PORTLAND — The Portland Winterhawks gave their fans more than just a holiday to celebrate on Monday.
Oliver Gabriel scored three goals and the Winterhawks established a franchise record with their 17th consecutive home victory.
Oh, and they beat league-leading Tri-City for the first time this season.
Gabriel’s hat trick and another strong outing from goalie Mac Carruth were the highlights of a 5-1 Western Hockey League win over the Americans in front of an afternoon audience of 5,470 at the Rose Garden.
“We’ve struggled against Tri-City this season, so this was an important win to close the gap in the standings,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said.
Portland (30-12-2-1, 63 points) had lost the first four battles against Tri-City this season. Monday’s win closed the Winterhawks to within three points of the Americans (33-10) in the U.S. Division standings.
The 17-game home win streak betters the 16 consecutive home wins recorded by the 1993-94 Winterhawks. Portland is 20-3 at home and hasn’t lost a home game since Kamloops won 5-4 on Oct. 14.
Johnston said the team wasn’t aware of the streak until recently, which probably helped focus on each game instead of on chasing history.
“Anytime in sport you can put together a streak like this it’s kind of special,” Johnston said.
The home win streak wasn’t the only noteworthy accomplishment on Monday. Gabriel’s hat trick was the first of his career. Also, Ty Rattie became the first 40-goal scorer in the WHL this season.
Both teams were playing for the third time in four days. Johnston said he thought the Winterhawks speed and depth wore down the Americans as the game progressed.
Johnston said he was pleased with the way the Winterhawks responded after trailing 1-0 at the end of the first period thanks to an interception and score by Patrick Holland. The Portland coach said his club had become rattled when falling behind early in some of the losses to Tri-City.
“I thought we really responded well,” Johnston said.
Defenseman Troy Rutkowski tied the score on the rush 8:40 into the second period. At 14:20, Gabriel scored the first of his three consecutive goals, converting a Brendan Leipsic feed for a 2-1 Portland lead.
Gabriel’s second goal came on a power play at 9:44 of the third period. His third came at 14:24 of the third. Rattie capped the scoring at 17:01.
Carruth, who won for a league best 28th time this season, stopped 24 of 25 Tri-City shots.
Portland next plays at Spokane on both Saturday and Sunday.