Winterhawks celebrate WHL title with fans in Portland

Team heads to Saskatoon to open Memorial Cup

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND -- At midday Tuesday, the Portland Winterhawks took a few minutes to celebrate their Western Hockey League championship.

During a rally at Pioneer Courthouse Square, the players and coaches presented the Ed Chynoweth Cup to a hundreds fans and lunchtime observers.

Team captain Troy Rutkowski, goalie Mac Carruth, and assistant captains Ty Rattie and Taylor Peters took turns thanking the fans for their support -- and emphasizing that their work is not finished.

"We want to look ahead and keep our eyes on the prize and in two weeks we're going to come back and do this again," Peters said.

Portland will represent the WHL at the Memorial Cup tournament, competing for the top prize in major junior hockey with the Halifax Mooseheads, London Knights and host Saskatoon Blades.

The Winterhawks were at the rally for about 45 minutes, and spent time mingling with fans before departing for their final practice this season at the Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton. The team flies to Saskatoon on Wednesday, where it will compete starting on Saturday for the Memorial Cup, the championship for major junior hockey in North America.

"It just warms your heart seeing all the fans come out," Peters, in his fifth season with the Winterhawks, said following the rally.

Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks general manager and head coach who has been banned from the team since late November, was allowed to speak at the rally. He praised the leadership of the coaching staff and the team's veteran players for steering the team through a marvelous season despite his suspension.

"As the players mature through our organization, we want them to become great role models," Johnston said. "You look at our captains here and they're just a phenomenal group. They're the guys inside the room who push this team every day. ... They've done an incredible job."

Johnston also spoke of the young fans in the crowd.

"Looking out here today, I see some young fans who are going to be future Portland Winterhawks hopefully," he said.

"Hopefully our players, who are pretty young, can inspire some of the young fans out there to play hockey."

Rattie said after the rally that he wasn't surprised by the fans' reaction, both the thousands who met the team late Sunday and those in downtown Portland on Tuesday.

"It seems right to share it with them because they earned it as much as we did," Rattie said.

During the rally, members of the Portland Rose Festival Association announced that the Winterhawks team will be the grand marshals for the June 1 Starlight Parade.

And Portland mayor Charlie Hales told the crowd that he and the mayors of London, Ontario, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saskatoon have agreed that the winner will receive a gift from the other three.

"Normally I'd rather be feasting on a Portland salmon and drinking a local microbrew. But we don't want them to have that chance. So just for this team I'd be happy to munch on a Saskatoon sausage and drink a Molson."

Memorial Cup on TV -- The Winterhawks announced on Tuesday that each of their Memorial Cup games will be carried live on Comcast SportsNet Northwest.