Winterhawks Enter Playoffs For 8th Straight Year On Down Note
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
The Portland Winterhawks ended the season on a bit of a sour note and for it, will now have their work cut out for them, especially when it comes to distance. This weekend, the Victoria Royals fell out of the fight for spot six as they dropped decisions to the Everett Silvertips and gave the Royals the eighth seed. It was a battle for the sixth spot between Portland and Tri-City with the Americans having three games in as many nights, while Hawks would have just two. Tri-City dropped an overtime game to the Spokane Chiefs on Friday, earning them just a point and keeping them behind the Portland Winterhawks by a single point. The games Saturday kept the situation as muddied, when the Americans won an overtime game against the same Spokane Chiefs and watched the Portland Winterhawks do a number on the Seattle Thunderbirds, a team that the Hawks had trouble with all season long. A two-goal performance by Colton Veloso led the Hawks to a 4-1 defeat of Seattle which kept Portland up by a point heading into the final night.
Seattle had now given up its chance at the top spot in the US Division with the loss and were just finishing off the season with a drubbing of the hapless Vancouver Giants. With the Everett Silvertips winning the US Division outright, their game versus Tri-City was meaningless to them, but a big deal to the Americans as they were hoping to get past Portland and a shot at the Seattle Thunderbirds. Portland meanwhile, was to play the Spokane Chiefs in a match which the Chiefs had no vested interest as they had been previously eliminated, but Portland was hoping to stay ahead of Tri-City and avoid a first round battle with the Prince George Cougars, winners of the BC Division title.
Tri-City and Everett started their game first owing to awards night in Portland. Everett led the game for most of the night, but Tri-City wouldn’t say quit and eventually tied the game with just a minute and a half left in the third period. Tri-City scored just under two minutes into the overtime frame to capture a 5-4 win and get the two points they needed to vault into third place in the US Division and sixth in the Western Conference.
Prior to the start of the game, the Portland Winterhawks took time to present their annual awards. Cody Glass and Caleb Jones shared the team’s MVP Award as voted on by teammates. Glass also took home the Leading Scorer Award, while Jones was named the Best Defensive Player. Captain Keegan Iverson was selected by the coaching staff for the Winterhawks Award for character, leadership, heart & soul.
Defenseman Henri Jokiharju won the Rookie of the Year Award, while forward Ryan Hughes was named the Scholastic Player of the Year. Colton Veloso earned the Sportsmanship & Ability Award, and Skyler McKenzie was named the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club Memorial fan favorite.
Owner Bill Gallacher was in attendance and assisted in the awards presentation before sitting back to watch the game unfold.
The Portland Winterhawks after such a high note on the awards however, seemed to get stuck in first gear from the very beginning and saw any hope of a victory slip away by the end of the first period. With the Chiefs leading 4-1 at the end of the first period, 6-1 at the end of two and a final of 7-2 which left the Hawks in seventh place and a matchup with the Prince George Cougars which will begin on Friday in Prince George. Portland will have its first two home games on Tuesday and Wednesday March 28 and 29 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
During the four-game battle with Prince George, the Hawks fared reasonably well, picking up a solid 6-3 win at home in November, losing a 4-3 game in regulation and then a 6-5 shootout in Prince George and followed it with a 5-4 win in Portland. The rest of the matches are set with Everett hosting Victoria, Kelowna hosting Kamloops and Seattle hosting Tri-City. Out east, the Regina Pats who won the Scotty Munro trophy for the best overall WHL record will host the Calgary Hitmen, Moose Jaw Warriors will host the Swift Current Broncos, Medicine Hat Tigers will host the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Lethbridge Hurricanes will host the Red Deer Rebels.
As always, I try to predict winners in the playoff format each round and it’s going to be a tough one for sure as the matches in some cases are too close to call. Here we go:
Out West: Everett over Victoria in 5, Seattle in 6 over Tri-City, Kelowna over Kamloops in 6 and Prince George over Portland in 6. That last one breaks me a bit because Portland could be the upset team here if they can play like they did against the Cougars during the season.
Out East: Regina over Calgary in 4, Medicine Hat over Brandon in 4, Red Deer over Lethbridge in 6 and Swift Current over Moose Jaw in 7, just because this is going to be a battle like no other.
We’ll see where I stand after the first round.
Tickets for the first round of the playoffs in Portland go on sale early this week with expected strong crowds even with weekday games being scheduled.