With 12 days off for the holiday break, the Portland Winterhawks (19-11-3-2) and Tri-City Americans (18-12-1-1) met for the third straight game. Also, for the third straight matchup, the game required overtime.
Sticking with the theme over the last three contests, the Americans emerged victorious in the 3-on-3 session. Friday night’s hero for Tri-City in Portland, Parker AuCoin.
The overage forward received a pass from Sasha Mutala from behind the net. Parker made a move around an outstretched Shane Farkas, giving the Americans two points in a tightly contested U.S. Division race.
Tri-City head coach Kelly Buchberger spoke after the game about his overage players continuing to drive the team forward, “I’ve always said we have great leadership with our overage players. All our 20-year-olds lead by example. I felt from the start of training camp when I got here until now is that they bring it every shift and every practice. When you have that, you have a chance to win every game.”
Buchberger also credited his goalie, Beck Warm, “He has been our MVP all year, and it is still half the season left. He brings it every night.” Warm made 17 saves in the third period, 33 on the night, “I think especially on [Ryan] Hughes he made three key saves in the third,” Buchberger finished.
A key moment in the game occured with under five minutes to play in a spirited first period. After several big hits by both teams, the tension reached its peak when Roman Kalinichenko hit Winterhawks defenseman Brendan De Jong with a hard hit. The hit took the Winterhawks’ defenseman out of the game, and De Jong would not return.
Each head coach saw the play differently. Buchberger said, “We don’t want to take physicality out of our game. Roman [Kalinichenko], that is his game. He plays hard and plays a heavy game. There is always a fine line on how hard you can hit. It was a big hit and was one of those things that maybe turned the game around.”
For Mike Johnston, he wasn’t as pleased, “It is unfortunate in our games when everyone is worried about concussions that the hit on De Jong wasn’t called. You have a predatory type hit on a player who is not looking. I thought that was a key part of the game. We lose our top defenseman, a high-minute guy to a concussion. There isn’t even a minor penalty called on the play; it kind of shocked me.”
Tensions rose again late in the second period when 18-year-old defenseman John Ludvig hit Connor Bouchard from behind sending him face-first into the corner.
Johnston described the play, “Ludvig is a strong kid and he pushed a lighter guy into the boards; it looked bad. I’m glad the player wasn’t injured.”
Buchberger was calm in his response to the hit, “You never want to see a player get hit from behind and put into a vulnerable position. It is just one of those things that happen in the game and nothing you can do about it.”
From this moment on, Portland was down to four defensemen.
Already playing without 19-year-old Matthew Quigley, the Winterhawks were down to Nick Cicek, Nick Perna, Clay Hanus, and Jared Freadrich on the back end.
Johnston though praised his young, and relatively inexperienced defensemen after the game. “We were down to four, and it was challenging in the third. I told the team I was really happy with how they responded.”
Perna and Cicek have been rotating in-and-out of the lineup the first half of the year, and Johnston described tonight’s situation as to why he finds a benefit in rotating players. “That is what we’ve talked about the entire first half. You never know what can happen. We haven’t had many injuries, knock on wood. They are chomping at the bit waiting to get opportunities; now they are going to get them. It is good for those guys to get a chance, but is more important how they play and they respond. I was happy with how they played and responded; they played heavy minutes.”
Johnston offered high praise to Clay Hanus, “Even a guy like Hanus; you have to remember he is only 17-years-old. I thought he was the best player on the ice tonight.”
Hanus’ defensive play in the second period sprung forward Ryan Hughes on a partial breakaway. The 19-year-old Edmonton native beat Warm for his 14th goal of the season. Hanus said, “I stayed with the guy cutting across the blue line and popped it free to Hughes. He went down the ice and had a beautiful goal.”
This is the second game where Hanus was asked to play an increased role to De Jong being out of the lineup. The last time was a game in Seattle earlier this month. “I think we played a really solid game as a whole,” Hanus said. “We lost a few defensemen, and I thought we responded really well. We played pretty good throughout, but just couldn’t burry at the end. De Jong got hit; looked pretty bad. Then Johnny [Ludvig] stuck up for himself which is always good. It put a lot of pressure on us four, but that is alright. I think all four of us did a really good job and responded well.”
The response included the Winterhawks outshooting the Americans 17-5 in the third period.
Buchberger commented on the third period being, “back-and forth. I thought both teams coming off a long break competed really hard. Portland created a lot of chances in the first period. We kind of returned the favor in the second period. It was a great hockey game for both teams.”
Portland opened the scoring on De Jong’s fifth goal of the season before the first period media timeout.
Sasha Mutala’s eighth goal of the season tied the game at one before the first period horn sounded. Kyle Olson continued his strong play against the Winterhawks, and sent a firm pass to Mutala who directed the puck by Farkas.
Blake Stevenson gave the Americans the lead just over six minutes into the second period on a scramble play in front of the Portland net.
Ryan Hughes’ goal with over three minutes to play in the second period forced overtime where Tri-City prevaled.
Each team competes again tomorrow night on the road. Portland heads north on I-5 to play in Kent against the Seattle Thunderbirds. Meanwhile, Tri-City will head out I-84 for a divisional matchup with the Spokane Chiefs.
After playing three games in a row against one another, the two teams do not face each other again until January 20th.
– Portland scratched Matthew Quigley on Friday night. I spoke with Mike Johnston after the game asking for an update, Johnston’s response, “No, no update.”
– Brendan De Jong left the game in the first period and Mike Johnston confirmed the 20-year-old is in concussion protocol. Johnston does not believe he will be available tomorrow in Seattle.
– Tyson Kozak, returned to the team as expected while Cody Glass is away representing Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.