The Portland Winterhawks practiced Thursday afternoon inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in preparation for their second weekend with three games in three nights.
Portland has two home games on Friday & Saturday against the Victoria Royals and an away contest against Spokane on Sunday. Victoria will be well rested as they make their only trip to the Rose City this season. VIctoria played last Saturday against Brandon in which they defeated the Wheat Kings 3-1 thanks in part to two goals from 18-year-old Kaid Oliver. The goals were Oliver’s eighth and ninth goals of the season, but Kaid has scored in three of his last four games for Victoria. The Royals’ scoring leaders in addition to Oliver are Dante Hannoun and D-Jay Jerome.
When Portland travels to Spokane on Sunday, both the Chiefs and Winterhawks will be without two key players. The Winterhawks will miss Seth Jarvis who is away for the next week playing for Canada Red in the U17 World Hockey Challenge. Portland will also be without their captain in Cody Glass as he travels to Kamloops to participate in the 2018 CIBC Canada Russia Series. Spokane has two players playing in the same tournament with New Jersey Devils prospect Ty Smith and Los Angeles Kings drafted forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan.
Portland is currently looking to snap a three-game losing streak. Assistant coach Kyle Gustafson spoke after practice about last weekend, “Overall, I don’t think we had the tempo and pace that we wanted. We went into Spokane and played really well. I thought we were really stingy defensively and limited their shots to roughly 20, all while generating 40 on them. We did a lot of good things defensively there.” The defensive structure wasn’t quite there in the two games against Kamloops. Gustafson said, “coming back here against Kamloops I thought we were too loose defensively. We gave a lot of opportunities, breakdowns in our own end, 2-on-1 chances coming back. If there is anything to learn from it was how we can tighten up a little bit against the rush.”
Penalty kill a focus
As of Thursday evening, the Winterhawks currently sit fourth in the WHL regarding their penalty kill percentage as they have successfully killed 84.3% of penalties taken. While they are above league average in terms of killing penalties, they lead the league in number of shorthanded opportunities with 83. Winterhawks assistant coach Don Hay works with the penalty kill and is working to continue to improve the club when they are shorthanded.
When I spoke with Hay about their strategy for killing penalties he said, “We watch the other team’s power play and have pre-game meetings with regards to what they do and how we want to defend what makes their power play successful.” Part of Hay’s responsibilities is working with the forwards and he has found “6-8 forwards who are doing a regular job of killing penalties.”
As Portland looks to place an emphasis on penalty killing Hay feels, “it starts with the fundamentals of positioning, stick placement, what lanes to have your stick in, winning faceoffs, and clearing pucks. Everybody knows how to forecheck and when to apply pressure.”
Don also was sure to emphasize “your best penalty killer is always your goalie. If he can make some real big saves, because you eventually will give up something you don’t want to, hopefully the goalie will be there to help you out.”
Lastly on the penalty kill, Hay sees a lot of growth in all of his players, “As a coach teaching the penalty kill you really want to educate the players on things to look for that the power play might do, different types of power plays and how you defend them. Whether you are defending against the 1-3-1 power play or a spread power play, or a 5-on-3, we’ve had a lot of those to kill, you want to try to review every week and grow from that. It is all about getting everyone on the same page since you are a man short. You have to do as much as you can working together to outwork the power play. I think it is about out-working the skill of their power play.”
Fromm-Delorme cleared; forwards available
As previously mentioned, the Winterhawks will be without Seth Jarvis on Friday & Saturday, and both Jarvis and Glass on Sunday. Good news for the Winterhawks is Robbie Fromm-Delorme has been cleared to play this weekend after suffering a lower-body injury in practice two weeks ago.
Friday and Saturday Portland will have 12 healthy forwards, but on Sunday they will be down to 11 available forwards. Don Hay mentioned, “If we have to, we can move a defenseman up.” I asked who might be the best candidate to make the temporary move to forward, “I’m sure there are a lot of guys who would put up their hands” Hay said, “I know Quigley did at one point earlier this year. I think they all could give us some good, quality shifts and help our team.”
Ice time and player recovery
The WHL does not have ice time as a publicly available statistic, but that doesn’t mean the teams aren’t logging it themselves. For Portland, Hay said, “We do track ice time as our team and within our team.” That said, this isn’t something the media and fans have access to at this time.
Portland uses the metric internally to help understand playing time as well as what the players need to recover after the game. Don told me, “It is a tough league when you are playing 3-in-3 and your top players are getting a lot of ice time. You really have to monitor their ice time and their recovery after games.”
Athletic Trainer/Strength & Conditioning coach Rich Campbell has the main responsibility for ice time and recovery. “Rich does a great job for us” Hay praised Campbell, “he is on top of it. We have ice tubs, bikes to get rid of lactic acid, and NormaTec leg recovery pads that each player has a set at home that really helps them when they get home.”
In speaking with Hay, he emphasized the importance of players being in good condition “which includes both eating a good meal as well as time on the ice.” One way to ensure the players are in peak condition is with head coach Mike Johnston’s conditioning skate after practice. Hay pointed out how “this really benefits our hockey club. You want to make sure the players can handle it [the amount of ice time].”
Freadrich faces former team
20-year-old assistant captain Jared Freadrich is set to play his first game against his former team, Victoria, on Friday. “Definitely a weird feeling” Jared said, “but for myself, I just try to treat it as any other game. I know lots of guys on that team, but once you get out there you don’t really have friends on the ice.”
Freadrich will return to Portland’s lineup after serving a one-game suspension for cross checking Kamloops’ Luke Zazula last Saturday. Besides having one of their leaders back, Portland will welcome Jared back to the top power play unit. Freadrich quaterbacks the group featuring Cody Glass, Joachim Blichfeld, Jake Gricius, and either Reece Newkirk or Ryan Hughes. Jared said, “obviously a great opportunity for me to be part of that power play unit; not something I take for granted. Just look at the guys on that unit, it isn’t too hard if you are just passing the puck to the other side and they do the work for you.”
Quarterbacking a power play is more than just passing the puck side-to-side, the penalty killers need to respect the possibility of a shot. For Freadrich the decision comes easy to him, “It all depends on the other team’s penalty kill structure. If there is a lane from the point, I’m going to shoot it, I like to shoot the puck a lot. However, if it isn’t there, obviously I will pass it off to the side and my teammates.”
The power play continues to be an area of strength for Portland. Entering the weekend the Winterhawks have scored 21 goals on 77 opportunities; the 27.3% success rate leads the WHL.
Last Friday Dante Giannuzzi started his first WHL game on the road against Spokane and Shane Farkas got the call at home on Saturday and Sunday vs Kamloops. In speaking with Kyle Gustafson, the expectation is both Farkas and Giannuzzi should start a game this weekend. As of Thursday evening, the plan according to Gustafson is, “probably start Shane on Friday and see how it goes. It is tough 3-in-3 with a little bit of travel. We want to make sure our guys are fresh and not in a position where they could get hurt.”