Saturday night marked the first of 12 matchups between the Portland Winterhawks (10-3-0-1) and the Seattle Thunderbirds (5-7-2-1). Often times a high-scoring contest, this iteration of the I-5 rivalry was a low-scoring, defensive battle won by Portland 2-1. The win is Portland’s fifth in-a-row, and they have points in eight straight games.
Both the Winterhawks and Thunderbirds played the night before on the road. Seattle held the shot advantage in the first period, but it was Portland who went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead despite a rather slow start by their standards.
Winterhawks associate coach and assistant general manager Kyle Gustafson said, “I think it was coming off the high of (Friday) night’s game; we played a solid came (Friday) night in Everett. (Saturday) we were a little sloppy out of the gate, that was a little bit concerning because of our start (Friday) which was real sharp. You have to give Seattle a lot of credit. I thought they checked hard, they made it tough on us, they put pucks to the end boards and made us turn and go get it under pressure. They played well.”
Johnny Ludvig, a 3rd round selection by the Florida Panthers in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored his 8th goal of the season just under nine minutes into the contest.
“I made a pass up to (Jaydon) Dureau and then Manny (Mason Mannek) made an unreal, no look, spin pass to me backdoor,” Ludvig described. “I just had to put it in there, big props to him for that one for sure. I gave a little holar, but he is a smart player. He checked his shoulder and saw me and made a perfect pass.”
Mannek returned praise back to his captain, “Jaydon had a good drive down the wall so I just went to support him. As I took a peak over my shoulder I saw Johnny. As we all know Johnny has been hot to start the season, so I thought giving it to him wasn’t going to be such a bad idea. He finished on it pretty good.”
Despite the 1-0 advantage, Portland was on the penalty kill three times in the opening 20 minutes. However, the penalty kill remained perfect on the weekend and kept Seattle off the scoreboard. The Thunderbirds finished the evening 0-for-4 on the man advantage.
“You are doing some good things to earn the power plays,” Seattle’s head coach Matt O’Dette said. “We are a little bit snake bitten with our power play. I thought we did some good things on it, but obviously would have been a difference in the game if we could have converted on the power play.”
Portland’s penalty kill is ranked third in the WHL with a 87.9% success rate. This includes allowing only one power-play goal in the last seven games, a stretch of killing 29-of-30 penalties.
“I think it is a total buy in,” Gustafson expressed. “I think we are doing a lot of little things right. It starts with faceoff wins, we are putting down-ice pressure, we are able to adjust, not every team is going to give the same look. We are able to adjust with different opponents. Then Joel (Hofer), Joel has been outstanding for us and our best penalty killer.”
Ludvig, most likely the minutes leader on penalty kill, said, “We have been working on it a lot. Don (Hay) runs our PK so every week in practice we are really trying to fix everything and the penalty kill is doing really well right now. It is just hard work. They have five guys and we have four, so we have to make up for it with hard work. Guys are putting their body in front of shots which is awesome to see.”
In the second period Portland led the shot chart similar to how Seattle dominated possession in the first. The Winterhawks outshot the Thunderbirds 19-9 in the middle frame.
Despite the shot advantage, Seattle and Portland traded goals.
Reece Newkirk capitalized on a rebound opportunity off his own shot. The puck caromed off his body and behind Blake Lyda.
Seattle pulled within one after Michael Horon forced a turnover on the forecheck. Joel Hofer tried to cover the puck, but it slipped out to Alex Morozoff for his second goal of the season.
“We need guys to step up and provide secondary scoring,” O’Dette said. “We have been kind of waiting for guys to kind of seize those opportunities. I thought Mo (Morozoff) played really well tonight. A big goal for us to put us in striking distance there. We are looking to build off that and are looking for guys to seize those top six, secondary scoring roles.”
No goals were scored after the 13:21 minute mark of the second period. This was in big part to the saves by Hofer and Lyda.
Gustafson said, “We got a couple of fortunate bounces that led to goals. Their goaltender settled in and played really well, really gave them a chance down the stretch. He came up with key saves. If we were able to get one of those maybe we break it open.”
O’Dette offered praise to both goalies, “(Blake) played well, hasn’t been in the net a ton. He made some huge saves to keep us in the game. Hofer was good as well, good little duel going on there. Really happy with the way Blake played.”
Portland held on for the 2-1 win, their fifth straight win.
“We are disappointed with the outcome obviously, but thought our guys played hard,” O’Dette said. “Portland is a good team, and they are on a roll right now. It is a hard place to play, and I thought we played much better than we did (Friday) night. We gave ourselves a chance. We know in this building, we have been here many times, you have to manage momentum swings. You have to focus on your next shift, it can get out of hand at times if you let your composure get away from you. Our guys stayed focused and had a response and push back. We kept playing hard and stayed in the game.”
Ludvig was proud of his team’s effort, “Seattle is a team that never quits in a game, they stuck around the whole game. We knew that was going to happen, but we battled right to the end and come out with the win.”
Mason Mannek talked about the importance of winning games against teams in the division. “Any game in the U.S. Division, as we all say in the room, every game is a four point game. You are going to go up by two, and they are going down two, that is the way we like to see it. Every game, especially early on, that’s why we want to beat these guys. It is going to pay off for March and April.”
“Ever since I came into the Portland WInterhawks the thing is the rivalry between the Winterhawks and Seattle,” Mannek said after the win. “Beating those guys, for the first game of the season against them; whatever, every game against them matters, beating them feels just as good every single time.”
Portland finishes their three-in-three against the Kamloops Blazers and Ryan Hughes. A veteran of 223 games for the Winterhawks, Hughes will be on the opposite side of the arena on Sunday.
Gustafson said, “I think it is just another game. I’m sure Ryan is going to have a lot of jump in his game. I think the guys Ryan came into the league with are now probably gone, so it is a little bit more of some fresh faces on our side. The friendship probably wasn’t there, guys like Cody Glass, Brendan De Jong, and (Joachim) Blichfeld, those are kind of his buddies, and they’ve left our program. It will be nice to see Ryan, he’s a good kid.”
Ludvig agreed, “He’s a good guy; however, as soon as we hit the ice, he is on the other team, so it is going to be a battle.”
Portland defeated Kamloops the opening weekend, but the Blazers have made some roster moves since then, including acquiring Hughes from Saskatoon.
“We know they are a good team who added some skill on the back end and up front,” Ludvig said. “We are going to come in here and battle for sure.”
Gustafson mentioned how “this is a benchmark game. Kamloops is a hell of a team, a veteran team. It is going to be a little bit of a benchmark game for us. We caught Kamloops in a three-in-three earlier this season, that was a big win for us early in the year. They are coming in with just a game under their belt. Three-in-three is all about energy. You have to manage your roster, your shift length, how you start, don’t want to give them any freebies playing loose in the neutral zone. You have to really manage the puck, but it is about energy.”
Seattle is off until Friday when they host the Blazers.
A week of practice proceeds the game and O’Dette feels his team “needs to keep getting better in all areas. We are not scoring a lot of goals so creating more offense will be a focus. We will work a lot on our power play to get that clicking a little bit better. We are a young team and we are going to chip away at all aspects of our game.”