Portland hit the ice Monday afternoon for what appeared to be a spirited practice. The Winterhawks had a much needed day off on Sunday following their successful road trip to Kamloops and Everett. The trip yielded six points in the standings bringing their record to 4-2-0-1.
Head coach Mike Johnston was please with how his young team performed, “We had six of our first seven[games] on the road, so we knew with a younger group we were really going to have to battle through it at the beginning of the year. I thought our guys did a pretty good job coming away, almost had the one in Tri-City too.”
The games the Winterhawks did not see go there way Johnston still found a positive with how they played, “I thought through the seven games we played they have all been really close. The ones we’ve won and the ones we’ve lost at the end of the game our scoring chances are almost identical team to team.”
Power Play Dominance
One area paving the way for the Winterhawks has been the dominance of the power play. Johnston mentioned, “Special teams have been really important. Our power play has been a threat, it was in Kamloops and gave us some momentum in those games. I thought consistently it’s been a threat since the start of the season.”
Heading into Tuesday’s WHL games, the Winterhawks boast the WHL’s second best power play at 31.6%. They also lead the league in power play goals with 12, the next closest teams have nine. Johnston continues, “We have a lot of new players, so it isn’t like it is one from last year. Kyle Gustafson does a really good job with the power play. I thought we gave them different looks. We have some weapons with [Cody] Glass, [Joachim] Blichfeld, and [Jared] Freadrich on the back-end. [Jake] Gricius has been good in front of the net and [Reece] Newkirk as a bumper type guy. There aren’t many set plays we are doing, just depends on who we are playing we can offer different looks.”
The return of Ryan Hughes also contributed to the power play success in Kamloops as he scored in his first game back from injury. When I asked him about the goal he scored he mentioned how he used a chance on a previous power play to help set up this goal, “I tried going to the same spot, which was short side high. I missed the first time. Brendan [De Jong] had a good fake slap shot and he passed it over to me and I saw a little bit of net. I think I might of have tricked him a little bit, I got the second one.”
Rylan Bettens, acquired two weeks ago from Brandon for an undisclosed conditional draft pick, has played in two games for Portland. Bettens, a native of Winnipeg, joins Portland as an 18-year-old winger. Rylan has jumped in quickly. He spoke of the transition to Portland, “It has been really good lately. I’ve been here for about a week now. I know we just got back from our road trip, which was really successful one. I’ve officially been in the city of Portland for two days. Even though it hasn’t been that long, it has been a really good time with the team. I’m just starting to get adjusted, from what I’ve seen I’m really enjoy it so far.
In his two games with Portland he has played on Jake Gricius’ wing. The two have played well together despite Bettens “not knowing him that well at the start.” One advantage of playing with Gricius is, “you realize how good of a player he is. He’s a bigger guy so it creates a lot of room on the ice.”
Bettens is a new name in Portland, but he describes his game as “an energy type player, but not making the biggest hits. I like to finish my checks and always be buzzing around the ice. Just playing smart, sort of like a two-way energized player. Johnston agrees, “Rylan is a bigger body guy. We don’t have an overly big team. He skates well and that really helps our group. I really like the games he’s played for us so far.”
Ty Kolle Traded to Lethbridge
The Winterhawks dealt fellow 2000-born winger Ty Kolle to Lethbridge in a related move. Lethbridge sent a fifth round bantam draft pick in exchange. Kolle joins a team poised to make a run in the Central Division. Johnston spoke briefly about the trade, “when you are looking at your group and players are with you for a few years it is a matter of how much opportunity can you give that player? Sometimes it is a matter of how much opportunity you can give that player and sometimes a change is good for a guy like Ty. We have Bettens coming in and provides a little different look.”
Haydn Delorme Turns Training Camp Invite Into Roster Spot
Haydn Delorme was originally drafted by the Vancouver Giants in the ninth round of the 2015 Bantam Draft. Unable to crack the Giants roster, Haydn played the previous two seasons in the BCHL for the Coquitlam Express. Johnston offered Delorme an invite to Portland’s training camp. There was not an MVP named during the Neely Cup, but if there was, Haydn would have won unanimously. His performance earned him a roster spot and as Johnston called, “unusual for this level.” Haydn’s compete level is high and anyone who watches even one shift of his will agree.
I asked Haydn to describe what he brings on the ice. He responded, “I like to use my smarts and make plays. If I get the puck I can also score. I’m more of an offensive guy.”
The Winterhawks are relatively healthy at the moment with the exception of 1999-born defenseman Matthew Quigley who was hit high during Wednesday’s game against Kamloops by Jermaine Loewen. Lowen was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct. He also received a four-game suspension according to the WHL’s discipline page.
Johnston said post-practice, “Quigley will be out for a bit, that was a tough hit.”
Edmonton Oil Kings in Town on Wednesday
The Edmonton Oil Kings (5-2-0-1) visit Portland as part of their U.S. Division road trip. The Oil Kings are led by Trey Fix-Wolansky who has 15 points through his team’s first eight games. If Portland expects to come away with another two points, they will need to shut down Trey and the other young Oil Kings. Johnston mentioned the challenges of playing team you do not see very often, “you have to have the right pre-scout on them. They play a couple of games, including tomorrow [Tuesday] night so we get to see that. I think with a team like Edmonton, they have some really good young talent. We have to keep some of those guys in check. From the games I saw early this season they look like a really good team. We have to take advantage of home ice advantage. We need to use our fans to our momentum and get our matchups the way we want them.”