Monday night marked the 28th time the Portland Winterhawks (21-11-3-2) and Seattle Thunderbirds (11-19-4-0) got together for a New Year’s Eve matchup. The Winterhawks scored five straight goals, four in the second period, to defeat the Thunderbirds 6-3. Seattle was looking to close the gap on the near annual event, but instead saw their record against Portland fall to 12-15-1-0 to close out a calendar year.
Zack Andrusiak had the hot hand on Saturday, when these teams competed in Kent, scoring four goals. The overage forward picked up where he left off scoring Seattle’s first two goals on Monday giving him six in two games.
After the game Andrusiak said, “I had some good chances, some good opportunities, was lucky enough to bury a few of them this weekend. It is good when the puck is going in like that.”
“When he gets hot, he gets hot,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “He is obviously playing well, a streaky goal scorer. He has a knack to finish and right now he is in the zone.”
Each team scored on a first period power play. Ryan Hughes’ 17th of the season for Portland, and Tyler Carpendale’s 4th for Seattle gave the Thunderbirds a 3-1 lead heading to the locker room after 20 minutes.
Andrusiak commented on the atmosphere inside a nearly sold out Moda Center. “It was an energetic building tonight. We were pretty excited to come in here and play. It was a really good first period for us. Too bad we couldn’t keep the momentum going throughout the game.”
O’Dette thought “the first period was good. We did what we had to do and executed our game plan and then we gave up the early goal in the second. Then obviously the penalties derailed us there; a couple of long five-on-threes and a couple of major penalties. Obviously you cannot give a team like Portland too many opportunities on the power play; that turned the momentum of the game.”
The WHL’s leading goal scorer Joachim Blichfeld scored twice, his 33rd and 34th of the season, in the first six minutes of the second period to tie the game for Portland.
Just under three minutes later Winterhawks’ 2018 import selection Michal Kvasnica scored his fifth goal of the season after making a move around a Thunderbird defender at the blue line. After scoring, the 18-year-old Ostrava, Czech Republic forward crashed hard into the boards. After the game he described the situation, “[Lane] Gilliss caught a puck I think, and I just got speed when he passed it to me. From the boards I was thinking of shooting far post; then I scored. I hit the boards, but it was okay because I scored. I didn’t feel any pain.”
While the adrenaline of scoring may have masked the pain temporarily, Kvasnica was on the receiving end of a cross check from Seattle’s Cade McNelly. “My nose and my teeth hurt so bad, but I’m okay,” Kvasnica said. “It was really good for our team because we got the power play for five minutes and scored on it. I hope it helped the team.”
Assistant coach Don Hay commented on Kvasnica’s play recently, “A great goal he scored tonight. You are starting to see him gain more confidence. He is starting to take the puck to the net and make plays. For maybe the first 15 games he was just finding his way around the league trying to understand what was expected of him. He is really starting to come on, and I think he is going to have a really good second half.”
McNelly was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the cross check. He also picked up an additional five minutes for fighting Lane Gilliss who dropped the gloves standing up for his teammate.
Post-game Kvasnica said, “He [Gilliss] is my roommate; I’m so proud of him that he did that for me.”
Hay mentioned, “I thought Gilliss standing up for him [Kvasnica] was really important for our team. It really got the crowd into it, the bench into it, got us on a roll. For Michal to take the cross check just shows he is paying the price to get into the areas you have to score. I think that was one of the areas he wasn’t getting into earlier in the season. He is learning if you want to be successful in North America you have to get to the net area. He was able to do that tonight.”
Jared Freadrich scored a power-play goal for Portland while on a two-man advantage to break the game open for Portland. Freadrich’s fifth of the season capped a four goal period for the Winterhawks.
Hay was pleased with the team’s push back after a tough first period, “We didn’t have a great first period, but Seattle played well. We bounced back and had a gritty, competitive second period. We are really short handed, especially on the back end. I thought our young kids really competed hard and battled in the situations they faced. We got a little momentum in front of a large crowd; kind of snowballed in the second period.”
Brendan De Jong continues to be in concussion protocol after suffering a high hit on Friday, John Ludvig served his second of a two-game suspension for an infraction against Tri-City, and Matthew Quigley sat out due to a suspension for a kneeing penalty against Seattle on Saturday. As a result, the Winterhawks back end featured: Freadrich, an overager, three 17-year olds in Clay Hanus, Nick Perna, & Kade Nolan, and 18-year-old rookie Nick Cicek. Perna and Nolan are also rookies this season.
On Friday night the Winterhawks played with only four defensemen for the last two minutes, dropped to five on Saturday after Quigley’s game misconduct, and with only five available defensemen on Monday, played the full 60 minutes one player short. Jared Freadrich said he hasn’t seen anything like this, “It is definitely something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in my career when we went down to four defensemen. Then we went down to five defensemen [on Saturday] and again tonight. We are missing some key guys. I think all of our defense stepped up; all the young guys especially. We all have to log minutes, there were no other options. I think that it was good, a good team game. From the back end we all stepped up big tonight.”
Ryan Hughes had high praise for the defensemen, “It is awesome for those younger guys to get their opportunity. They have taken it and are doing great. Obviously missing [John] Ludvig, [Brendan] De Jong, and Quigley are some big guys back there. The young guys have stepped up really nice though.”
Clay Hanus is making the most of his increased role. Assisting on Seth Jarvis’ eighth of the season in the third period pushed the Minnetonka, Minnesota native’s career high point streak to six games. Over the last six games the 17-year-old has one goal and seven assists with a +5 rating.
Midway through the third period Seattle’s Matthew Wedman collided with Portland’s Jake Gricius and was given a five-minute major kneeing penalty along with a game misconduct. O’Dette saw the play as “incidental contact; guys just collided with each other. That is what I saw.”
Dillon Hamaliuk was injured on a similar play back in Seattle and is expected to miss significant time. O’Dette provided a very brief update on the severity of the forward’s status, “It is very serious.”
Andrusiak said, “It was tough to lose a key player like that. We have to have the ‘next up’ mentality in sports. Hopefully we can have a guy step up and take on his role, but definitely tough missing him in our lineup.”
Portland is hoping for good news regarding Gricius, but the 19-year-old’s status is still to be determined. Don Hay said, “We will see more tomorrow. No update on him yet. He will get looked at tomorrow. Hopefully he is okay. You don’t want to get any injuries, especially when we are going out east.”
Both teams now make their bi-annual trip to play in Saskatchewan against the East Division.
Matt O’Dette thinks this will be beneficial for his Thunderbirds team, “It is a change of scenery might be good for us, see some different teams. A chance to bond and get some camaraderity going, and momentum.”
Andrusiak echoed his coach, “Some new scenery going out east, new rinks, new teams like that. We will just have to play our game and stay confident doing the best we can.”
Portland departs at the crack of dawn tomorrow and Ryan Hughes feels “We can take some momentum with us. We are playing some teams we don’t see all year. We will see how it goes; it is usually a fun trip. I think we are excited for it.”
Both the Thunderbirds and Winterhawks are next in action on Friday, January 4th. Seattle faces Brandon while Portland challenges Swift Current.
– Joachim Blichfeld’s assist on Ryan Hughes’ first period goal was his 100th of his career.
– 2019 NHL Draft eligible forward Reece Newkirk’s two assists on Monday gave him 50 regular season points in his young career.
– The Winterhawks dressed all available roster players on Monday, but were forced to play with 13 forwards and five defensemen.