Saturday night in Portland featured the top two teams in the U.S. Division as the Everett Silvertips (33-11-1-1) visited the Rose City to face the Winterhawks (27-12-3-2). After 40 minutes of scoreless action, the offense came alive in the third period with six goals. Portland found the back of the net five times, including an empty-net goal, to defeat Everett 5-1.
With each team fully aware of what the other was trying to accomplish, the scoring chances were relatively limited through the first two periods. Brendan De Jong, playing in his 300th career game, said, “This is a game we know was going to go both ways. They are unbelieveable defensively, and we are really high powered offense. We know there isn’t going to be a lot of chances out there, so we have to take advantage of the ones we do.
For Portland Winterhawks Head Coach Mike Johnston, he felt, “Both teams were ready for it. I think you can tell it was a game like Prince Albert. I thought it was a hard fought battle for space and scoring chances. Even though there were shots, I thought it was hard getting scoring chances both ways.”
Dustin Wolf and Joel Hofer showed why they are considered two of the top goalies in the WHL. Each made multiple saves on breakaways. Wolf finished with 27 saves while Hofer stopped 33 Everett shots.
Hofer made several saves early including on former Seattle Thunderbird, and now current Everett Silvertip, forward Zack Andrusiak. The Armstrong, BC native was credited with five shots in the game not including a shot he fired off the post in the first period. Andrusiak scored 12 goals in his previous six games against Portland.
Johnston commented on the focus his team had on slowing down Andrusiak and Connor Dewar, “I liked the balance of our lines, and each line took a responsibility and what they had to do against them to be successful. We didn’t have a set matchup except on defense, but the forward lines played against whoever. They knew if they were playing against Andrusiak of Dewar, they needed to be responsible defensively.”
After the game Hofer praised the players in front of him for helping keep some of Everett’s top scorers off the boxscore, “The team battled hard. The guys stepped up big there with big blocks. I’m glad we got the win.”
Since neither team converted on their power plays in the first two periods, and scoring chances were limited five-on-five, the teams entered the third period tied at zero.
Portland successfully killed off a Joachim Blichfeld penalty to start the final frame, and used the momentum to open the scoring a few minutes later.
Cody Glass controlled the play through the neutral zone before finding Blichfeld in the slot. The WHL’s leading scorer controlled the puck and sent a backhanded shot by Wolf just under four minutes into the third.
Blichfeld said, “Cody was finding me all night, but every time I received the puck it bobbled on me. It was nice to finally get one into the back of the net.”
Within 40 seconds of Blichfeld’s 39th goal of the season, Everett took back-to-back penalties giving Portland 1:51 of five-on-three power play time to utilize.
The Winterhawks passed the puck around the zone before Glass found Jared Freadrich to the side of Wolf’s net. The overage defenseman’s shot got by Wolf for his seventh goal of the season.
Newly acquired Josh Paterson said, “We knew we needed to be desperate there and needed a goal; it would be huge if we scored one. (We) kept the puck moving and got pucks to the net. It was a great pass by Cody and a good shot by Jared (Freadrich).”
Everett’s penalty killers were respecting the passing lane to Paterson when Freadrich scored. Johnston credited the new look power play, “It gives us some flexibility where we can do some different things. Now we have some big bodies in the slot and at the net with (Jake) Gricius too. I think it adds room and opportunity for Blichfeld and Cody on the flanks. It also adds a tough screen for the goalies. You need your power play to score at the right time, and we did that tonight.”
The power-play goal gave Portland a 2-0 advantage until 15:19 of the third before Glass made the score 3-0.
Paterson described the play, “It was a great forecheck by Blichfeld who turned over the puck. It came right to me, and I saw Cody going right to the net. So I just had to him him for the insurance goal.”
Down by three goals, and on the power play, head coach Dennis Williams pulled Wolf for the extra attacker. The move nearly resulted in a goal, but Portland’s penalty kill remained perfect on the night.
De Jong said, “This is something we emphasize pretty big in the locker room is the penalty kill. We know it could be the difference between a winning and losing team. Something we have many meetings on and we were dialed in.”
Hofer described the biggest key to killing the penalties for him was “having an awareness on where their guys are and battling through sightlines; doing whatever I can to stop the puck.”
Shortly after the 18-year-old netminder’s right pad save prevented a sure goal Jake Gricius won a faceoff. The 19-year-old Colorado Springs native chipped the puck off the wall to himself leading to an empty net goal and his 20th of the season.
De Jong added his sixth of the season from rookie Robbie Fromm-Delorme who earned his sixth assist of the season.
With under 20 seconds to play in the game, 16-year-old Silvertips rookie Jackson Berezowski ended the shutout bid for Hofer and got the Silvertips on the board. Berezowski picked up his tenth of the season from Ronan Seeley and Dawson Butt.
The final 15 seconds ran off the clock without incident and the Winterhawks won their eighth game in their last ten.
Paterson and Blichfeld praised their goalie. Blichfeld said, “Joel is so good and is a young goaltender, but a top one in the league. It is really nice to have him back there, gives us confidence.” Paterson’s comments included, “He did a great job. He held us in there when we needed him to and then made some huge saves at the end. It is all you can ask for from your goalie.”
Johnston acknowledged, “I’ve given him two pretty tough starts in Prince Albert and Everett, so it hasn’t been an easy road for him. He is a good young goalie. Joel has great size and awareness.”
Everett heads north on I-5 to complete their third game in three nights when they welcome the Victoria Royals to town.
Meanwhile, Portland faces Tri-City on Sunday. The two U.S. Division foes met three games in a row, one separated by the holiday break, back in December. The Americans won all three games in overtime.
After earning his first home victory for Portland Hofer feels, “We are really confident in our game right now and with how we are playing; hopefully we can keep it going (against Tri-City).”
– Brendan De Jong played in his 300th game for Portland and is the 9th player in team history to do so. “I’ve been pretty antsy leading up to this 300th game. I’ve been injured for a couple of weeks now, but knew my next game would be my 300th. I know it can be pretty rare to play that many games with one team; I’m pretty honored” De Jong said after the game.
– Blichfeld’s three point game extended his point streak to nine games. Also, this was the 14th game this season where the San Jose Sharks prospect had three or more points.
– Associate coach Kyle Gustafson was not behind the bench on Saturday. Head coach Mike Johnston did not provide any further explanation besides “it was personal”.
– While only a two game sample size, Joel Hofer’s numbers with Portland include a 2.02 goals against average with a 0.933 save percentage allowing four goals on sixty shots. Johnston commented, “Now we have two goaltenders, one in Shane Farkas who has the (third) most wins in the league, and Joel Hofer who is going to get his numbers down playing with us. I like where we are positioned.”
– Johnston did not provide an answer on which goalie is expected to start against Tri-City, “We are going to sleep on it and decide tomorrow (Sunday).”