(Prince George, BC) With only two weekends left in their regular season, the Portland Winterhawks (39-19-3-3) met the Prince George Cougars (17-40-5-3) on Friday night in the CN Centre. The Winterhawks did not have the start they were looking for falling behind 2-0. However, they used three unanswered power-play goals to get the two points.
Prince George played a strong first period. In the first 20 minutes they put 15 shots onto the net of Joel Hofer, including four from Josh Maser.
Winterhawks associate coach Kyle Gustafson said, “We didn’t have the start we wanted. Anytime you give up 15 shots in the first [period] you are not happy with it. Joel [Hofer] was solid in the back, he kept us in it early, and then our power play got to life and gave us a chance.”
The first period was filled with penalties as each team committed three minor penalties.
The Cougars converted on their first opportunity with the man advantage.
Cole Moberg fired a slap shot from the point through a screen in front for his 12th goal of the season. Fellow defenseman Ryan Schoettler picked up his 27th assist on the season after setting up Moberg.
Prince George’s strong start continued into the opening minutes of the middle period. 19-year-old forward Josh Maser picked up the puck after a Portland turnover in their own zone on the breakout. The Houston, BC native spotted Matej Toman, the Cougars first round import selection in 2018, going to the net.
Toman beat Hofer short side for his ninth goal of the season. The Cougars were up by a 2-0 advantage 2:29 into the second period. However, despite continuing to give up shots, the Winterhawks found their legs after the media timeout.
A checking to the head penalty by Prince George gave Portland their fourth opportunity on the power play.
Josh Paterson, while falling down after being pushed, passed to Joachim Blichfeld who sent a shot towards the net of Taylor Gauthier. The rebound came to Jake Gricius who was positioned at the top of the crease. The Colorado Springs, Colorado native made a quick move in tight to get space to lift a backhand over the pad of Gauthier.
Despite being out shot 32-17 after 40 minutes of play, the Winterhawks only trailed by one.
Joachim Blichfled said, “We didn’t come out as we wanted to and felt we were kind of on our heels for the first half of the game. We talked in the second intermission and we felt like we could win this game. We came out hard [in the third period] and got the two points.”
The Winterhawks power play continued to click as Jared Freadrich and Blichfeld worked the top of the zone. Blichfeld sent a shot towards the net which ended up getting deflected high into the air. Paterson was positioned just off to the side of the net and waited for the puck to come to a legal height. The 1999-born forward batted it into the net for his 23rd goal of the season.
Prince George Head Coach Mark Lamb said, “I liked everything about our game except the penalties. I don’t mind when you take penalties if they are ‘hard’ penalties, but I think two penalties in the offensive zone and one in the neutral zone. Bad penalties end up in the back of your net; everything else with our game was excellent.”
A cross checking penalty on the Cougars with just under six minutes to play put Portland back on the power play.
Freadrich and Blichfeld again worked well together as the WHL’s leading scorer one-timed a perfectly placed pass. “I got it and just shot it, I’m lucky it went far side and went in” Blichfeld said describing his goal.
The tally was the San Jose Sharks prospect’s 53rd of the season, and ninth game-winning goal of the year.
Portland finished the game three-for-seven on the power play with all three of their goals coming via the man advantage.
Gustafson was pleased with how the power play played on Friday as well as how it can make a difference in the playoffs. “It can be a turning point in the game. It can be something, that as we talked to our group about, going into a playoff set, you never know how a game is going to change. A power play just needs to be a little bit of a spark and that seemed to be the outcome of [Friday’s] game.”
The same two teams play again on Saturday evening to conclude their season series.
Blichfeld is looking to “get away from what we did in the first half of the game and come back [Saturday] with great speed and work hard.” He felt Prince George “worked hard, and whenever a team works hard against us we have to work the same way. We didn’t do that the first half, but we picked it up and got the two points.”
The Winterhawks are already dealing with injuries as Cody Glass, Seth Jarvis, John Ludvig, and Matthew Quigley all missed Friday’s game.
Per Gustafson, there may be another name added to the list, “We have to see where we are at with Kade [Nolan] going down and the injuries we do have. We will talk with Richy (Rich Campbell) here and see how our guys are banged up.”
Nolan’s status for the game on Saturday is still to be determined.
Quotes were obtained via Caden Fanshaw from dubnetwork.ca.
– The last game where Portland scored three power-play goals was December 31st.
– Defenseman Ryan Miley, an 18-year-old from Brookings, South Dakota, played in his first WHL game. However, due to injuries up front, he played on the fourth line with Michal Kvasnica and Haydn Delorme. Kyle Gustafson said, “He was good, it was good for him to get into a game. There is a lot of injuries that we have. It wasn’t probably ideal situation for him playing forward for his first game, but we had a short bench and he had to play defense too. He was good, I’m sure he had nerves, but he was able to overcome those late in the game.”
– Joel Hofer finished the game making 40 saves on 42 Prince George shots. Taylor Gauthier stopped 24 of 27 Portland shots.
– Paterson’s goal and assist gave him 30 games in his career where he contributed multiple points.
– Spokane defeated Vancouver 4-1 on Friday. As a result, Portland remains five points ahead of the Chiefs for second place in the U.S. Division with 4 games remaining. The team finishing in second will have home ice against the team who finishes in third. Spokane has played one less game than Portland.