division 1A title Behind Abols'  four goals and one assist, they went to a 5-0 record and earned a spot in next year's main World Junior Championships.

Video of the Week:

-It's strange to have a WJC without a Winterhawk representative. Just last year we were all watching Nic Petan take the world by storm with three goals in one game vs. Slovakia.