Faceoffs help turn tide against Winterhawks

Winning more will be key for Portland in Game 5

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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Faceoffs, Edmonton Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal said, are a big battle within the battle between his team and the Portland Winterhawks for the Western Hockey League championship.

On Tuesday, success in the faceoff circle helped Edmonton control stretches of play in a game the Oil Kings won 4-3 in overtime, knotting the best-of-7 series at 2-2.

Game 5 is at 6 p.m. PDT Thursday in Edmonton.

In Game 4, the Oil Kings won about 10 more draws than the Winterhawks. Take out a dominating third period in the circle for Portland, and it was a big night for Laxdal’s club in that key area.

“It’s been an interesting series with the faceoffs,” Laxdal said. “It’s kind of going back and forth. One game we’ll end up winning 65 or 70 percent and then Portland will come back the next game.”

A faceoff win for the Oil Kings in their defensive zone started the play that produced their first goal. And Stephane Legault’s goal late in the second period came seconds after a clean faceoff win in the Oil Kings’ attacking zone.

“Our guys are going a great job,” Laxdal said. “They’ve come along way this year in the faceoff circle, and they take pride in it.”

For Portland, Taylor Peters takes a lot of key faceoffs and is considered the Winterhawks’ best in the circle.

Of course, the man on the dot has the first crack at gaining puck possession. And dominating the third-period draws on Tuesday helped Portland erase a two-goal deficit and almost steal a win before overtime.

“When you play a series like this, you notice patterns against guys,” Peters said. “I managed to get some patterns I was able to exploit and in the third period was able some more wins.”

Laxdal said both teams know faceoffs are important.

“We want puck possession right off the faceoff. You look at Portland’s transition and the way they can break out pucks, they obviously want the puck too,” Laxdal said. “It’s quite a battle. I know the kids enjoy going into the faceoff circle, and I imagine the Portland kids do also.”

Bartschi honored by CHL -- The Canadian Hockey League named Winterhawks forward Sven Bartschi the CHL Player of the Week after the 19-year-old produced four goals and one assist in three playoff games for the week ending May 6.