Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Sad Way To End It

Well so much for Nino Niederreiter and his Portland Winterhawks making that magical comeback from down 3-1 to the Kootenay Ice in the WHL Finals. The Ice really had little trouble taking out the Portland Winterhawks in Game 5 4-1 and earn the WHL Championship.

There are going to be several Winterhawk players who will need to take the lessons of this loss and build from it. It is never easy to kick a team when they are down but this was a game not really won by the Ice but handed to them.

The game got off to a great start for Portland as fueled by a loud sell out crowd, they jumped out to a early 1-0 lead when Sven Bartschi made a great pass to a wide open Tyler Wotherspoon who cashed it in at 2:26 of the first. It was the only time Portland led and one of the very few highlights for the Winterhawks.

They say that the first 10 minutes of a game on the road are the hardest especially when you are playing a desperate team. Portland had a 6-0 lead on shots at the 10 minute mark but Kootenay's Nathan Lieuwen (rightfully WHL Playoff MVP) stoned them. Forget the tying, go ahead and dagger goals as this game was over at the 10 minute mark of the first period.

At the 10 minute mark the Ice turned up the heat and honestly it really looked like Portland's spirit was broken. The Ice thought they scored on a shot that hit the post around the 12 minute mark but it was a no goal.

But the post they hit at 15:47 was a goal after video review that happened after 3 minutes more of play. When they reviewed the shot with just 1:25 left in the first and put back 3:22 on the clock that broke the Portland fans.

It was then just a matter of time before the Ice got what turned out to be the game winning goal as they hit 5 posts during this game and with each ping you could see the life go out of the Winterhawks.

There was really just one Winterhawk who stood out and that was Brendan Leipsic as the 5'8 soon to be 17 year old was the Winterhawk's version of Brandon Prust all over the ice. Leipsic had perhaps the hit of the series when he sent one of the Ice over the boards into the bench.

It was a great hit which actually caused the Ice to wind up with too many men on the ice for a Portland power play. But despite all the anger over some of the calls that Portland was hit with during this series, the one call that was the right one (Tyler Wotherspon with a nasty crosscheck at 18:48) cost them it as the Ice scored in the last minute of the 2nd period to take the lead for good.

In the third period, Portland coach Mike Johnson made what to us was a huge mistake trying to get some offense going. He flipped centers Craig Cunningham and Ryan Johansen but the move backfired as two lines were so out of sync it made matters worse.

At the games we write notes in a notebook about key points of the game. Just after writing "Portland is gassed" that the Ice scored to make it 3-1 and the clock could not tick down fast enough.

Portland for all their offensive firepower just could not solve Kootenay goalie Nathan Lieuwen and have to settle for a Western Conference Championship. Only problem is that they deserved better as they can make a case for some very bad officiating costing them 2 games directly.

And the WHL can celebrate their new champions, this may sound like sour grapes but this was not the kind of team to honor. Nothing disappoints us more than to see talented teams use cheap tactics and for us that is what Kootenay did.

Anytime a Winterhawk player touched a Ice player, the Ice player went down like he was shot. Matt Fraser is a very good player but he and Ice captain Brayden McNabb have perfected the art of diving.

Even worse was it was Fraser who was so badly hurt in game 2 that Brad Ross wound up suspended for 2 games. Yet Fraser was able to go in game 3 and never showed the effects of his "injury"

Some friendly advice boys, try that with either Mississauga or Owen Sound and they will run you over. Really they will but go ahead and find out for yourselves.

Nino Niederreiter more than likely has played his last game with the Winterhawks as he is expected to stick with the Islanders. We like Nino he is a tremendous talent who as he matures will be a very good player for the Islanders.

But he needs to take the tape of this series and the Spokane series to learn what he just could not figure out. Just 2 goals in his last 12 playoffs games hopefully will fuel his off-season workouts.

Nino was taken out of both series by the constant hitting; some of which was designed to get under his skin and it worked. Nino pressed and the more he pressed the less effective he was.

What is ironic is all that is left of the Ranger and Islander prospects are 2 who are get the least notice. Casey Cizikas of Mississauga and Scott Stajcer of Owen Sound a 4th and 5th round draft pick respectively.


The Winterhawk game started at 7:30 PDT, it was supposed to be a fun evening as my wife Colleen who sacrifices a ton so I can do this was getting to attend a game. Her co-worker Susan and husband Tony were joining us. 
Thanks to the Winterhawks who got us perfect seats at center ice; it was supposed to be a perfect evening. So the cellphone buzzed about 5 minutes into the game and it was someone telling me that Matt Barnaby got arrested. 

Not a shock at all given some of the stories I have heard from Sabre folks. So another few minutes later and a fellow Ranger blogger Brandon Augienello sends me a message that it was all over twitter that Derek Boogaard has passed away.

Twitter is not exactly always the best place to get news that is reliable but before I could send a reply that the email from the Rangers arrived. I have followed the career of Derek Boogaard since he played in the WHL less than 10 years ago. 

Want to talk about a guy who's reputation was something to respect; it was Boogaard who became the top dog among WHL enforcers almost overnight. As he moved on to the Wild, he was one who honestly followed the code of the NHL enforcer.

The career span of an NHL enforcer is not that long especially when you consider that Boogaard started fighting in the WHL. It is a big shame that the Boogaard that Ranger fans saw during his brief time was nothing like the Boogaard I watched in the WHL and with the Wild.

Ranger fans would have loved the Boogaard I got to watch and at 28 he was way too young to leave us. 

What though is bothering me more than Boogaard's passing is how quick people are trying to link the deaths of Cherepanov and Roman Lyashenko to Boogaard's. Look it while it seems to be the thing to do (blaming the Rangers), none of these deaths were (a) related and (b) in any way shape or form the fault of the New York Rangers.

They were tragedies yes but anyone who thinks the Rangers are at fault are just flat out wrong.

RIP Boo, hope you are at peace

(Leipsic/Portland Winterhawks)

No comments: