Monday, April 25, 2011

The Only Game In Town

It was the only playoff game played on Sunday and while New York Islander prospect Nino Niederreiter was the reason to attend the game; his Portland Winterhawks showed they are more than just Niederreiter and Ryan Johansen (the duo was selected 4th and 5th in the 2010 NHL Draft).

The easy part is that Portland evened up their series with the Spokane Chiefs at 1-1 after a 2-1 win. Just like in Game 1 it was the goalies who were the stars of the game except this time it was Portland's Mac Carruth who stole the game in the 3rd period with 13 huge saves that kept the Chiefs from tying the game.

This year the Winterhawks are going to wind up with 3 of their players taken in the first round with each deserving it. If when the New York Rangers come up to make their pick at 15 and these 3 Winterhawks are still there then picking anyone of them would give the Rangers a very good player.

The first one pictured here is Joe Morrow a 6'1 two way defenseman (12th CSBwho is as comfortable looking going end to end with the puck as he is clearing 2 Spokane Chief out of the crease. Really impressed by how Morrow was reading plays as he was always in a good defensive position,

On the offensive end, Morrow showed off a very nice accurate shot that stayed low and generated rebounds. Morrow also knew where his teammates were as his passes were crisp and right on the stick.

Nor is Morrow shy when it comes to using his body whether it is to block a shot, take someone out of the play with a check or if need be to drop the gloves. The Rangers may have a good number of defenders in the system but if Morrow was there at 15; he would be hard to ignore.

Ty Rattie is a 5'11 RW who saw his stock drop in the final CSB as he is currently 17th. Rattie in Sunday's game made 2 key plays at both ends of the ice that had a dramatic impact in the outcome of the game.

The first play is one that will never show up in any scoresheet but it clearly was a play that turned the game around. With 5:40 left in the first period, Spokane was crashing the Winterhawk crease and had caught Carruth out of position leaving a wide open net.

Spokane fired a shot that should have gone in had it not been for Rattie coming back and stopping the puck with his stick in the crease then clearing it in the same motion. It was a huge play as Spokane was getting the better of the play at the time.

The play turned out to be huge as Spokane scored a couple of minutes later at 17:49 of the period to grab a 1-0 lead. If not for Rattie this would have been a 2-0 lead and a huge hole to climb for Portland.

The 2nd play came 33 seconds after Spokane had scored when Rattie set up teammate William Wrenn who fired a point shot that Rattie screened Spokane goalie James Reid from seeing. Tie game and momentum very much on Portland's side as they scored in the 2nd period for the game winner.

The 3rd member of this group is Sven Bartschi a 5'10 forward who actually played all 3 forward positions in this game. Bartschi is the highest ranked of the trio coming in at 7 in the CSB but we think people who have not seen him play will lower him in their rankings.

What stood out for Bartschi was how he gave up his body in order to make plays. Bartschi's efforts will not show up in the scoresheet but on at least 2 occasions in the 3rd people when the Chiefs were just swarming the Portland end; it was Bartschi who got the puck out of the zone.

Bartschi knew where he was on the ice as with Portland badly in need of a line change, Bartschi despite a much larger Chief defenseman bearing down on him made sure he crossed center ice before getting the puck deep to avoid the icing call.

Bartschi was good on his face offs as well as on his penalty kill duties as the label "soft European" is not on his resume.  Remembering Bartschi from early in the season when he was scoring left and right, it really stood out more seeing Bartschi playing the Ryan Callahan style game.

In fact in watching Portland play against Spokane in a must win game, to see players like a Brendan Leipsic despite being just 5'8 showing no fear in throwing the body at 6'5 Jared Cowen to keep him from breaking out says a lot about Mike Johnson the Portland coach.

The Portland Winterhawks have 12 players who are either NHL draft picks or already have NHL contracts. By the time the 2011 draft is over odds are good another 5 more players will be drafted.

Oh and over the weekend the Winterhawks just went out and added perhaps the best young goalie in the USA in Brendan Burke who is the son of former NHLer Sean Burke.

As for Niederreiter, Spokane is doing a great job keeping him under wraps and frustrated. Niederreiter needs to just keep it simple rather than trying to force everything as that is  best way to beat the Chief's defensive pressure.

Spokane has Niederreiter frustrated and it shows in his play. It is a good learning lesson for Niederreiter.

Series now shifts to Spokane for game's 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Friday. Game 4 is going to be a killer as as soon as the game is over both teams have to board buses for what in ideal weather is no less than a 6 hour bus ride to play Game 5 the next night.

Sorry but we really think the CHL trio has to rethink this squeezing playoff series into 13 day blocks. Portland and Spokane if it goes 7 games will play 4 games in 5 night with 3 different 6 hour bus trips entered into the mix.

It cheats the fans out of 2 very good teams but it also sets up the players to get hurt as these players will be exhausted by the time game 7 shows up. Either cut back on the regular season or move the Memorial Cup back a week at the very least.

(Images courtesy of the Winterhawks)

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