It was a night to forget for the Portland Winterhawks on Wednesday night in Spokane. They struggled defensively and gave up seven goals to the Chiefs, losing 7-2.
Friday back home in the friendly confines of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Portland committed themselves defensively as a whole and shut down the visiting Vancouver Giants, only allowing 24 shots and zero goals in a 3-0 victory.
“I think this says a lot about the character of the team. It’s never fun losing and it’s never fun losing to a divisional opponent that bad. We all had a big hunch on our back coming into tonight,” Portland goalie Shane Farkas told Winterhawks.com.
Farkas turned away all 24 shots, earning his fourth shutout this season and seventh in his career.
“I think a lot of credit goes out to the guys in front. Lots of sticks in lanes and good box outs – stuff like that,” Farkas said.
Offensively, Portland was led by 17-year-old forward Reece Newkirk, who netted two of his team’s three goals. Newkirk who had not found the net since January 5th, 11 games earlier, made up for lost time. He potted an insurance goal early in the third period and then added a late empty netter.
“We know how good of a team they are over there. They are the best in their division. Before the game, we had a pregame talk with Mike and he told us what we had to do. We just went out there and did it,” Newkirk told Winterhawks.com.
Now that the big game between Portland and the Giants is over, Newkirk and the Winterhawks can look forward to another tilt with the Chiefs.
“That game (Wednesday) did not go the way we wanted it to, but going into tomorrow, this game helps us with confidence and we want to get revenge on them.”
Joachim Blichfeld had a goal and an assist and now has 90 points this season. Jake Gricius added two assists.
It was a defensive battle with both teams finding tough sledding in their opponent’s zones as far as chances are concerned.
Vancouver 2001-born goalie Trent Miner was solid in the Vancouver net and stopped 26-of-28 Winterhawks shots.
The only fireworks in the first period was a fight between Newkirk and the top defenseman expected to be drafted in the 2019 NHL Draft, Bowen Byram.
Portland opened the scoring in the second period as midway through, the WHL’s leading goal scorer found twine.
Found being the key word as he took a pass from Gricius off the boards, while in the slot. He then nonchalantly spun around and wired a shot over Miner’s glove for the game’s opening goal and his 43rd this season.
The Giants found some push back after the Blichfeld goal, but Portland’s 19-year-old netminder was up to the task.
“Just do your job. Everyone is counting on you to make the big save… often times, those are the deciding factors in games,” Farkas stated.
In the third, Newkirk added some insurance. He drove the net and found a nifty pass from Blichfeld between the skates of Vancouver defenseman Kaleb Bulych. He got his stick on the puck and redirected it over the sliding Miner.
“He’s a great player. You give him he puck and you’re going to get it back. Back door there, that play doesn’t happen without him,” Newkirk said.
Portland, who had held Vancouver to a combined 13 shots over the first 40 minutes of play, knew they were going to face a push from the B.C. Division leading Giants.
Vancouver fired 11 shots on the Portland net and benefited from a power play with 5:51 left, but could not beat Farkas and the Winterhawks.
Newkirk was impressed with his goalie’s play.
“24 saves – half of those were back door tap ins. He was great for us tonight.”
Farkas relishes playing in those tight games where his team is leaning on him.
“Those situations are probably the most fun to play in. Down in crunch time there. When the game is close like that, it’s a whole lot of fun.”
With Miner pulled for an extra attacker, Gricius and Mason Mannek worked hard to get the puck to Newkirk for his second of the night and the late 3-0 lead.
“At the end, that was an unselfish play by Jake and Manny (Mannek). It’s fun to play with those guys,” Newkirk said of his empty-net goal and 20th marker this season.
Portland is now 3-0 against the B.C. Division’s best team as they beat them 5-3 at home and 2-1 in overtime in Langley the following night thanks to Brendan De Jong’s winner -earlier this season.
-Portland scratched Cody Glass, who is out day-to-day with a lower body injury, along with defensemen Kade Nolan and Nick Perna.
-Vancouver scratched forward Dawson Holt, defenseman Nicholas Draffin and goalie David Tendeck.
-Former Vancouver Giants ninth-round Bantam draft pick Haydn Delorme skated against the team that selected him.
-Portland mixed up the lines, splitting up the line of Newkirk, Jarvis and Dureau and replacing Dureau with Mason Mannek. Dureau centered a line with Haydn Delorme and Cross Hanas.
-Portland defenseman John Ludvig did not face any supplemental discipline, nor did Spokane forward Luc Smith for their fight with Smith still residing on the Chiefs bench.
-Everett stayed seven points ahead of the Winterhawks for the U.S. Division lead as they handled the Seattle Thunderbirds 5-2 in Kent.
-Spokane shut out the visiting Kelowna Rockets 4-0 and stay 10 points behind Portland for the second seed in the U.S. Division. They have two games in hand.
-Spokane visits Portland for a key matchup Saturday night.
-Miner had only allowed one goal in each of his last four games. He allowed two in this one.
-Portland was 0-for-2 on the plower play and now had not had a goal on the man-advantage over their last 27.