BEAVERTON — A week ago, the Portland Winterhawks and Edmonton Oil Kings were busy trying to learn about each other.
Three games into the Western Hockey League championship series, it seems the teams have learned to dislike each other. The clearest evidence of that were the dual fights in the first period of Game 3 on Sunday.
Given the stakes — a championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup tournament — some bad blood is not surprising, players and coaches said. But — given those stakes — is fighting really a good strategy?
“I don’t think any fight’s a stupid penalty, unless maybe an instigator,” Portland’s Brad Ross said on Monday, one day after he and Edmonton’s Jordan Peddle fought in the first period of Game 3.
Both players received a game misconduct because theirs was the second fight to start after Edmonton players drove hard to the net and made contact with goalie Mac Carruth. A bout between defensemen Joe Morrow of Portland and Keegan Lowe of Edmonton was the main event.
Ross said that the animosity that led to the altercations is not surprising even though the teams are not regular-season rivals.
“It’s the finals. You’re going to do anything you can to win,” Ross said. “It’s going to get rough. It’s going to get nasty. That’s playoff hockey.”
Portland team captain William Wrenn showed uncharacteristic anger after the third Edmonton goal. He charged into the pack of celebrating Oil Kings, he said in response to an unnecessary shove from Edmonton’s Mitchell Moroz. Wrenn said he was relieved, but not surprised, that he wasn’t penalized for his reaction.
“I have pretty good relationships with (the referees) and they saw that he bumped me when he shouldn’t have and I went in there,” Wrenn said. “When (the linesmen) grabbed me I didn’t fight back. It’s just emotions.”
A season of interacting with the officials helped.
“I think at this point, if you’ve worked with them throughout the year as a player, you know you’re going to get some of the benefit of the doubt,” Wrenn said. “I’m not known as a dirty player.”
Portland head coach Mike Johnston said emotion is part of why playoff hockey is special.
“In playoff hockey emotions go higher. Every play, every hit, everything that goes on the ice is of utmost importance,” Johnston said.
“And remember, these are teenage kids. They get emotional like that, which is nice,” Johnston said. “I think it’s a good part of the game. They keep their emotion on their sleeve sand they play with emotion all the time.”
• Edmonton forward Henrik Samuelsson has been suspended for Tuesday’s game by the WHL. He drew a double minor for cross-checking Joey Baker in the face during Sunday’s first period, and was assessed a cross-checking penalty at the end of the game.
• Sven Bartschi was named the WHL player of the week on Monday. Bartschi has four goals in the first three games of these finals, including a spinning back-hander for the Winterhawks’ first goal on Sunday. This is the second time in these playoffs that Bartschi has been the WHL player of the week, and the fourth time over seven weeks that a Winterhawk has won the honor.
• Portland defenseman Derrick Pouliot was one of 22 WHL players invited to the NHL Scouting Combine from May 28 to June 2 in Toronto.
• Edmonton and Portland will depart following Tuesday’s game on the same charter flight to Edmonton.