Sunday evening was a special night for Ryan Hughes as he returned to the Rose City for the first time since being traded last season. The Kamloops Blazers (10-6-0-0) used the extra energy to defeat the Portland Winterhawks (10-4-0-1) by a score of 6-5.
Kamloops came out with a ton of pace and capitalized on Portland turnovers.
Forward Josh Pillar netted his third goal of the year with an assist from Hughes. The goal came just 1:11 into the contest.
A Winterhawks turnover in the neutral zone led to a Orrin Centazzo rush the other way. The Marwayne, Alberta native cut to the middle and fired a shot blocker side on Portland’s Isaiah DiLaura.
During the first media timeout the Winterhawks recognized Hughes for his time in Portland. Hughes appeared in 223 regular season and 27 playoff games for the Winterhawks. During his time in Portland, Ryan contributed 68 goals and 95 assists.
Hughes did not know it was coming. “It was weird coming back. I played three and a half years here and was pretty emotional. I just tried to keep my same routine and just play like it was any other hockey game. It was definitely emotional getting that tribute video; that was awesome, a classy move by the Winterhawks.”
Right on cue, Hughes scored on his next shift after being recognized.
Once again, a Winterhawks turnover, this time at the Kamloops blue line, led to a two-on-one starting with Martin Lang. The 2001-born forward elected to pass and hit Hughes in stride for a 3-0 Blazers lead.
“I kind of had a smile on my face after I scored,” Hughes mentioned. “It was fun, that is all I can say. It is a kind of a weird experience, but I had fun with it.”
Blazers head coach Shaun Clouston said, “It was pretty exciting. I was wondering if the Winterhawks were wondering if they should have done the tribute or not there. He obviously really responded and was exciting for him and our team.”
Three minutes later Portland got on the board when Cross Hanas went in alone on a breakaway. The Highland Village, Texas native went forehand then backhand on Rayce Ramsay for his 6th goal of the year.
Only 38 seconds later Simon Knak finished off a three-way passing play. Seth Jarvis started the play before Reece Newkirk sent a pass to the Switzerland import forward.
With less than two minutes to play in the first period Newkirk was called for cross checking. A red-hot Portland penalty kill was unable to keep the Blazers off the scoreboard.
2020 NHL Draft eligible forward Connor Zary sent a wrist shot to the back of the net.
A total of six goals were scored in the first period on a combined 24 shots.
The second period belonged to the home side as they outshot the visitors 13-8.
Mason Mannek scored his third of the campaign after he banged in a rebound. For the second time this weekend the Salt Lake City, Utah native did not give up on his first opportunity. He scored on a second-chance opportunity on Friday in Everett.
The momentum was in favor of the Winterhawks until a Kurtis Smythe interference penalty. However, Portland grabbed it right back on a shorthanded goal.
Jaydon Dureau and Seth Jarvis went in on a two-on-one rush. Jarvis’ pass was waist high for Dureau who batted it out of the air back to the 17-year-old forward.
Jarvis described the goal from his perspective, “Johnny (Ludvig) made a great clear, just kind of kept it hard, and luckily it bounced out to me. Jaydon made a heck of a play on my iffy pass getting it back to me to tap it in.”
The goal went under review which made Jarvis nervous a little bit. “Jaydon and (I) had a laugh about it. For the most part I had a good idea it was going to count.”
After the goal Dylan Garand entered the game in relief of Ramsay. The 2001-born netminder finished with 14 saves on 18 shots.
The game was tied at four heading to the final period.
Portland started the final 20 minutes on the power play after Connor Zary was whistled for a double-minor high sticking penalty.
The Winterhawks fired several shots at the Kamloops net before Jarvis buried a chance to the right of Garand. “On the power play we went over it in the room looking at options. Jake (Gricius) made a heck of a play to kind of get it in an area and Newy (Reece Newkirk) made a nice tip. I was just able to transfer it into the net.”
The power-play goal gave the Winterhawks the lead. However, the lead would not last ten seconds.
Connor Zary scored a wrap-around goal nine seconds later.
Hughes described the sequence, “We went into the third period and knew we had to kill that penalty off, but they scored. We had to get one back. Zary took the penalty, he redeemed himself, it is good for him and our team.”
Less than three minutes later the Blazers took the lead for good. Inaki Baragano’s shot from the point found the twine, his third goal of the year.
Joel Hofer entered the game in relief of DiLaura who closed the evening stopping 18 of the 24 shots he faced.
Winterhawks vice president, general manager, and head coach Mike Johnston said, “I thought he settled in the second period and then had a tough third there with those two shots. He has played well for us. I cut him some slack because he hasn’t started since Medicine Hat (October 8). We haven’t had a schedule where Hofer was tired and he needed to play. I saw Everett play (Dustin) Wolf three-in-three, but we are not going to do that. Hofer is a key guy for us, and we want to make sure that he is rested and doesn’t get over taxed.”
Portland pushed hard for the equalizer with 18 shots in the third period, but were unable to solve Garand more than once.
“I thought Connor Zary was real good for us tonight. Him and Garand were probably the difference down the stretch,” Clouston expressed. “Lots of our guys played well down the stretch. We did a much better job in the neutral zone down the stretch.”
Kamloops held on to win their 10th game of the season.
“Oh, it was a wild game that was back and forth,” Clouston said. “We had kind of a quick start, probably scored a little bit easy. Portland did a great job battling back. We got a little panicky, but we were able to settle it down between the second and the third. It was a little bit of a frustrating game from a coaching standpoint until probably the third period. I thought we had less panic in our game, more confidence as it went on. We actually seemed to play better once we tied it up. It was like the majority of the game we were playing to hang on to a lead and down the stretch there we just played different.”
For Mike Johnston he felt they “played a good game actually. Our first time with three-in-three for 10 of our guys it was the first time they’ve played three-in-three. It was one of those games that you expect in the three-in-three especially with Kamloops fresh. They had the jump early.”
Johnston continued, “I thought we did a lot of good things and quite a few scoring chances in the third period. I like the way we are playing right now. We are generating and our lines have some chemistry.
The Winterhawks bounce back from down 3-0 impressed Johnston. “There might have been a weak goal or so in there. They had some jump right away and got some momentum, but I thought from 10 minutes of the first period from then on we owned the game. They are the best team on the other side (of the conference). You are down 3-0 to one of the top teams in the league; you want to see how you are going to play against them and respond. I thought we responded the right way and kept coming back in the game showing a lot of resiliency.
Portland is off until Friday when they head back on the road to face the Vancouver Giants in a home-and-home series.
Kamloops is also not scheduled to play a game until Friday when they head back across the border to play the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Ryan Hughes returns to Portland
Sunday marked the first time Ryan Hughes played back in Portland since being traded near the trade deadline last season. Unless the Blazers and Winterhawks meet in the playoffs, Sunday was the final time he will step on the ice in a WHL jersey.
He talked about being in the opposite locker room and tunnel, “It is a lot different. I don’t know how many games I played on the other side, but one on the wrong side seems weird. It is good, and I’m enjoying Kamloops. I love it and the team and the guys are good. I’m having a good time.”
The trade wasn’t easy for Ryan, “I’ve obviously grown a lot as a person. It takes a lot out of you, a very weird experience. That is the hockey world, a big part of the hockey world is trades and moving on. I think I’ve handled it well up until this point. It has made my career a lot more fun I guess.”
Blazers general manager Matt Bardsley was in Portland when Hughes joined the league. “He brought me into the league and hopefully he takes me out of the league,” Ryan said of Bardsley.
What helped Hughes through the transition first to Saskatoon and eventually Kamloops, his family. “My family has been huge. They were at my first game at Saskatoon, they are here tonight, they were at my first game in Kamloops. They have supported me the whole way. I’ve had them to lean back on.”
The Edmonton, Alberta native talked about how much it meant to him to have his family in attendance on Sunday. “It was awesome, it is always nice having them in the building. I tried to put on a show for them. They don’t get to see a lot of games, but when they do it is awesome. They have sacrificed so much for me to be at this point in my career. I can’t thank them enough.”
Seth Jarvis commented on facing a familiar face, “Hughes was a big guy in our room and a big guy in this organization. He was my roommate, so kind of seeing him out there was a little bit weird. Right when the puck dropped it was no friends. I don’t care if he was my roommate, I’m still going to play him as hard as anybody.”
Clouston echoed how Ryan felt, “It was probably pretty darn emotional. He started his career and spent the vast majority of his time here. He had some visitors, I don’t know which players came to see him today in the hotel, but this was home for a long time.”
With his goal and assist Hughes was named the third star of the game which meant he received one more, final curtain call in front of the Portland fans. The fans responded with cheers and applause. “It just shows how good the fans are here,” Ryan commented. “They are so respectful, and I can’t say enough good things about the fan base and the whole Portland organization. My time here was fantastic, I can’t complain.”
Below is the video tribute played during the media timeout