Nice End to the Weekend…

It”s been nearly five years since the Portland Winterhawks have celebrated a victory over the Vancouver Giants in their barn (even if it wasn’t their true barn), and it feels good heading home with a hard earned 4-3 win tonight.  I capture the celebration on the digital camera tonight, but the Interwebs are a bit slow on the bus and it won’t upload, so…you’ll have to wait until Monday AM to see the photo evidence.

It didn’t start off great, falling behind 2-0 less than six minutes in, but the Hawks stuck with the gameplan, and IMO, outworked the Giants the final 40 minutes to grab the win.   The Luke Walker/Chris Francis/Ty Rattie continues their strong play and tonight they got help from the Nino Niederreiter/Ryan Johansen/Brad Ross line as the Hawks pounded 44 shots at the Giants net.

Mac Carruth got his third straight start and second win of the weekend in fine form and he is starting to show his comfort level in the WHL with each passing start.

There were a few players banged up tonight, but all is well heading home as we are watching our celebratory movie while rolling back down I-5 once again.

For me, it didn’t start great with a phone line malfunction at the start of the pre-game and cramped quarters and the folks in the suite next to me giving me dirty looks when calling goals, but, in the end, it was worth all of it.

It was the first regular season road win over the Giants since March 4, 2005…hopefully the next one won’t be as far off…time to settle back and watch the movie…trips home are much faster when you win…

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Langley Events Centre…

Press Box View...

My home for the night...good thing Todd didn't come on the trip...he would have had to sit on my shoulders...a bit cramped for space.

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Somewhere Along I-5…

Seems like I’ve been traveling on I-5 all weekend…maybe I have been. 

Oh yeah…I remember now…I’m in my hotel room in Everett where the team will stay until mid-day tomorrow before heading to Langley to take on the Vancouver Giants tomorrow…er…later tonight.

Luca Sbisa (picture stolen from Byan Heim) made a successful home debut, scoring a power play goal in the 6-2 win over Seattle at the Rose Garden.  I will sit down with Luca prior to the game against Vancouver and you can hear that interview during the first intermission tomorrow night.

Quietly, the masked one, Luke Walker has put together a 10 game point streak, amassing 16 points during the streak, scoring six times and setting up 10.  His line with Chris Francis and Ty Rattie are really clicking right now and they are fun to watch.

I think Francis has set a personal goal of reaching 200 career WHL points before the regular season ends and after his four point game tonight, he needs 29 points in 19 games to reach that mark.  Considering he has 16 points in eight games against Seattle, and with four games remaining between the two teams, if he continues two points a game, that means he will only need 21 points in the other 15 games to reach that number.

Wait…I was told there would be no math…but I digress.

It won’t be easy against Vancouver…but it wasn’t easy last Sunday either and the Hawks found a way to win.  A win tomorrow…er…later tonight would be much sweeter and a nice way to wrap up the Hawks final three-in-three weekend of 2009-10.

Pre-game show starts at 5:40 on Freedom 970…

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Wednesday Thoughts…

Some randomness on a Wednesday…

— Luca Sbisa arrived in Portland on Monday from Switzerland, sans luggage as his bags weren’t on the same flight into PDX from O’Hare in Chicago.  So, that meant that Sbisa couldn’t skate with the team when they practiced at Valley Ice Arena in Beaverton on Tuesday afternoon.  Sounds like his gear arrived yesterday evening, so he should be on the ice this afternoon at the MC.  In the old days, players would check their gear except for their skates, which they would keep with them.  Now, skates are considered a weapon.  Maybe they are…you should ask Clint Malarchuk or Richard Zednik.

— Speaking of the MC, they had a public meeting there last night for those groups that submitted proposals for renovating the building to show their submissions and to discuss their ideas for change.  The Winterhawks and Portland Trailblazers put together their joint presentation that detailed their proposed renovations and changes.

All told, there were over 90 groups represented with close to 30 making formal presentations.  They ranged from strictly renovating the building to converting the building to a luxury resort and sports destination.  Some were making it more business related while others were simply people thinking outside the box on how to change the inside of the box that is the MC.

I didn’t stick around for all the presentations, but it was an interesting night for people in Portland to show their ideas.

Next up, the advisory council will select a smaller number of candidates to generate actual proposals, including costs and finance requirements for further review.  From what I’m told, they will contact those groups in February with the proposals due mid-March with a decision to be made in spring 2010.

As they say…stay tuned…

— For the second time this season, Ian Curtis was named the CHL Goaltender of the Week, becoming the first player to get that honor twice in 2009-10.

Ian’s 18 wins on the season is the most for any Hawk goaltender since Krister Toews had 25 wins in 2003-04.

— So far this season, the Hawks have 11 players on their roster with at least 20 points on the season.  That is the most since the Hawks had 12 players in 2001-02 and 13 players in 2000-01.  The 1997-98 Memorial Cup team had 12 with 20 points as well.

Next up, Taylor Aronson who is sitting at 19 points.

— In one of those weird statistical years, the three teams battling for positioning in the U.S. Division all have a better road win percentage than a home ice win percentage.   Everett is .660 on the road while .640 at home; Portland is .615 on the road while .600 at home; Spokane is .635 on the road while .543 at home.

They are the only three teams in the WHL with a better road percentage than home.

Hmmm…maybe that explains why Spoke got trounced last night in Kamloops 8-1…going for the road ice advantage in the opening round?  I jest…but it makes you go hmmmm…

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Race To The Finish…

As we approach the final eight weeks of the regular season, the race between 2nd and 4th in the U.S. Division is shaping up to be one of the better races in the WHL this season.  Everett, Portland and Spokane are battling for these three spots with the top two, most likely earning home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Who’s got the schedule advantage?

Here is a look at the remaining schedules and the average winning percentage of the opponents (based on home and away records):

Everett (currently 2nd with 65 points):

Home (11 games – road winning percentage of opponents = .489)

Portland (2 times), Kamloops, Spokane (2 times), Kelowna, Moose Jaw, Tri City, Prince George, Seattle, Chilliwack

Away (11 games – home winning percentage of opponents = .525)

Spokane (4 times), Vancouver, Tri City, Seattle, Kamloops, Prince George (2 times), Portland

Portland (currently 3rd with 62 points):

Home (11 games – road winning percentage of opponents = .487)

Seattle (2 times), Kamloops, Tri City (3 times), Moose Jaw, Kelowna, Prince George, Spokane, Everett

Away (10 games – home winning percentage of opponents = .495)

Everett (2 times), Vancouver, Seattle (3 times), Prince George (2 times), Tri City, Chilliwack

Spokane (currently 4th with 58 points):

Home (13 games – road winning percentage of opponents = .533)

Seattle, Kootenay, Everett (4 times), Kamloops, Moose Jaw, Tri City (3 times), Prince George, Kelowna

Away (11 games – home winning percentage of opponents = .631)

Kamloops (2 times), Chilliwack, Everett (2 times), Kootenay, Tri City (2 times), Portland, Seattle

So, from looking at the sheer numbers, it would appear that Spokane has the tougher schedule even though they have more games to play than either Everett or Portland. With the Chiefs playing the Silvertips six more times before now and the end of the season, I think Portland would be happy if they split those games 3-3 with all the games ending in regulation.

Portland is the benefactor of having five games left with Seattle, whom the Hawks have dominated so far this season and three games with the lowly Prince George Cougars.  But…you have to win those games and hopefully find a way to solve Tri City in the three home games remaining between those two teams.

Should be an interesting race…

Also, a “magic number” update:

Tri City – any combination of 11 points or 5.5 wins/Seattle losses

Everett — 19 points or 9.5 wins/Seattle losses

Portland — 22 points or 11 wins/Seattle losses

Vancouver — 23 points or 11.5 wins/Seattle losses

Spokane — 26 points or 13 wins/Seattle losses

Chilliwack — 32 points or 16 wins/Seattle losses

Kamloops — 33 points or 16.5 wins/Seattle losses

Kelowna — 38 points or 19 wins/Seattle losses

Lastly, congrats to Ian Curtis for being nominated for the CHL Goaltender of the Week for the third time this season.  He posted 2-0-0-0, with a 1.00 GAA and a .976 save percentage in wins over Seattle and Vancouver.

BTW…Curtis in 3 appearances against Vancouver in his career has a 1-1-0-0 record with a 2.46 GAA and a .951 save percentage…

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Gritty Win…

It certainly won’t go down as a pretty win, but it sure was a nice way to end a long week of hockey for the Portland Winterhawks.

Ian Curtis (photo courtesy of Bryan Heim) stopped 51 shots to lead the Hawks to a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Giants at the Memorial Coliseum to halt a 13 game losing streak against the Giants that stretched out a little over three years.

The last Hawk win was the 1-0 shutout in overtime on Teddy Bear Toss night back on November 25, 2006.   Only Chris Francis remains on the roster from that game.

The Hawks weathered the early storm after the Giants had a 14-0 shot advantage 13 minutes into the game, but the Hawks found their legs after that and it was a fairly even game for the final 45 minutes.  Curtis had to be good on an early power play chance in the first and that seemed to put him in the groove for the remainder of the game.

The two disallowed goals were, I’m sure, disputed by the Giants but from my view, they were the right calls.  Curtis was impeded in the crease on the first chance by Tomas Vincour and the net was definitely off the moorings on the second one.  You could see Curtis looking behind him before the entry shot was deflected home by Vincour as Ian knew the net was off the peg.

Riley Boychuk and Spencer Bennett set up the first two goals for the Hawks, one by Oliver Gabriel and the second by Taylor Jordan as the Hawks top two offensive lines were held off the scoresheet (with the exception of the empty netter by Luke Walker) for the first time in a long time.

Both of the Hawks first two goals were created by driving hard to the net and it was especially nice to see Jordan get rewarded as he does a lot of little things during games that don’t show up in the box score most nights.

As I said on the post-game show, I found a good omen before the game when I saw that the Hawks had never lost on home ice when playing on January 24th in their history…but the superstitious side of me wouldn’t let me pull that factoid out until after the game was over…the broadcaster jinx avoided.

Well…sort of…after the the second goal was waived off, I made the mistake of opening my records file to see what the Hawks record for saves in a regular season shutout was before the game was over.  While I didn’t utter the dreaded “shutout” on the air, looking it up before the game was over was just as bad.   (Broadcasters are just as superstitious sometimes as the players.)

So, Jason LaBarbera, your 41 save shutout in Red Deer on February 26, 1999, still holds its spot in the books.  Sorry Curtsy…

The Hawks are now off until Friday night in Everett for the start of another three games in three nights…Luca Sbisa may make his Hawks debut then…should be an interesting week.

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Domination of Seattle Continues…

The Portland Winterhawks continued their season-long domination of their I-5 rivals, the Seattle Thunderbirds last night, winning 6-1 at the ShoWare Center in Kent.  The Hawks are now 7-0-0-0 in the season series, having outscored Seattle 38-12 in the process.

Chris Francis finished the night with 1-3-4 (one assist being added after the game) and a career-best +5 on the night.  Francis now sits at a team best 58 points with 22 games remaining.  He has also taken over the team lead with a +22 rating.

With his four point night, Francis has now moved into the top 50 all-time Winterhawk scorers, passing Marcel Hossa, and he is now tied with defenseman David Babych with 165 points in 49th position.

A little further down the list is Seth Swenson who had his first WHL goal and multi-point night to accentuate the victory.

Goaltender Ian Curtis rebounded after a rough last start to stop 29 of 30 shots to once again put his season save percentage over 90% and he improves his record to 17-7-1-1.

The only downside to the game was Eric Doyle leaving with a lower body injury.  I don’t have a status on him this morning, but will get something for the pregame show tonight.  Stefan Schneider seamlessly slipped back to the defense position when Doyle left and showed why he is one of the most versatile players on the team.

It certainly doesn’t get any easier for the Hawks as they host the rested Vancouver Giants at the MC at 5:00.   The Giants have lost two straight and they sat in Portland last night while the Hawks ran over Seattle.  The Giants have won 13 straight against the Hawks, with the Hawks last win coming on Teddy Bear Toss night in November 2006 when they shut the Giants out 1-0 in overtime.

We’re due…

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