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WHL US Division: Portland Winterhawks dominate in first weekend of play!

Portland goes 2-0 to start the young season!

Jimmy Budinski

The 2016-2017 season started with preseason play where all of the WHL teams played exhibition games to get ready for the regular season. The Portland Winterhawks, excited for former head coach Mike Johnston to be behind the bench once again, were optimistic in their development and to see how that would progress in their play.  The Hawks went 5-1 in the preseason looking very strong and at times, down right dominating.

Coming into their first weekend of the regular season, the Winterhawk players felt ready to get the season started.  However; many critics and some Portland fans believe that this squad will be lucky to snag a playoff spot when the season is decided, but do not tell the players this.  Portland came out with a fire that has not been seen since the 2013 season, which was the last year Mike Johnston was behind the bench before this year. Playing with heart, speed, and passing with unity and proper communication, you saw right away that the Portland Winterhawks were back.

Photo by Jimmy Budinski

I said myself before the first game that it would come down to goaltending and if the forwards can produce offense and help the defense to ensure that they can finish games to get the win. #35 Michael Bullion was a little shaky at first, but made it nearly impossible for Seattle to score after the first five minutes of the third period. #31 Cole Kehler, a transfer from the Kamloops Blazers, was absolutely stellar in net against the Tri-City Americans. The problem with Bullion was inability to control the shots to not create rebounds. Two of the three goals scored by the Thunderbirds were off rebounds from an initial shot. Kelher had a couple of bounces go against him as all three goals were off deflections, but confidently stopped all of the remaining 26 shots on goal.

Seattle Thunderbirds (3) @ Portland Winterhawks (7)

The season kicked off with a bang as U.S. Division rivals squared off for bragging rights between the two teams.  Seattle came into the game as the defending Western Conference Champions and hoping to build on their previous success with a win against their I-5 rivals. Portland wanted to forget their playoff showing from last season (losing to Everett 4-0 in the first round) and start out with a new look with new players and rehiring a coach that brought so much success for the team in the past. Both teams started a little tentative before Portland opened the scoring on the Power play, when #44 Keoni Texeira fired off a slap shot from the top of the point that found its way into the net past Seattle goaltender Rylan Toth to give Portland the 1-0 lead. That lead lasted until minutes into the second period when Seattle scored off of a juicy rebound left for #19 Donovan Neuls to tie the game at one. Nearly four minutes later, Portland would strike back as they get a deflection by #17 Alex Overhardt off of a Carter Czaikowski shot from the point to regain the lead 2-1. In less than a couple of minutes later, Seattle would tie the game once again when rookie #23 Luke Ormsby would get as break away chance. Ormsby took an initial shot that was saved, but would score on the rebound left by Portland net minder Bullion. It took nearly ten minutes before there was another goal. Portland would regain the lead when #8 Cody Glass made a pretty pass to set up #19 Ryan Hughes for a point blank shot on goal and shot it past Toth to take a 3-2 lead. It didn't take long for Seattle to come out of the locker room in the third to tie the game for the third time. 0:31 seconds into the third, Seattle created a turnover in the Winterhawk's zone and #19 Donovan Neuls would score his second of the game on a patient play to get the puck by Bullion. Unfortunately for Seattle, it was all Portland from there.  Portland would score 4 goals to finish off the Thunderbirds for good.  The Hawks would get goals from #8 Cody Glass, #21 Brendon De Jong, #43 Skyler McKenzie, and #27 Brad Ginnell on route to a 7-3 rout to start the young season. Cody Glass, Ryan Hughes, and Evan Weinger were your three stars for the evening.  Portland would go 2/4 on the Power play and fired off 35 shots.

Tri-City Americans (3) @ Portland Winterhawks (7)

The Portland Winterhawks were looking to continue their success after game one of the season and get a win against another U.S. Division rival, the Tri-City Americans. However; the Americans were coming off of their first win with a dominant performance of their own when they beat their hated rivals, the Spokane Chiefs, by a score of 8-3. Portland would come out on fire as they rattled off three goals in the opening frame to take an early three goal lead. Rookie #16 Henri Jokiharju, #44 Keoni Texeira (2), and #43 Skyler McKenzie (2) netted the goals for the Hawks. The three goal lead lasted into the second period until The Americans scored two straight goals to bring the lead down to one. #15 Michael Rasmussen(5) and #25 Kyle Olsen both scored goals off of a deflection that squeaked past Portland goaltender #31 Cole Kehler. Portland would extend the lead when #21 Brendon De Jong kicks in a rebound shot past Tri-City goaltender #35 Beck Warm to bring the score to 4-2. That lead would hold until three minutes into the third period when Portland's #43 Skyler McKenzie chipped in his second of the game (3rd of the season) to help the Hawk's regain their original three goal lead, 5-2. The Americans would get one back when American's #19 Tyler Sandhu tipped in a shot from the left point past net minder Kehler to bring the score to 5-3. That would be all of the scoring for Try-City as Portland put a stranglehold on the game and just for insurance, would score two more goals to "seal the deal". #19 Ryan Hughes (2), and #25 Evan Weinger both with the final two goals to stretch the lead for the Winterhawks for the second game in a row to 7-3. Portland would go 1/2 (3/6 on the season) on the power play and fired off 37 shots on the American Goaltender. The three stars for the game were #43 Skyler McKenzie, #16 Henri Jokiharju, and #7 Ty Kolle.

Portland looked dominant in their first two games and has instilled confidence for the Winterhawk faithful. However;, since there is nearly a week before their next game against another U.S. Division rival the Everett Silvertips, will they be able to come out with the same fire and dominance they did against their first two opponents? We will see on Friday. Everett, coming off a home and home against the Vancouver Giants, won both contests 7-3 and 3-1 to go 2-0 to start their young season. This Friday night's matchup in Portland will be very interesting as Portland showed more dominance against two separate teams that are more challenging than the Vancouver Giants. However; Portland were at home for both games and Everett has a road win already. The other question is; has Portland turned the heads of the competition enough to be feared as a team to be scared of? I hardly think so since only 2 of 72 games have been played and teams are just trying to find their identity, which takes at least 5 games in the hockey world to figure out. But it is hard to deny that Portland looks strong after their first two wins.  Finishing games (which has been a major problem the last 2 years without Coach Mike Johnston), has been a focus for this team and they did not disappoint. Both Bullion and Kehler did their jobs by keeping the Hawks in the games and almost entirely in the lead through their time in the crease.

In order to keep their undefeated streak through the second weekend of their season, they once again must contain a high offensive attack from the Silvertips and the Thunderbirds. Although Portland has seen Seattle, the Thunderbirds are going to want to get a revenge win in front of their hometown crowd. Everett and Portland faced each other in Pre-season play, but regular season play is a little different. Portland has a good chance to go 4-0 by this time next week before taking their show to the Canadian valley. In order to do so, they must continue their offensive pressure and the blue line defense must continue to keep players away from the Portland back stoppers. In doing so, winning the next two games is highly probable.

Next games for Portland are:

09/30 Everett Silvertips @ Portland Winterhawks 7:00PM

10/01 Portland Winterhawks @ Seattle Thunderbirds 7:05PM (TV Portland CW)

You can purchase tickets through 503-236-Hawk (4295).

Listen to Todd Vrooman and Andy Kemper on 860am KPAM on radio, or stream online at KPAM.com

Follow all of the action on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/946672248691074/ Portland Winterhawk live play by play.