On Sunday evening the Lethbridge Hurricanes (25-15-4-4) made their only visit to Portland to face the Winterhawks (30-13-3-2). The Hurricanes were completing their third game of a three-in-three after playing Seattle on Friday and Everett and Saturday. Despite out shooting the Winterhawks 37-29, Lethbridge could not solve Joel Hofer who earned his first shutout with his new team. Jake Gricius scored two second period goals, and Seth Jarvis netted his 14th of the season giving Portland the 3-0 victory.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game and Hofer for them played well. It was probably the biggest difference in the game was their goaltending” Lethbridge Hurricanes Head Coach Brent Kisio said after the game. “I thought we had a solid first period. We had some unfortunate calls go against us and made us shorthanded.”
During the first period each team had several chances to open the scoring, but Hofer and Hurricanes goalie Carl Tetachuk kept the score tied at zero after 20 minutes.
In the second period the Hurricanes picked up their pace sending 19 shots on Hofer’s net. The 18-year-old netminder said, “It is crucial to keep your team in the game there in the second period. That is when the game can really reach a tipping point.”
Despite their 19 shots in the period, the Hurricanes allowed three goals in the middle frame. “We fell behind there and got some bad breaks; lost a guy on the backcheck there” Kisio said. “We had our chances [in the second period] and their goaltender was probably the difference.”
Jake Gricius scored the first goal of the game after rookie defenseman Nick Perna sent a puck into the far corner of the ice. 2019 NHL draft eligible forward Reece Newkirk skated onto the puck and spotted Jake Gricius going to the net. Robbie Fromm-Delorme, also going to the top of the crease, was pushed into Tetachuk by Koletrane Wilson giving Gricius the opportunity to light the lamp.
Just over five minutes later the Hurricanes received a power play opportunity to tie the game. However, instead of evening the score, Jake Gricius scored a shorthanded goal. WHL leading scorer Joachim Blichfeld got the puck to Gricius who used speed to go around a Hurricanes defender and behind the net. Using his six-foot-three inch reach, the Colorado Springs, Colorado native completed the wrap around goal giving Portland a 2-0 lead.
The shorthanded goal was the 15th of the season given up by Lethbridge.
Seth Jarvis pushed the Winterhawks lead to 3-0 a little over six minutes later. Newkirk and Jaydon Dureau each picked up assists on the rookie’s tally. Dureau entered the zone and sent the puck to the blue paint where Newkirk first had an opportunity before Jarvis buried the chance.
Portland went to the third with the three-goal cushion despite only seven shots in the second period.
Through the first 40 minutes of play, the Winterhawks went zero-for-five on the power play and also surrendered a penalty shot.
Dylan Cozens got behind the Portland defense and was hauled down on the breakaway. The referee pointed to center and it was the second penalty shot in as many nights in Portland. Cozens, listed as the third ranked North American skater in the latest NHL Central Scouting rankings, took the penalty shot but missed the net on a backhand.
The power play for Portland “is in a bit of a funk right now” Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston said. “I don’t think we played particularly well five-on-four. It has been a strength of our team the whole season, so I expected it will be corrected and fixed over the next little while. We had one goal [on the power play] in this five game segment. The one goal was a five-on-three goal. We have to fix that and have more looks. Obviously the teams are going to pre-scout our power play.”
Over the last seven games Portland has only converted on 4-of-38 opportunities on the man advantage. Despite the current run, the Winterhawks power play is still fourth in the league converting on 24.2 percent of their chances.
The Hurricanes penalty kill was strong and Dylan Cozens led the way getting in both passing and shooting lanes. Kisio said, “I thought our penalty kill did a good job. They have a good power play, with [Cody] Glass out probably hurts their power play a bit, but our guys did a real good job with their sticks and blocking shots.”
With Cody Glass out of the game with a lower-body injury, Johnston was forced to adjust his power play units. During the game he rotated several players on and off the top unit, “Cody is a big part of the power play so we are trying to find something that works without anytime to practice it. We did have time over Christmas where we had different guys on the power play.”
On Saturday night Johnston was not pleased with how his team played with a two-goal lead against Seattle. With a three-goal lead against the Hurricanes Johnston said, “I thought we were really good in the third tonight. The third period I thought we were above them the entire time. We gave them one odd-man rush and that was it. Joel was there and I thought our forecheck was good. We were in good position and had some good scoring chances.”
Hofer was calm in the net throughout the game and kept rebounds to a minimum or placed them away from the oncoming Hurricanes forwards. Entering play on Sunday evening, Lethbridge boasted four of the top 15 scorers in the WHL. Hofer said, “They have a lot of skill out there up front, always need to be aware when they are on the ice. I was trying to do my best out there and make good reads.”
In his two previous home starts, Hofer did not allow a goal until the final minute of play, so during the last 60 seconds all eyes were on the team and the St. Louis Blues drafted netminder. Johnston said, “He has been close to a couple of shutouts, but just hasn’t been able to squeeze it or haven’t done a good enough job in front of him so he could get the shutout. He did a great job tonight, was really sharp, and looked like the Everett game that he played a little bit ago where he was great from start to finish.”
When the final horn sounded Hofer earned his first shutout with the Winterhawks and said, “It was definitely nice to get for sure, but I just care about the win for the team. We have been doing that lately and hopefully we can keep the winning going.”
Sunday marked the first time Hofer also played in back-to-back games with Portland. “It was great, and it was nice that the team trusts me” Hofer commented.
Without Glass, Hofer talked about the team’s next-man-up mentality as well as saying, “Cody is a huge part of our team and obviously a big leader in all aspects. We tried to pull together a win for him tonight and was glad we could do it.”
Hofer also credited Gricius, “He has been great lately. Obviously with his goals, but he is also a leader in the room. A lot of people look up to him.”
Portland next plays on the road against Spokane, tied with Tri-City in the standings for third in the U.S. Division, on Wednesday before playing the Chiefs again on Saturday at home.
Hofer noted the importance of the upcoming games against the Chiefs, “Spokane is a really good team, close behind us in the standings. Technically it is a four point game, so we have to be ready to go. We know they have a lot of skill and good defense.”
Johnston agreed with Hofer by saying, “We haven’t seen them for a while. They are kind of built like us where they are a transition team. They have a lot of skill and good balance through their lineup. I like our game in the last eight weeks; we have been playing good hockey.”
Meanwhile, for Lethbridge, they completed their run through the U.S. division after breaking the trip into two segments. Earlier in the year they played against Spokane and Tri-City in eastern Washington. In the five games against the U.S. Division the Hurricanes went 1-4 and were outscored 29-14. Lethbridge is off until Friday when they have a showdown with Central Division rival Red Deer.
Kisio did not hold back words when asked about preparing to play Red Deer, “We have a long bus ride home, so we will lick our wounds and put our head between our legs and head home to regroup.”
– Cody Glass missed the game due to a lower-body injury. Mike Johnston was asked post game about the status of the Winterhawks captain:
Q: What is the word on Cody ?
Johnston: “When we were getting ready for the game, he was going to see the doctors, and the doctors were reviewing the X-ray and the MRI. So I’ll get an update from Richie (Campbell) after
Q: So nothing yet?
Johnston: No, nothing yet
– Johnston then gave a long winded answer when asked about the impact of Glass being out of the lineup has on his team:
“As I said [Saturday], we didn’t have [Cody] for four or five weeks around Christmas so we played without him. If he happens to be out of the lineup for a little bit here, we are used to that like we showed tonight. Every team that is going to have a chance to win has to be flexible that if a guy is out of the lineup you can adjust.”
“Another a big piece of the lineup is Ludvig who has been out for a little bit here. He carries the most minutes and plays against top lines. He is a plus-28 and is a big loss for our lineup. Our young defense stepped in tonight and did a good job. That is what you need. Your team has to be flexible that you can put different guys in a different spot. I thought our forwards, for a young young group tonight against a very veteran group of forwards I thought they were good.”
– Ludvig appears to be nearing a return to the lineup, “I think he is really close” Johnston said. “He skated hard [Sunday]. I think he is a game or two away from coming back in.
– Cross Hanas was a healthy scratch on Saturday, but with the injury to Glass was inserted back into the lineup on Sunday. He joined the top line of Joachim Blichfeld and Josh Paterson. “I wanted to keep the lines the same as last night” Mike Johnston said post game. “Cross was out of the lineup last night, then Cody goes out tonight, so I just put him in that spot. I think chemistry on the lines against a team like that is as important as you have together. I felt I could play any of our lines against any of their lines. That is the way we played it through the night.”
– When talking with Johnston about Hofer’s shutout, Mike praised how quickly Joel has adapted, “You get in the rhythm of the game. He is getting used to how we play. You have to remember, penalty kill, defensive zone coverage, rush coverage, and everything is a little bit different. Also how he handles the puck too with our defense. You have to recognize that it is a bit of a transition for a goaltender coming in.”