The Portland Winterhawks were awarded the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for finishing the WHL season as Regular Season Champions.
With the regular season suspended, and not all 68 games played, the WHL elected to hand out awards based upon points percentage.
Portland not only led the league in points percentage with 0.770, but also in points. The Winterhawks finished the abbreviated season with 97 points in 63 games, one ahead of the Everett Silvertips’ 96.
One point in the standings made all the difference in the end. Points awarded in September and October pay just as much as points in February and March.
I’ve taken a look back through Portland’s schedule to find games, or stretches of games, where that “one point” could have been the one to earn them the trophy.
Starting the season 3-0: Portland started the season a perfect 3-for-3 defeating Tri-City, Kamloops, and Vancouver all in September. Kamloops ended up winning the B.C. Division and Vancouver was playing some of its best hockey down the stretch, so key wins for the Winterhawks early.
Central Division swing: Mike Johnston was glad to have the Central Division swing out of the way early in the season for both travel purposes as well as using it as a team bonding experience with a young team. The first three games were not kind to the inexperienced Winterhawks as they were back to a 0.500 hockey team. Portland rebounded though outscoring Red Deer and Swift Current 13-2.
That “one point” could have been gained when they traveled to Rogers Place to face the Oil Kings. Trailing by a goal, Johnny Ludvig scored the equalizer 4:25 into the third period getting the game to overtime. The Winterhawks lost in a shootout, but got their “one point.” Edmonton won the Central Division with 94 points and only dropped 13 points at home.
Nine round shootout: On November 9, Portland and Vancouver participated in a nine round shootout. Mason Mannek made a dandy of a backhand-shelf move and Joel Hofer stopped Evan Patrician giving the Winterhawks a second point. Mannek was the lone 19-year-old forward on the roster this season and showed time and time again his ability to score clutch goals.
Welcome to the Dub Gabe Klassen: Trailing 4-3 midway through the third period in Seattle a week later, a 16-year-old rookie, and 2018 first round bantam selection, Klassen scored his first goal in the WHL. Portland ultimately fell in a shootout, but gained “one point” on the back of one of its young centers.
Shootout victory over Kamloops November 29: 18-year-old defenseman Kade Nolan scored his second goal of the season in a 1-1 game after 60 minutes. Seth Jarvis scored the shootout winner and Joel Hofer stopped all three attempts. Depth scoring was a key storyline in the first half of the season for Portland.
An impressive streak starts: Following a 4-1 loss to the Kamloops Blazers, Portland started a stretch of four-straight games against Prince George. Their first game was a 3-0 shutout victory sparking an eventual 21 game point streak. Opponents could not prevent the Winterhawks from picking up at least “one point” until January 31 in Everett.
Joel Hofer started all four games stopping 100-of-105 Prince George shots, he also earned two shutouts as well. The Cougars were frustrated with how well Hofer was playing so much so that they posted on Instagram, “We’re getting pretty damn tired of Joel Hofer.”
The Dante Giannuzzi and Isaiah DiLaura show: Joel Hofer played his last game of 2019 against Prince George. The Winnipeg, Manitoba, native made Hockey Canada’s Selection Camp and eventually won gold at World Juniors.
He missed nine games, and many locals were hoping/expecting Portland to play 0.500 hockey while Hofer was away. Instead, the tandem of DiLaura and Giannuzzi backstopped the Winterhawks to a record of 8-0-0-1.
DiLaura turned aside 127-of-139 in five starts for a save percentage of 0.914. Meanwhile, Giannuzzi went a perfect 4-0 in his games stopping 95-of-103 and a save percentage of 0.922.
Needless to say, the Winterhawks do not win the division, nor the Scotty Munro Trophy, without the stellar play of Isaiah and Dante.
First game without Hofer: In their first game without Hofer, the Winterhawks battled the Everett Silvertips, who still had Dustin Wolf before he left to represent the United States at World Juniors. Everett jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Portland battled back. Jaydon Dureau scored with 57 seconds remaining and an extra attacker on the ice to force overtime. Reece Newkirk was the hero scoring on the power play giving the extra “one point” to Portland instead of Everett.
DiLaura turned aside 24-of-26 including all six in the third period. He also came up huge in overtime which featured an Everett power play. The 19-year-old from Minnesota stopped three more shots in the extra frame.
Three goal third period comeback against Spokane: Portland fell behind 6-3 after allowing a goal 65 seconds into the final frame of a home tilt on February 4. Rather than getting deflated, and giving up, the Winterhawks responded. Goals by Jack O’Brien, Reece Newkirk, and Jaydon Dureau forced overtime. The Winterhawks fell in overtime on a goal by Jack Finley, but Dureau’s tally gave Portland “one point” they were 42 seconds away from losing.
Gricius and Hanas save the day: In the first of a two-game set against the visiting Victoria Royals, Portland fell behind 4-3 with 3:13 left in the game. Once again, the Winterhawks showed their ability to score six-on-five. Jake Gricius scored his 20th goal in what was a critical point of the season. 22 seconds remained when the overager’s shot hit the back of the net.
In overtime — serving as one of Portland’s alternate captains — Gricius sent a backhanded pass through the neutral zone right onto the tape of a streaking Cross Hanas. The 17-year-old from Texas went high glove giving Portland “one more” point in the third straight game between the two teams which required overtime.
With the uncertainty surrounding the entire sports world, will there be playoffs? Obviously, there are much bigger questions facing our communities right now. That said, sports provides a distraction and gives people something to be excited about.
If this is the last we’ve seen of the 2019-2020 Portland Winterhawks, they put on quite a performance. There were a ton of memories from this season, so remember those during this difficult time.
If this is the end for 2019-2020, best of luck to all the 20-year-olds. A special shout out to Lane Gilliss, Matthew Quigley, and Jake Gricius though.
All three young men are class acts, and I’ve considered it a privilege to cover your final season in the WHL. I hope to see you back on the ice. If not, I will speak on behalf of the Portland community when I say, “Thank you, and we wish you well in whatever is next for you.”
There were a lot of candidates for the “one point”, but what moments stick out to you? Is there a game I’ve missed?
Until things resume, please stay safe, and hopefully I will “See you around the rink” here real soon.