The Portland Winterhawks can finally celebrate a Western Hockey League championship.
Ty Rattie scored two short-handed goals in the first period and finished with three goals as the visiting Winterhawks beat the Edmonton Oil Kings 5-1 on Sunday to win the title.
“We’ve got a real special group,” acting Winterhawks coach Travis Green said. “They stay with it, they don’t get away from their game. I’m real proud of them.”
By winning the best-of-7 series 4-2, the Winterhawks gained a measure of revenge on an Edmonton team that a season ago beat Portland in a seven-game league championship series. Along with the Ed Chynoweth Trophy, the Winterhawks earn a berth in the Memorial Cup.
That four-team tournament for supremacy in North American major junior hockey begins next Friday at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Portland’s first game in the round-robin phase of the tournament is on May 18.
Portland’s previous WHL championships were in 1982 and 1998. This was the Winterhawks’ 11th championship series appearance — and third in a row.
Fresh off Friday’s overtime win in Portland to extend the series, the Oil Kings scored first on Sunday when a pass by Edmonton’s Travis Ewanyk deflected into the net off of Portland defenseman Derrick Pouliot just 1:04 into the game.
Moments later, a double-minor penalty against Portland’s Chase De Leo gave Edmonton a four-minute power play.
But instead of building on the home team’s momentum, Rattie struck twice off feeds from Nic Petan to turn the lead around and give Portland plenty of momentum.
Oliver Bjorkstrand scored 3:54 into the second period, a rare soft goal through Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit, and Rattie made it 4-1 13:26 into the second as another feed from Petan set up a backhander into an open net.
Portland spent most of the second half of the game playing keepaway. Taylor Leier’s empty-net goal came 39 seconds before the final buzzer sparked a celebration three years in the making/
This was the third consecutive trip to the league finals for the Winterhawks, who lost to Kootenay in five games in 2011 and to Edmonton in seven games last season.
Rattie’s first goal made him the WHL’s all-time leader for career playoff goals. He has scored 50, including 20 this season. That goal tied the score 4:28 into the game after Petan forced defenseman Martin Gernat into a turnover behind the net.
Seconds before the four-minute Edmonton power play ended, Rattie scored again on an odd-man rush and the announced crowd of 7,449 was quieted for much of the remainder of the afternoon.
Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth made 28 saves as the Winterhawks completed a sweep of the three finals games in Edmonton this season. Nine of the 16 playoff wins for Portland came on the road, where the Winterhawks lost only once in this postseason.
Portland team captain Troy Rutkowski, an Edmonton native, celebrated the title in front of family and friends.
“I think I would have rather done it in Portland,” Rutkowski said. “The fans there are phenomenal. But this is the second best place.”
Portland 20-year-old players Rutkowski, Carruth and Taylor Peters were 16-year-old members of a Winterhawks team that won only 16 games in the 2008-09 season.
“Troy (Rutkowski), Mac (Carruth) and I have come so far from that year,” Peters said. “It’s the most exciting of my life right now. I’m so proud of these guys. These guys battled so hard for every playoff game, every shift, every period. You can’t duplicate what our guys did this year.”
Green took over for head coach and general manager Mike Johnston in November after the WHL suspended Johnston for the remainder of this season as part of sanctions against the franchise for violations of WHL rules. The specific violations have never been publicly explained by the league.
“I’m really proud of this group, proud of our whole staff,” Green said. “I also know my heart goes out to a guy who’s waiting at home right now for us. We owe a lot to Mike (Johnston) as well.”
MasterCard Memorial Cup at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Portland vs. Halifax Mooseheads, 4 p.m. PDT, Saturday, May 18.
TV: To be determined. Radio: 860 AM/Winterhawks.com.