Game Live on FSN Tonight…

If you haven’t heard already…tonight’s Game 7 between the Spokane Chiefs and the Portland Winterhawks will be televised live on FSN in the greater Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to FSN and both the Portland and Spokane organizations as well as the WHL for making this happen.

Don’t forget to tune into our pre-game show at 6:40 on Freedom 970 KCMD with Todd Vrooman, John Kirby and myself as we set the stage for what will hopefully be a game to remember.

Ponich Signs…and, oh yeah…Game 7…

Photo Credit - Bryan Heim

For the second straight day, it is great to report a NHL signing from the Portland Winterhawks.

This time is 18 year old defenseman Brett Ponich, a 2nd round selection of the St. Louis Blues in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, who signed with the Blues to an entry level contract.

Details can be found here.

Ponich was the Hawks 2nd round Bantam Selection in 2006 and made his debut as a 15 year old for a couple games three years ago.  He played a full season as a 16 year old and was named Team Captain at the start of this season.

Ponich is also one of those great character players, much like Stefan Schneider who signed with the Vancouver Canucks earlier, and is a key leader on this team.

The 6’7 d-man would have to play in the NHL next season to play pro, and it is anticipated that he will be back for his 19 year old season on 2010-11.

Congrats to Brett on the signing!

As far as Game 7 goes…the team left Portland just before lunch time today and arrived in Spokane around 5:00 this evening.

The boys appear loose and confident heading into tomorrow night’s deciding game and I look forward to calling the game with Todd Vrooman and John Kirby.

It would have been great to wrap it up in front of the vocal crowd last night at the Rose Garden…but we can’t look back now and worry about what happened last night.

Our pre-game show will be on Freedom 970 at 6:40…can’t wait….

Schneider Signing Official…He’s a Canuck…

You don’t know how hard it is has been to not say something about this since I found out about it on Thursday…but, it is now official…Stefan Schneider has signed a NHL contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

The release is here.

If there has ever been a better “feel good” story than Schneider’s in Winterhawk history, I don’t know about it.

Schneider came over to the Hawks as a 7th defenseman from the Vancouver Giants for “future considerations” at the start of last season.  He was moved to forward and he quickly became the most reliable defensive center the Hawks have had since Chris Jacobsen and he showed that he had what it took to be a veteran leader and role model for the young Hawks heading into this season.

The signing was a bit of a shock for Schneider as he didn’t even have an agent until early last week.   There had been a lot of interest shown by NHL teams in Schneider but all the 20 year old wanted was one shot…at a tryout.   Well, he got a bit better than that.

To say that everyone in the Hawks organization is proud of Schneider and for his signing would be a huge understatement.

Congratulations Stefan…you have earned this the old fashioned way…with hard work and dedication.  He was never drafted in the Bantam Draft nor the NHL Draft…a great story and a great testament to every player that it can be done.

But…before you head off to the pros…the work isn’t done here in Portland…let’s take Game 6 tonight and head to the second round!

Three Down…One to Go…

Johan after poking home the winner...

They say that if you do something once, it’s an occurrence…if you do something twice, it’s a coincidence…if you do something three times, it’s a trend…what about if you do something seven times?

Well, the Portland Winterhawks have done just that, sweeping the three-game set in Spokane to give them seven consecutive victories this season at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena after holding on for a 4-3 win in Game 5 last night.

Ryan Johansen scored twice (thanks again to my wife Vicki for snapping the photo’s!) including the game winner on a goal mouth scramble in the third period to lead the Hawks attack and to propel the Hawks back home with a chance to wrap up the series on Monday night in Game 6 at the Rose Garden.

I think that if you would have done a poll of those fans leaving the Rose Garden last Sunday, with the Hawks down 0-2, I would imagine that nearly all of them would have said that they wouldn’t have expected to be back in Portland with a chance to wrap up the series on home ice.   But that is what is great about this sport and this team.   They are a resilient bunch who aren’t ready for this season to end.

It isn’t going to be easy…the Hawks know that Spokane has confidence on the road and playing in the Rose Garden.   They will need to approach Game 6 in the same “businesslike” manner that they approached the road games.   Head Coach Mike Johnston used the “businesslike” word a few times in our post-game interviews and having been around the team this week, that is a great way to describe the way they came into Spokane and the way they left.

The coaching staff had them prepared to the best of their abilities and the team executed.  It wasn’t always perfect or pretty, but they got the job done…as a team…and that was a beautiful thing to watch.

I can’t wait for Game 6…

On a personal note…it was a fun week for me and Todd Vrooman and John Kirby.  Three broadcasts, three wins and on three different radio stations…whew!

Thanks to everyone at Alpha Broadcasting and at KCMD, 95.5 The Game and KXL…it all ran seemlessly and smoothly and at the risk of sounding immodest…I thought they were great shows.   It helps working with Todd and Kirby…they make it fun and they bring great insights.

Dean Vrooman will be back with us tomorrow night at the Rose Garden as well…

To Todd…it must be the shoes, Money!   And, it is only fitting that with two Swiss players on the roster that the K-Swiss shoes were part of the weekend.

And, for a third time this week…the group hug after a win…this scene never gets old…

Talk to you on Monday night…

Even Steven…

Smiles all around...

Goaltender Mac Carruth was the center of attention after backstopping the Portland Winterhawks to a 4-2 win over the Spokane Chiefs to even their opening round playoff series at two games apiece heading into Game 5 tonight.

Carruth not only made 29 saves but he added two assists to give him three assists in the series, which is unofficially a new team record.  His puck-moving ability has really been an asset for Portland in the series and has helped spring the rush on numerous occasions.

It was also great to see Chris Francis and Luke Walker dent the twine last night.  They had been creating chances to score but the goals just weren’t coming until Walker got the first one and then Francis the next two to stake the Hawks to a 3-0 lead early in the second period.

I haven’t heard about any repercussions from the Tayler Jordan collision with James Reid last night for Game 5, but the video showed that Jordan was bumped by Spokane d-man Brendan Kichton into Reid and it will be interesting to see if any supplemental discipline is handed down by the WHL.

Don’t forget that Game 5 will be broadcast on AM 750 KXL tonight with no pre-game show…we’ll go on live at 7:00.

It was great to be on 95.5 The Game last night…they were great to work with and hopefully we got a few listeners that aren’t normal followers of the Winterhawks.   Todd Vrooman, John Kirby and I did our best to make it as entertaining as possible.

Hawks in Stereo Tonight…

Don’t forget tonight’s game will be broadcast live on FM 95.5 The Game with the pre-game show at 6:40…all the analysis, news and anything else the broadcast crew can dig up will be heard in high quality stereo…

Road Ice Advantage…

Moments before the winner...

The “Road Ice Advantage” series continued last night as the Portland Winterhawks got a 2-1 win to pull back within one game in the best of seven series with Game 4 to played on Friday and Game 5 on Saturday here in Spokane.

My wife Vicki took the photos last night including catching Troy Rutkowski just before he snapped home the game winner past a fallen James Reid in net for Spokane to make it five straight wins for Portland at the Spokane Arena.

The win capped off as dominant a performance for Portland as I’ve seen this season, especially in the first 40 minutes, as they really fore-checked with reckless abandon and pressured Spokane into just being content with clearing the zone for large stretches of the game.

Reid held the Chiefs in it almost long enough to get to overtime, but the late Rutkowski goal sealed the victory for his second goal of the series and the fifth goal from a blueliner for Portland, out of the eight Portland has scored in three games.

After that, a late penalty kill and some stressful moments before Mac Carruth closed the door for his first career WHL playoff victory after stopping 30 of 31 shots.

Group Hug...

In the end, it was only one victory, but for the Hawks, it was a huge victory, not only in the series, but for their confidence as well.  They know they can win on the road as they have all season and now they know they can do it in the playoffs.

Remember Game 4 will be broadcast live at 6:40 on 95.5 FM The Game.

Also, just got word that Game 5 will be broadcast on Newsradio 750 KXL AM, going on at 7:00, so there will be no pre-game show on Saturday night, but the game will be carried on KXL, not KCMD for Saturday!

Down…But Not Out…

Even after dropping Game 2 to the Spokane Chiefs last night at the Rose Garden, the Portland Winterhawks awoke this morning knowing that they still have an opportunity to go to Spokane and try to wrestle their way back into the opening round playoff series with Game 3 coming up on Wednesday night.

While the Chiefs took a stranglehold on the series by winning both games in Portland, the Hawks know that they have had success at the Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane and they can hopefully build off that confidence and make a series out of what was a disappointing weekend result at home on the ice.

Off the ice, I thought there were two very good first round crowds and it was great to feel the playoff vibe back in Portland.

For Portland to be successful they need to find a way to create more traffic around James Reid and get more offensive production from the forward lines.  In the series, four of the six goals have been scored by defensemen and only one goal of the six has been scored from within five feet of the goal, and that was Taylor Aronson’s power play goal in the first period of Game 1.

On a personal note, I wanted to say how much fun it was to have the full playoff radio crew of myself, Todd and Dean Vrooman and John Kirby working the two games this weekend.   While I battled through a nasty cough and sinus issues all weekend, it was great to work with these guys and hopefully the fans enjoyed the end product.

This week in Spokane, Todd will join me in the booth and Kirby will be on the roving wireless microphone in the Spokane Arena providing his insights into the action and post-game interviews.

Our pre-game show on Wednesday starts at 6:40 on Freedom 970 KCMD.

More from Spokane later this week…

No Time to Dwell…

The best thing about having back-to-back games to open this playoff series is that the Portland Winterhawks won’t have time to dwell on their opening game 5-4 loss to the Spokane Chiefs last night at the Rose Garden.

The Hawks did  a lot of things right last night and there are a ton of positives that Mike Johnston can emphasize with the roster to get them ready for Game 2 tonight.  If there is one thing that Johnston is good at it is accentuating the positives with his team and they will need that coming out of the locker room tonight.

Nearly all the numbers were in their favor last night, except for the one that counted most, the final score…and it marked just the second time in 33 games this season that Portland had surrendered a second period lead to lose.

But, as we said on the post-game show last night, you have to give Spokane credit…they hung around all night and took advantage of the opportunities awarded to them.   That’s what veteran, playoff experienced teams do and Portland will need to respect and remember that in Game 2.

Lastly, a nice crowd of over 6500 last night for Game 1…hope to see similar tonight.

Hawks Shut-out Of League Awards – Nino 2nd Team All-Star

Photo Credit - Mick White

First off…congratulations to rookie forward Nino Niederreiter for being named to the WHL Western Conference Second Team All-Star squad as it was announced today by the WHL.

Niederreiter posted 36-24-60 in 65 games, finishing second amongst rookies in goals scored and seventh in rookie scoring in the WHL this season.

Niederreiter was the only Hawk to be honored in the post-season awards.

Forgive me as I go on a bit of a rant, but I fail to see how Mike Johnston was not named the Western Conference nominee for Coach of the Year for 2009-10.

No offense to Craig Hartsburg, his Everett Silvertip squad had a tremendous season, but no team has made the strides that the Winterhawks made in 2009-10.

The Hawks win total increased from 19 to 44 and the point total went from 43 to 91 in one season.   Everett increased their win total from 27 to 46 and points from 63 to 97.  For Johnston, that is six more wins and 14 more points than Hartsburg, all while having one of the youngest teams in the league.

For Johnston to get snubbed for this honor is an injustice, IMO.

Other Hawks that I thought might get honored, but didn’t, were:

Chris Francis for Most Sportsmanlike Player — Francis finished the season with 82 points and only 20 penalty minutes having played in all 72 games.   The honor went to Spokane d-man Jared Spurgeon who had 51 points and 18 penalty minutes in 54 games.   Francis averaged .28 PIM’s per game to Spurgeon’s .33.  It must have been the one extra roughing minor that Francis took to put Spurgeon ahead of him (Francis had 3 on the season, Spurgeon had 2).

Niederreiter or Ryan Johansen for Rookie of the Year — Shane McColgan was selected for this and I have no issue with that, but Niederreiter and Johansen were, or should have been, in the running as well.

You can see the entire list of the selections here...

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