Sunday, May 8, 2011

3 Games For the Price Of 1

Game 2 of the WHL Finals between the Kootenay Ice and the Portland Winterhawks gave a sold out crowd of 10967 more than their money's worth. 3 different games were played in this 1 and the WHL should be embarrassed at how this became 3 different games.

The oldest rule in sports is that you know when the officiating crew has done a good job when you never even notice their efforts. Sorry Matt Kirk and Reagan Vetter but the game you called as the referees was so bad that it created conditions that led to players getting hurt.

Do not mistake this as letting any player off the hook as we will never condone anyone who either checks from behind or throws an elbow. In Game 2 it was badly missed calls early in the game that wrong message that "chippy" play was going to be tolerated.

In the first period, it was okay to interfere with someone, maybe a face wash after the whistle or even a couple of slashes to the other guy. Oh this was maybe the only time that the officials were consistent as they were letting both teams get away with things that they never should have.

Once chippy play starts if it is not nipped in the bud right away then it will get out of control. The first period was for the most part advantage Kootenay as the majority of play was in Portland's defensive zone.

Kootenay scored first when Matt Fraser got the Ice on the board with his 13th of the playoffs at 5:14. Still in the first period, 16 year old Brendan Leipsic tied the score with his 3rd of the playoffs at 9:40.

The 5'8 Leipsic is part Ryan Callahan and part Sean Avery but we love his game because from one end of the ice to the other, he is going all out on every shift. Still the first period ended tied at 1-1 but the ground work was laid for a terrible 2nd period.

Portland had a chance early in the 2nd period when Sven Bartschi broke away and was hauled down for a penalty shot at 2:40 of the period. Only a strong save by Ice goalie Nathan Lieuwen kept the scored tied.

In the second,  Matt Fraser gave Kootenay a 2-1 lead at 6:54 and then as the game depending on your perspective got out of hand. In the postgame press conference, Portland Coach Mike Johnson expressed his frustration at the penalties called as he tried not to question the calls.

"There were a couple hits I didn't see, but we did take 18 penalty minutes in a row and, obviously, it was a key turning point for them to take advantage of that," Johnston said. "I've never seen that in all my years of coaching — I've coached more than 25 years and I've never seen that many calls in a row on a team."

First Brad Ross was going to be called for roughing but then he and Matt Fraser collided right in front of the Portland bench. It was a collision that hurt both players but somehow Ross was hit with a tripping minor that we are not sure was based on Ross's "Avery-like" reputation or because the Ice carried Fraser off almost right away with a leg injury.

The 2nd call was bad because there was no trip it was just a collision and the officials never even looked at Ross who was helped off the ice and never returned. It was just the beginning of the run of penalties.

23 seconds after the Ross double minor, Taylor Jordan got called for "checking from behind and was ejected. No complaints on this call as Jordan clearly was guilty hitting a guy between the numbers.

The Ice now had an extended 5 on 3 to work with and they took full advantage of it, First scoring at 8:47 to make it 3-1 (2:38 remaining on the 2 man), then scoring again at 10:15 to make it 4-1 which ended the 5 on 3.

The Winterhawks had killed off the remaining time on the 5 minute major when Troy Rutkowski was called for interference just as the major penalty was ending at 12:48. The Ice cashed in on that penalty as well making it 5-1 at the 13:04 mark.

Pearce Eviston gave the Ice another power play when he was called for tripping at 13:36.  The Ice needed just 56 seconds to score on this power play to make it 6-1 and Portland starting goalie Mac Carruth was pulled.

The Winterhawk fans made sure the refs knew who they blamed for Carruth getting the hook by giving a standing ovation. Keith Hamilton replaced Carruth just in time for another 5 minute major but this one was a badly misread call.

At 15:59, Riley Boychuk got called for a 5 minute elbowing call and this one was right in front of me and it was not an elbow but a good hit where a player got caught with his head down. According to Johnson, the reasoning behind the call was explained to him and he disagreed with it.

A very frustrated Johnson said that "the ref explained Rintoul he had a concussion, and then he’s back playing right away,”  “It wasn’t an elbow; it wasn’t a high hit. It was a very clean hit with the arm down. Maybe Rintoul didn’t see him coming, but there was no concussion as (the refs) were saying on the ice.”

With 2 ejections and 1 injured player, Portland had lost an entire line, trailing 6-1 having to kill off another 5 minute power play.  Yet Sven Bartschi gave Portland a bit of life scoring a short handed goal at 19:19 to bring Portland to within 4 at 6-2 as the 2nd period finally ended.

As the period ended the fans let the officials hear it as they left the ice; the fans started right back on the refs as they came back for the 3rd period. The refs can deny it but the anger of the Portland fans caused the Winterhawks to get just their 2nd power play of the game at 2:19.

Portland failed to score on the power play but got another at 5:36 that they finally cashed in on. Sven Bartschi scored his 2nd goal of the game (already 4 in 2 games so far) to make it 6-3 at 6:12.

Between the anger at the officials and the power play goal really got the Portland fans going as they got into the game and the best way to describe it was Madison Square Garden West Coast style.

At 8:01 Taylor Peters made it 6-4 on his 3rd goal of the playoffs. 13 seconds later at 8:14, Portland made it 6-5 when Joe Morrow fired one in and Kootenay called time out.

All the timeout did was give the fans a chance to cheer louder and when they showed the decibel meter on the main scoreboard showing it at 103, the fans raised it to 106. The Winterhawks had momentum on their side and it really looked like they were going to complete the comeback when the Ice got some unexpected help.

The media timeout came and the 90 second break allowed the Ice to regroup. The Winterhawks had several chances to tie the game but Ice goalie Nathan Lieuwen made 3 game saving saves.

The Winterhawks pressed on and were on the verge of tying when Sven Bartschi was blindsided but nothing was called. An angry Johnson questioned the non-call in his post game.

“Bartschi got blindsided, that should have been at least a five-minute penalty, for sure, 100 percent. On our top player, and it wasn’t called.” The Ice were able to add an empty net goal at 19:50 to seal the win and a 1-1 series tie.

A frustrating game for the Winterhawks who did not help their own cause but losing their cool but there were positives for them to take as the series shifts to Kootenay for Game's 3+4.

Take away the 4 power play goals and the empty netter and the Ice could only score 2 goals at even strength. At even strength, the Ice can not handle the Winterhawks mainly the Cunningham line.

Turning a blow out into a close game also sends the message that no lead is safe with the Portland firepower. Game 3 on Tuesday evening should be interesting to say the least.

(Images- Portland Winterhawks)


GZ said...

Spot on analysis. Something to note...Matt Kirk was awarded the 'Official of the Year' from the WHL last week. Interestingly, that is the one award not shown on the WHL website today.

I walk away with the same conclusions. The Hawks had a terrible game 1 against Kelowna with the same ref in attendance. The takeaway from this game against the Ice is...the Hawks are two lines heavy, while the Ice rely on 1 line. Lieuwen is no Reid (of Spokane)...he can be beaten and beaten easily. The Hawks can score at will, when they want to...and they have to keep their heads about them.

My ears are still ringing from the 'Ref You Suck' chant...and the cheers from the 5th goal. What a fantastic experience. Hopefully, those broadcasters from Shaw can now believe that the Hawks and their fans are back.

Jess Rubenstein said...

Thank you GZ, I was telling the folks sitting next to me that Lieuwen was flopping any time the Hawks put traffic in front of him and to shot high.

It is sad that we are talking more about the officials then the play and that says a lot about them.

Speaking of the WHL awards, Bartschi with 4 goals in 2 games since getting jobbed out of the Rookie of the Year says a lot too.

It will be a good series but more importantly, both the City of Portland and the Trailblazers have to now look at the Winterhawks as must keep team.

If the Hawks can average 5-6 thousand a game for 35 dates that is just too much money for either to walk away from