When last we left the Portland Winterhawks, they had beaten the Victoria Royals at the Moda Center to complete a two-game weekend sweep.
That was March 8, 2020, five games until the end of the Western Hockey League regular season.
Then everything stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Winterhawks had the best record in the WHL at the time (45-11-3-4), and they would have to settle for being announced as the WHL regular season champions 12 days later. There would be no playoffs.
Flash forward to now and there will be a hockey season for the Winterhawks, albeit a short season with no promise of playoffs.
What should fans expect for 2021?
The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Kennewick as the Winterhawks face the Tri-City Americans in the first of a 24-game U.S. Division-only season that runs through May 11.
Each of the four WHL divisions are only playing teams within their division.
Portland’s first “home” game will be at ShoWare Center in Kent against Spokane on Sunday. The first game at Portland is scheduled for Friday, March 26 at Memorial Coliseum against Everett.
In all Portland will play Seattle seven times, Everett six times, Tri-City six times, and Spokane five times.
“It going to be very unique in the way it will take place,” Portland general manager and head coach Mike Johnston said recently. “If you look at the way the season ended last year with us, Everett and Spokane all being ranked in the top 10 in the Canadian Hockey League, it should be competitive group.”
Can I go to a game?
Sorry hockey fans, but you can’t be in the arenas. The WHL announced due to COVID protocols, there would be no fans in buildings this season. However, teams remain hopeful conditions may change to allow some fans to attend.
“Here in Portland, I know our guys feed off the energy of the fans,” Johnston said. “It’s going to be a difference experience. I’ve never had it before. We’ll have to create our own energy.
“If we can get any fans at games, it would be huge for the division. The more fans the better.”
So how can I follow live games?
All WHL games are streamed live on CHL TV for a fee. An all access pass is $59.99 or a 24-hour pass is available for $6.99. Sign up at https://watch.chl.ca/whl. Winterhawks season ticket holders were sent an email for special streaming package options.
The Winterhawks will provide play-by-play broadcasts for free on the Winterhawks mobile app and online through winterhawks.com by clicking the “listen live” tab.
Portland will have just 23 players on the roster this season, 14 returning players and eight rookies.
“We have a good core of our team back,” Johnston said. “Also this is a good chance for new kids to come in, 16-17 year olds, to get extra ice time and development time.”
• Seth Jarvis — The 13th overall pick of the 2020 NHL draft to the Carolina Hurricanes, the 19-year-old center returns after scoring seven goals in nine games with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. He was second in points in the WHL last season and led the Winterhawks in goals (42), assists (56) and points (98). Named an alternate captain for season.
• Simon Knak — A native of Switzerland, the 19-year-old right winger had nine goals, 25 assists last season for Portland. Considered a top pro prospect, he is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft.
• Brock Gould — The 19-year-old goalie from Colorado Springs was acquired in an October trade with Moose Jaw. He has also played in Victoria and has a .880 save percentage and 4.05 goals-against average. A 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he is on the Central Scouting player-to-watch list for the 2021 NHL draft.
• Nick Cicek — The 20-year-old defenseman was named team captain as he enters his fourth season with the Winterhawks. Had a plus-30 rating last year that ranked him fifth among WHL defensemen.
• Other pro prospects — Center and alternate captain Reece Newkirk, 20, was drafted by the New York Islanders; left winger Jaydon Dureau and alternate captain, 20, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning; Mason Mannek, 20, a right winger, is also an alternate captain and plans to turn pro at the end of the season.
“We are playing for something,” Johnston said. “We are playing for the opportunity for our players to move on and get chances in professional hockey. We are also playing for pride in our division. It’s a very competitive, well-coached, very talented division.”