Portland Head Coach, Vice President and General Manager Mike Johnston was forced into a tough decision earlier today. With his team one over the limit of overage players, he moved forward Evan Weinger to the Brandon Wheat Kings in exchange for a third round bantam draft pick in 2018.
The decision was tough as Weinger has been very productive in the WHL, especially last year where he had 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points while playing in Portland’s top-six forward group.
Johnston could be forgiven for having any second thoughts after dealign Weinger, as he us used to acquiring overage talent not trading it away.
Those second guesses were made a little less relevant Tuesday night in Portland (6-1), as he received production from all three remaining overage players and his team shut down the visiting Spokane Chiefs (4-4).
Defenseman Keoni Texeira made an incredible outlet pass, setting up one goal. Alex Overhardt scored a key short-handed goal and Cole Kehler stopped all 43 shots he faced. That is the kind of production from your overage players, that makes the decision to trade Weinger, a little easier to accept.
Portland opened the scoring in the game with an incredible transition goal. Matthew Quigley, in his own zone, spun around and fired a long outlet pass to Skyler McKenzie. The Winnipeg Jets prospect then played catch with Cody Glass, before flipping a shot in tight on Spokane goalie Dawson Weatherill. The Chiefs goalie made a right pad save, but that left the puck sitting in the crease for the Kieffer Bellows to tap home. This was his first on home ice and third of the year.
Portland then suffered a scare as their second line left wing: Ryan Hughes was checked hard from behind in the corner by Spokane forward Rykr Cole. He was helped off the ice and was favoring his left leg. Cole was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the hit and will likely hear from the league office.
Portland was unable to score on that power play, despite winning 12 of 15 face offs in the frame.
They would make up for their lack of power play efficiency with an excellent short-handed goal to give themselves a 2-0 lead in the second period. McKenzie, with two Chiefs converging along the left half-boards in his own zone, chipped the puck out into the neutral zone. Alex Overhardt was first to the puck and skated in on a breakaway. Overhardt stick handled to his forehand and beat Weatherill through the five-hole for his third goal this year and second short-handed marker for the Hawks.
Spokane threw everything they could at Kehler, including 19 shots in the second period and 13 in the third. Portland’s backstop was game for everything they could get on net. He just always seemed to be in the right position for every shot. The Chiefs appeared frustrated and started trying to pick corners on the netminder, rather than get anything on that could create some traffic in front and make him uncomfortable.
Keoni Texeira then took a page out of Quigley’s book with 5:28 left and made a great heads up play to fire an outlet pass to Brad Ginnell. The 2000-born winger raced in alone and beat Weatherill glove side, putting the game away 3-0.
The loss has to be an especially frustrating one for the Chiefs, who after dropping two straight lopsided affairs last weekend to Portland, played a much better defensive game. They did a great job of keeping Portland’s forwards from connecting the cross-ice passes they love to use. Unfortunately a few excellent passes from Portland’s blue liners caught them off guard and created odd-man rushes. Those would end up being the difference.
The Chiefs power play struggles continued as they failed to score on five chances. Portland could not score on either of their two opportunities.
Weatherill was solid for Spokane, stopping 39 of the 40 shots he faced.
-Lane Gilliss did an excellent job of subbing in for the injured Ryan Hughes. That does not mean that Hughes will not be missed, as he looks to possibly miss some time. Hughes came off, heavily favoring his left leg and needed assistance to get off the ice.
-McKenzie, with two assists, now has 11 points in seven games. Cody Glass had one assist and now has 14 points. Those two lead the team, which so far has had a very balanced attack. The team has 11 players with four or more points so far this year.
-Portland runs their record within the U.S. Division to 6-0 and has outscored their opponents 39-14 in those games.
-Portland will play host to the Kelowna Rockets () this Saturday and Sunday. Spokane will face another tough test Friday as they host the undefeated Victoria Royals.