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Playoff Drive Hits its Peak for Portland Winterhawks

Thursday, January 28, 2016


As the season hits the two-thirds point, the run to the playoffs kicks into high gear. Portland fans who have been accustomed to relatively smooth playoff runs for the past several years are seeing a less-than-easy placement into a playoff position. With the WHL off for the week, Portland is able to assess where it stands with just over six weeks left in the regular season. 

Currently the Winterhawks still sit in third place at 52 points, three points up on Spokane Chiefs, but have played two more games. The Seattle Thunderbirds (55 points) and Everett Silvertips (60 points) lead the US Division. It was just a short while ago that it appeared the Winterhawks would not even get close to a decent playoff spot, let alone be near the division leaders, but several recent games have helped bridge the gap.

This past week, Portland picked up four of a possible six points with two big wins.Their first game was a bit of a disaster at home as the Seattle Thunderbirds scored goals while short-handed, on the powerplay and an empty net to shutout the Hawks 3-0. Portland. Less than 24 hours later, the two teams would meet in the hostile confines of the ShoWare Center as a televised game locally in the Portland area market. The game was the Thunderbirds’ Teddy Bear Toss night, where furry friends would litter the ice following Seattle's first goal.

Seattle started right where they left off, hemming in the Winterhawks who would weather the storm and keep the plush sitting in the stands. Finally, on the powerplay, with just under a minute to go, Seattle finally hit the board to send five thousand assorted animals to the ice. The teams would tack on the remaining seconds of the first period onto the second period to allow for the cleanup. 

Near the midway point of the second period, Seattle would cash in on the powerplay and it seemed the Hawks would be doomed to the same fate as the night before. With the media timeout at the halfway point of the period, Coach Jamie Kompon settled the troops and put the focus back on the game. Whatever his speech was, the Winterhawks reacted. Alex Schoenborn was the first on the board for Portland as a stretch pass freed him in the Seattle zone and he made no mistake about it in getting the puck past Landon Bow to break the shutout. Six minutes later, the initial shot by Jack Dougherty was stopped by Bow, but subsequent rebound left Rodrigo Abols with a wide open net and his tenth of the year. In the third period, what is sure to be a highlight reel goal, Schoenborn's first attempt was saved by Bow, and in leaning to the rebound, Schoenborn landed stomach first. with outstretched arms and a  left one-handed golf swing, tucked the puck behind Bow for his second of the night. Schoenborn would complete the hat trick just six minutes later on the powerplay and Dominic Turgeon would add an empty net goal for a 5-2 win.

The third game in three nights would take place at home against the Tri-City Americans, who despite their record, have given several teams including the Hawks all they could handle and more. 

Unlike many of the previous games, it was the Winterhawks who would score first. They would appear to have scored a second goal, but it was disallowed as the referee stated his intention to blow the whistle on losing sight of the puck. Tri-City would score on the powerplay near the end of the period to tie the game. The Hawks would score early in the second on the powerplay and appear to score again, but that goal was disallowed with a claim of goaltender interference. Replays would later show that a Tri-City player would cause the interference, but the situation could not be reversed. 

Tri-City would tie the game toward the end of the second period while shorthanded as the teams started a chippy, physical style of play. Early in the third period, Portland would answer with a shorthanded goal of their own to take a shortlived lead. Tri-City would score just two minutes later while on the powerplay to tie the game again. Midway through the third period, Alex Schoenborn who was the hero in the previous night's game would score his 18th of the season to put Portland up for good. Despite a flurry of effort at the end, the Americans would be unable to tie the game and would fall seven points back of the final playoff spot.

A special guest attended the two Winterhawks home games, but went unannounced in the building. Mike Johnston, who had led the Hawks to the four Western Conference championships and who had recently been been let go by the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins, watched in the stands with Ken Hodge, another former coach and GM for the team. Nothing should be read into Johnston's appearance as he is still under his NHL contract until the end of the season and has not expressed any desire to return to the Junior ranks. Johnston had been recently in preliminary talks with the WHL Vancouver Giants, but it would be doubtful that Johnston would be interested as he would only be given coaching duties. Successes within the WHL came to Johnston by having both roles of general manager and coach. 

This weekend will feature two key games for the Winterhawks. The Kelowna Rockets, who are the Western Conference leaders, will play host first, followed by a matchup with the Kamloops Blazers, a team who sits in one of two wildcard spots in the playoff race. Portland will then travel to Everett for yet another key game against the Silvertips. Wins in these games would make the division and conference races nearly deadlocked, losses would put Portland in peril of having to battle for a wildcard spot.

Ice Chips  

Fans will have two more opportunities to meet with Winterhawks players over the next two weeks. Monday, February 1st, the Burgerville on Hogan Road in Gresham will play host to a few players from 5:30-7:30pm and Monday, February 8th, the meet and greet moves to Les Schwab on SE Tacoma in the Sellwood district from 4 to 6pm. Players are still to be announced.

On Friday, February 5, the annual Mascot Night will take place with an array of local area mascots taking part in meet and greets and a game of hockey on the ice during one of the intermissions. The following evening, it's Guy's Night Out, with men over the age of 21 being allowed to shoot on net for a chance to win prizes from Widmer Brewing. Both games will take place at the Moda Center.

The Booster Club will begin its annual membership renewal drive starting on February 5th. With nearly 500 members, the Booster Club is among the largest in the Western Hockey League. For details on how to become a member, ask at any home game or visit their website.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

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#9 The Natural

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#8 The Longest Yard

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#7 Slap Shot

The Hanson brothers. Enough said.

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#6 Rocky

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#5 Seabiscuit

A fantastic book as well as a great movie. Like “The Natural,” Seabiscuit captures its Depression-era setting for modern-day viewers taken back to an era when horse racing actually meant something in America. 

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#4 Requiem for a Heavywei

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#3 Hoosiers

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#2 Bull Durham

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#1 Raging Bull

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