Sunday night concluded a four-game homestand for the Portland Winterhawks (15-5-1-2) when they hosted the Saskatoon Blades (12-12-1-1) for the first and only meeting between the teams. Portland dominated from start to finish, winning 8-0.
On Saturday, Mike Johnston talked about the importance of getting off to a quick start against the Blades as they were playing their third game in three nights against the U.S. Division.
Portland did exactly as their head coach wanted, scoring four goals in the opening 20 minutes.
Jonas Brøndberg started the scoring with a shot from a tough angle on Nolan Maier. The goal was the Danish defenseman’s third of the season.
Less than two minutes later Gabe Klassen scored his first of two in the first period.
Nick Perna kept the puck in the Saskatoon zone and got it to the slot. Kishaun Gervais bumped the puck over to Klassen who wristed a shot for his second goal in his young WHL career.
Portland’s pace continued to give Saskatoon fits. Maier went to play a puck which may have been called for icing. Jack O’Brien put solid pressure on the forecheck, leading the puck to Mason Mannek. The Salt Lake City, Utah, native was trying to get the puck to the slot, but instead, the puck caromed in off a Saskatoon stick.
With less than three minutes left on the clock, Klassen picked the puck up behind the Saskatoon net and cut to the front. The 16-year-old shot a backhander high over the blocker of Maier for his second of the period and third of the year.
Winterhawks assistant general manager and associate coach Kyle Gustafson talked about the team’s start. “We had the start we wanted; three games in three nights for them. We were coming off a good game, a high off the Everett game. We thought it was really important to get our bench involved early. You saw a lot of (James) Stefan, (Gabe) Klassen, and Kishaun (Gervais) early in the game. We just wanted to play with pace, and I thought it wore on them with four goals in the first period.”
The second period was more of the same for the Winterhawks.
The Blades replaced Maier with 17-year-old Koen MacInnes before the drop of the puck.
Cross Hanas netted two goals in the middle frame for his seventh and eighth of the season.
The Highland Village, Texas, native’s first came after an extended shift in the Saskatoon zone. Simon Knak picked up the loose puck along the wall and sent a shot on net. The 2020 NHL Draft Eligible forward won a battle in front of the net and put the rebound into the back of the net.
One second after their second power play expired, 16-year-old center Jack O’Brien’s wrist shot went top shelf as MacInnes covered the lower portion of the goal.
Hanas picked up his second goal of the night courtesy of the power play and a short-side wrist shot. Mike Johnston and Kyle Gustafson started the second unit. Mannek picked up his third point of the night with an assist on the seventh goal for Portland.
Cross talked about his second goal after the game. “I rolled up and nobody was pressuring me, so I thought I would take it to the net and found a hole. We had four lines going tonight. Everybody was working and everyone was playing well. We wore them down and points just came for everyone.”
After seven goals were scored in the first 40 minutes, only one goal was scored in the third period.
Brøndberg joined Hanas and Klassen with two goals. On an odd-man rush, Mason Mannek left the puck for the 18-year-old blueliner who elected to use a wrist shot, going far side.
Gustafson said, “In the third period when he came down the wing, he got it on net, a good shot, really good shot. I think that is a little bit secondary in his game, but he got rewarded tonight.”
Saskatoon had a late five-on-three power play, and Portland kept blocking shots.
“I think when it is games like that, you have to keep your habits good. If your habits are good in a game like that, then when it is close or in overtime, it is just going to come naturally for everyone.”
Gustafson added how the team was battling for Joel Hofer. “It talks to the credit of Hofer. They all wanted to battle for (him). Even though we had the lead, there was a power-play situation right down to the wire. The guys were getting in front of pucks just to make sure Hofer got his shutout and battled for him.”
The shutout was Hofer’s second of the season.
Mannek finished the evening with four points — a new career-high. He gave credit to his linemates. “I thought Lane (Gilliss) and Jack (O’Brien) had a good game. It is a three-player effort for every goal. You can say four points, but thought my line had a good game.”
Saskatoon will look for their first win on their U.S. Division road trip when they battle the Tri-City Americans on Wednesday. They are currently 0-4 and have been outscored 22-4 over the four games.
Portland prepares to go on the road for a four-game swing through Kamloops and Prince George. Gustafson wants to “use this momentum. Our preparation in both games (Everett & Saskatoon) was outstanding. It was good for the players to have Parents Weekend and get rejuvenated a little bit. We always talk about whenever you play a two-game set to treat it like a playoff series. It is a way for us to get the guys out of town, kind of get them focused, regrouped, and really tackle this as almost a playoff series.”
– Hofer stopped all 22 shots he faced. Nolan Maier allowed 4 goals on 14 shots, and Koen MacInnes turned aside 21-of-25 he faced in 40 minutes of relief.
– The Winterhawks won the special teams battle as well, keeping Saskatoon off the board on their five power-play opportunities. Meanwhile, Portland converted on one of their five chances.
– 11 Portland forwards had points, eight of whom had multiple points. Kyle Gustafson said, “It is important to have if you are going to make a little bit of a run and want to be a championship team. You have to have depth through your lineup. It was really good to see that we had six guys who are first-year players score.”
– Every Saskatoon player finished the night with a minus on-ice rating.