With games on consecutive nights against the defending Western Hockey League champions and a team expected to contend for this season’s crown, Mike Johnston figured the back end of the Portland Winterhawks road trip through the East Division would be difficult.
With back-to-back wins at Brandon and at Regina, the Winterhawks not only earned four points that could be considered a bonus, they experienced the kind of success that might have a lasting impact on the season.
“Our guys know how good those teams are,” Johnston said, noting that both Brandon and Regina recently had key players return from pro hockey. Among them was Adam Brooks, last season’s WHL points champion who scored twice in his first game this season for Regina.
Both games were fast-paced, offensive battles. On Tuesday at Brandon, Portland scored four times in the second period and three times in the third. On Wednesday at Regina, the Winterhawks got a tying goal from Keoni Texeira with three minutes left and an overtime winner from Caleb Jones.
“It’s great for our team,” Johnston said, noting that it shows a young group of players that they are capable of overcoming adversity — the kind of lesson that can pay off over the long haul.
The eight-game road trip — the longest of the season — concludes with a Saturday night visit to Spokane. The game will be shown live on KRCW TV.
This week: At Spokane, 7:05 p.m. Saturday (TV on KRCW channel 32/cable 3); host Tri-City, 7 p.m. Tuesday (VMC); at Seattle, 7:35 p.m. Oct. 21.
Last week: beat Moose Jaw 5-2, lost at Saskatoon 3-1, beat Brandon 7-6, beat Regina 5-4 (OT).
Where they stand: At 7-3-0-0, Portland is first in the U.S. Division, one point ahead of Everett (6-1-1).
Abols released: 20-year-old Latvian forward Rodrigo Abols was released this week as Portland got down to the maximum two import players. Johnston said that he chose to stick with 18-year-old Joachim Blichfeld from Denmark because he is the younger of two similar players. Both Blichfeld (San Jose) and Abols (Vancouver) are seventh-round NHL Draft picks. Abols was not claimed by another WHL team so is now eligible to join any CHL junior team. He might also be re-assigned by the Canucks.
Special-teams success: The Winterhawks power play and penalty kill are part of the team’s fast start to the season. Portland’s power play ranks second in the WHL, scoring 16 goals on 43 chances for a 37.2-percent success rate. Portland’s penalty-kill ranks seventh in the league at 83 percent. The Winterhawks have scored three short-handed goals and allowed one short-handed goal against.
In the win at Brandon, Portland was 5 for 9 on the power play.
“The power play has been very good,” Johnston said. “We’ve had good movement and been getting good looks consistently.”
Johnston credited assistant coach Oliver David for the steady improvement in the Hawks penalty-kill unit.
Glass honored: Winterhawks 17-year-old forward Cody Glass was named WHL Player of the Week for Oct. 3-9. Glass had three goals and five assists in four games last week. He now leads the league with 16 points, followed by teammates Ryan Hughes (13 points) and Skyler McKenzie (12).
This week: Host the Ogden Mustangs (8-0-0) at 7 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Last week: Lost three games at Idaho and were outscored 16-5 by the defending WSHL champion Junior Steelheads.
Where they stand: At 0-3-2 (2 points) the Rangers are last in the Northwest Division.