Keegan Iverson, the 41st team captain in Portland Winterhawks history, believes his team is a hungry hockey team.
And that hunger can be seen in the way Portland has opened the Western Hockey League season.
“We have a young team, so we have lots of energy,” Iverson said Thursday, the team’s day off on its swing through the East Division. “Guys are competing for spots and playing hard.”
Portland has won four of its first six games, scoring timely third-period goals in several of the wins. In Wednesday’s win at Prince Albert, the Hawks built a 4-0 lead then held onto a one-goal lead for the final eight minutes of the third period before an empty-net goal secured the win.
“It’s huge that we got off to a good start, It’s huge for our confidence,” Iverson said.
Starting his fifth season with the Winterhawks — Iverson played in one game as a 15-year-old in 2011-12 — the Minnesota native is one player who was introduced to Winterhawks hockey when Mike Johnston was first in charge. He is excited to be back under Johnston’s wing.
Johnston said Iverson was the clear choice of both players and the coaching staff to be captain.
“He leads by example. He plays hard and consistently works hard in practice. And he’s level headed,” Johnston said.
“I feel re-energized and ready,” Iverson said, admitting disappointment with his play the previous two seasons.
He is off to a fast start to his last season in junior hockey, with two goals and five assists in his four games since returning from Minnesota.
He is excited to be captain of a young team showing early promise. He said that the current eight-game road trip is ideal for he and assistant captains Caleb Jones, Keoni Texeira and Colton Veloso to build team unity and bond with younger players.
Time on the bus and activities such as Thursday’s off-day pool tournament in Saskatoon build the kind of bonds a successful hockey team need, Iverson said.
This week: At Moose Jaw, 6 p.m. Friday; at Saskatoon, 6:05 p.m. Saturday; at Brandon, 5 p.m. Tuesday; at Regina, 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Last week: Lost to Everett 3-1, beat Seattle 6-1, lost to Swift Current 7-3, beat Prince Albert 5-3.
Where they stand: At 4-2-0 the Winterhawks are second in the U.S. Division behind Everett (4-0-1, 9 points).
Glass leads scoring: With three goals and nine assists, 17-year-old forward Cody Glass leads the WHL with 12 points. He has points in five of six games including two goals and one assist in Wednesday’s win at Prince Albert. Johnston credits the confidence built playing as a 16-year-old last season for the strong start from Glass and fellow 17-year-old Ryan Hughes (3 goals, 5 assists).
Roster updates: Johnston said the coaches are still evaluating the three import players with one more week to be down to two. Rodrigo Abols has played one game, Joachim Blichfeld five games and defenseman Henri Jokiharju all six games. … Portland has signed defensemen Nick Cicek, 16, and Darren Gisti, 17. Both will be available for call ups this season and expected to make the roster next season.
November, December tickets available: Tickets to Winterhawks home games in November and December are now for sale. That includes five popular promotions, including the annual Teddy Bear Toss (Dec. 10) and the New Year’s Eve game against Seattle.
This week: Vancouver at Idaho Junior Steelheads, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at McCall, Idaho.
Last week: Lost 5-4 and 6-5 to the visiting Seattle Totems, both in overtime.