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Portland Winterhawks: Mike Johnston makes his return

After an unsuccessful stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins, head coach Mike Johnston returns home to the Winterhawks.

He's ba-ack.
He's ba-ack.
Jimmy Budinski

In the last few months, after Mike Johnston was let go as head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 12th 2015, fans around the WHL have been buzzing on a possible return for the unemployed leader. With the Vancouver Giants in desperate need of new leadership after going 23-40-5-4, which was worst in the Western Conference, it was almost certain that Johnston was going to be the new Giants Head Coach.  There was also a possibility that Johnston would make his return to the NHL with another team. No one would have imagined that Mike Johnston would end up back where his major success would begin, the Portland Winterhawks.

Obviously, if you have followed the WHL in the past 10 years, Johnston turned the Winterhawks from the laughing "stock" of the league, to one of the most feared teams in the league in just two short years. The first year was still a struggle as they went 19-48-3-2-43 points and ended last in the US Division. The following year would start four straight years of complete dominance in the league. With recruiting and proper coaching, Portland would become a powerhouse that saw the organization among the top 5 in all of the Canadian Hockey League for four straight years. Johnston would go 200-75-6-7 413 points in those four years, with 4 straight Western Conference Championships, 1 WHL Championship, and a showing in the Memorial Cup Championship.  Although the 2012-2013 WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks were tainted by scandal and ultimate season long suspension for "Improper Recruiting Procedures" performed by Mike Johnston during the offseason, Portland would still perform at top level with the help of Assistant Coach, and possible new Head Coach of the Calgary Flames, Travis Green, with their best record in the organization's history 57-12-1-2 117 points.

Will the Winterhawk faithful and the organization see the same results? We will have to see. With Portland still under penalty for the violations for another year, rebuilding the team back to its original "Bullies of the League" status will take some time.  Coach Johnston is a gritty, no nonsense type of coach that will get the squad back to its winning ways soon enough. However, many teams such as Victoria, Kelowna, and even Seattle have drafted and groomed their teams to be better than the Portland Winterhawks, making numerous trades just to ensure that they were not going to be "bullied" by the Portland squad for another season. Portland would make it back to the WHL Western Conference  Finals under head coach Jamie Kompon, but the game was against the Kelowna Rockets, which like I said before, built their team based on beating Portland in the playoffs.  They succeeded by beating Portland 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals and later going on to be the 2014-2015 WHL Champions.

Career Notes

WHL Portland Winterhawks-2008-2014

Wins: 219 Losses: 123 OTL: 9 SOL: 9 Points: 456 4 Western Conference Championships 1 Western Hockey League Championship 24 players drafted by NHL Teams

NHL Pittsburgh Penguins-2014-2015:

Wins: 58 Losses: 37 OTL: 15 Points: 131 1 NHL Playoff Appearance