Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lets Play HAWKEY

Excuse me but can we stop all this "What a shock at the Portland Winterhawk's fast turn around" talk because it really is only a shock to those who do not follow the Portland Winterhawks.

Before we go any deeper there are a couple of things that need fixing starting as to when the rebirth of the Winterhawks began as well as who got it started.

The rebirth started in the spring of 2008 as there were some very nasty rumors going around about the state of the Winterhawk franchise. From players supposedly not getting medical treatment to the team having a bunch of bad debts all over Portland; the rumors were getting so bad that the WHL had to step in to address them.

The actual person who got the ball rolling was WHL commissioner Ron Robison who ordered a total audit of the franchise as well as demanded that the previous owners put a person with hockey experience back in charge of hockey operations. The one thing that can not be disputed was that the Winterhawks were a horror story and something had to be done.

On the player side, it was former GM Ken Hodge and Director of Hockey Operations Matt Bardsley who got things going did by drafting the players who formed the nucleus of the 1992-1993 born players.

On the business side, it was again the WHL commissioner as Ron Robison's demanded that the previous owners sell the team or see the team taken over by the WHL. By the time Bill Gallacher purchased the team in October 2008 and hired Mike Johnson as General Manager and Coach; Johnson had a head start.

This in no ways diminishes the job that Johnson as well as assistant coach Travis Green have done. And if anything Bill Gallacher has proven to be a true hockey owner as he hired Doug Piper as team president then got out of his way.

To show how smart Gallacher has proven himself to be; he has repeatedly turned down NHL requests to purchase problem franchises. There will come a day when Gallacher will own an NHL team but guaranteed it will be on his terms not acting like a rescue mission for the NHL.

And while we are at it since we keep hearing how people know so little about the Portland Winterhawks then give us a few to offer up a bit of a history lesson about Portland Oregon Hockey. Portland Oregon has been home to some legendary teams starting with the Rosebuds who were the first US based team to play for the Stanley Cup in 1916 (against the Canadians no less)

And you Chicago Blackhawk fans who are complaining that they are the real Hawkey Town sorry but more history for you. When the former WHL folded, the players were sold to the NHL and in a separate arrangement the Rosebud players were sold to the then expansion Chicago Blackhawks in 1926.

Then there was the Portland Buckaroos who to this day are Oregon legends and the current Winterhawk franchise has been around since 1976. The Winterhawks have produced many a NHL player including some guys with the names Messier, Hossa, Dubinsky, Neely, and Deadmarsh.

Now while people are still in shock over how fast the Winterhawks have gotten better; how did you folks miss the signs in the first place? The first hint should have been at the 2010 NHL draft when Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter went 3-4 in the first round.

8 Winterhawk players (7 returned) were selected in the 2010 NHL draft, toss in William Wrenn (2009), Craig Cunningham (2010) as well as injured players Brent Ponich and Oliver Gabriel and you have a roster that has 11 players either drafted or already have an NHL contract.

That is kind of hard to overlook you know but hey that is OK if people really want to make a team that was 50-19-0-3 103 points an underdog then please do. Nothing at all against the Kootenay Ice who's 11 game winning streak is impressive on it's own.

But before you hand the Ice the WHL Championships do you mind of Portland puts up a fight? Here is basically what in our eyes are going to be the difference makers.

Offense- Kootenay has great individual players who can do a lot of damage; Portland has 2 first lines and Mike Johnson can mix and match if need be. Johnson has also shown a willingness to double shift Nino or Johansen with his 3rd liners to toss up a curve or get away from double teams.

Defense- Edge to Kootenay as they are more experienced as well as more talented on the blueline. The Ice will have a big edge in goal as even if the Ice's Nathan Lieuwen is average he does not have the question mark hanging over his head like Portland's Mac Carruth.

Lieuwen is someone who going to give his teammates confidence as they go on. Carruth at times gets bailed out by Portland's offense.

Special Teams- Power Play to Portland, Penalty Kill is close to even. Kootenay's biggest weakness is their poor power play which is 12th overall at 13.8 %. Both teams are rock solid on the penalty kill but if the Ice can not score on the Power Play, they will be in trouble.

The Difference Maker- Craig Cunningham as while the rest of the WHL was looking for name players, Mike Johnson went out and got someone who has won a Memorial Cup. Cunningham has been in these situations before and produced so if he has a good series Kootenay does not have an answer for him.

Who wins? In the end, Cunningham pays dividends as his line produces while the 2 top lines cancel each other out. Portland is also tired of people questioning them at this point of the season too.

Portland in 6

(Portland Winterhawk Logo courtesy of the Winterhawk)

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