Recently, the Portland Winterhawks made their first trip to the Spokane arena for a two-game in two-night rematch of last year’s Western Conference Playoff quarterfinal series. The Hawks went 8-0 in the Spokane arena last year, including winning all four playoff games between the teams in Spokane. This is a summary of both games, as well as a brief review of the NHL prospects participating for both teams.
Mac Carruth stole the show in this one, earning first star honors with a 46 save effort. Mac Engel started his first WHL game for Spokane, and you could sense trouble when the team only allowed 18 shots against through the first 59 minutes of the game. A long, seeing eye shot from Taylor Aronson found the back of the net with only 29 seconds left, and despite a final push by the high-octane Chiefs, the Winterhawks were able to hold on for the victory. Sven Bartschi potted the first two goals for Portland (both in the first period), while Ty Rattie’s two assists earned him third star honors for the game. For Spokane, Blake Gal scored his third of the season, an unassisted, shorthanded goal, while recently returned Jared Cowen scored his first of the season, also both in the first period. The Chiefs really deserved a better outcome in this one, as they absolutely dominated for most of the game.
Ian Curtis made his regular season debut for Portland in this one, and was quick to match Carruth’s effort from the prior evening, stopping 34 of 35 Chiefs shots en route to a Hawk victory. Chiefs starter James Reid kept the team in the game, making 22 saves on 24 shots against, but the team just came up short for the second straight night. Sven Bartschi would again score two goals, while Ty Rattie would add two assists for the second straight night. Blake Gal replied for the Chiefs, who carried the play for most of the game, but once again were unable to break through the Portland goaltending.
Mac Carruth and Ian Curtis provided the Winterhawks with championship caliber goaltending on both nights. Carruth showed impressive quickness and strong positioning, effectively being able to shuffle himself back and forth across the crease as the Chiefs peppered him with 48 shots on net. There were a couple of things that concerned be about Carruth, the most notable being his rebound control. A big portion of the shots directed his way were rebound shots that Carruth and his defense weren’t quick enough to take care of . Carruth also threw alot of hard slashes and even some punches – something that could get his team in penalty trouble if he’s not careful. All that aside, the Chicago 7th rounder was nothing short of spectacular in his first start of the season. Ian Curtis was phenomenal in the second game as well, and it’s already blatantly obvious that there will be a goaltending controversy in the Portland crease this season.
Overager James Reid is a longshot to play professional hockey, but he has proven himself a quality WHL starter. Backup Mac Engel (eligible 2011) was solid in his first start, but I think he would have benefitted from more shots against. Engel stands 6-0″ and checks in at 185 pounds, and will need to work hard to earn himself some more exposure if he’s interested in being selected in the upcoming draft.
The Hawks have one of the most talented teams in the CHL, and their backline is no exception. Brett Ponich is the leader of the group, and he’s hard to miss when he’s on the ice. Stepping in at 6-7″ and 225 pounds, the St. Louis second rounder is an impressive physical presence on the backend. He played very well on both nights, providing the Hawks with solid veteran leadership while going +2 with 4 PIMs in the short series. Even at 225 pounds, you get the impression that Ponich could stand to add some body mass. His skating could also use improvement, but he has the ability to use his size and positioning to effectively patrol his own end.
Ponich was often paired with Nashville third rounder Taylor Aronson, which allowed Aronson the ability to jump into the rush and create offensive chances. Aronson is a very gifted skater that also provides Portland with a good shot from the point; proven by the game winning goal on Friday night. Aronson also showed a willingness to mix it up, garnering 6 penalty minutes while going +3 for the weekend.
Troy Rutkowski also saw his share of powerplay time for the Hawks. Colorado hoped to nab a future powerplay quarterback in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, and they may have just that in the 6-2″ 219lb Edmonton native. Like Aronson, Rutkowski is a slick skating defenseman that can get the puck moving up the ice quickly for his team. He would go -1 with 1 assist and 4 PIMs on the weekend.
Top prospect Derrick Pouliot was solid for Portland as well, perhaps being tested a little bit more with the injury to Joe Morrow. Pouliot is listed at 5-11″ 170 pounds, and reminded me alot of Thomas Hickey. He showed elite level skating and very good stickhandling skills. Without any doubt, he is going to be a very good player in the very near future for this team. He’s one to keep an eye on. Pouliot was even with 1 assist and 2 PIMs in the two games. Josh Hanson (-1, 2 PIMs) didn’t play a ton, nor did Tyler Wotherspoon (-1, 1 assist, 4 PIMs), as they both appeared to be depth guys for the Winterhawks.
The Chiefs are noticably younger this year on the backline, but are once again led by Ottawa first rounder Jared Cowen. Cowen (6-5″, 225 pounds) was quite possibly the best player on the ice in the first game (not counting Mac Carruth). His knee appears to be fully healed, as his skating really has taken on a high gear that we haven’t seen since before the injury. He scored on a nice snapshot from the high slot in the first game, and used his physical presence in each game to limit Portland’s top offensive line to just one goal in the two games. Cowen went +1 with 6 PIMs to go along with his goal for the two games.
Cowen and defense partner, 18 year old Tyler Vanscourt, were joined in the first game by Corbin Baldwin (91), Garrett Leedahl (91), Tanner Mort (93, eligible 2011), and Reid Gow (94, Eligible 2012). Mort has alot of potential, standing in at 5-11″ 175 pounds. He was used in all situations and displayed offensive abilities, as well as an underrated physical game, surprisingly able to match up against many of the bigger Portland forwards with no major issues – including a hard hip check on Oliver Gabriel that led to a fight between the two. Mort had an assist and was even with 11 PIMs in the two games.
Reid Gow played only on Friday and had 2 PIMs, but displayed a strong skillset and really looked to have a bright future with the team. He is listed at 5-11″ 175 pounds, but it’s probably more like 5-9″ 160 pounds. He will need to get a little bit stronger to be a fully effective player for the Chiefs next season. He was replaced in the second game by Cole Hamblin, who checks in at 6-3″ and an eye popping 245 pounds. Hamblin put up his first WHL point, assisting on the only goal for the Chiefs, and was highly impressive in using his bulky physical frame to seperate opposing player from puck. Hamblin is eligible for the 2011 draft.
Portland’s offense will be led this season by Columbus first rounder Ryan Johansen. I don’t want to say Johansen was ineffective in the two games, but he was definitely kept in check while matched up against Jared Cowen. Be that as it may, Johansen made some solid passes (especially on the powerplay) and displayed good speed and offensive instincts. He went pointless, and had a 10-minute misconduct at the end of the second game. Skating on the top line with Johansen was recent Columbus free-agent signing Oliver Gabriel. Gabriel would put up one assist and add 9 PIMs in the two games, while using his size to play a hard-checking power forward style.
Joining the two Jacket prospects was Toronto second rounder Brad Ross. Ross showed an even rating, while scoring one assist and adding 4 PIMs in the two games, all while playing his typical hard-hitting, agitating style. Ross is the kind of player that opposing teams hate to play against, he plays the game hard, runs his mouth, and is very talented. It was, however, Portland’s second line that led the way offensively over the course of both games.
Ty Rattie was better than advertised. Rattie showed awe-inspiring playmaking capabilities, netting 4 assists in the two games, while adding a +2 rating. He was able to use his speed effectively to drive wide and draw in defenders, and then just when you thought he was out of time and space, he would strike with passes that led to easy tap-in goals. If Rattie can continue to play the way he did in Spokane, he is going to establish himself as one of the top prospects for the upcoming draft.
Linemate Sven Bartschi would score 4 of Portland’s 5 goals for the weekend, while also carrying a +2 rating. Bartschi (like Rattie) is available for the 2011 draft, and already has 6 goal on the year for the Hawks. The Swiss winger drove to the net effectively and often found himself in the right place at the right time. He and Rattie seem to have the same kind of chemistry that Nino Niederreiter had last season with Ryan Johansen. Teal Burns joined Rattie and Bartschi, and added one assist and 2 PIMs with his +2 rating.
Spencer Bennett (Calgary, 2009) played well at both ends of the rink for Portland, he would go -1 over the course of the two games with 2 PIMs. Bennett is a big, lanky winger that has power forward potential, but he could stand to add some bulk and his numbers would improve with more of a playmaker on his line. Riley Boychuk (Buffalo, 2010) was the worst nightmare of many of the smaller Chiefs players on the weekend, as he made sure to finish each and every check. He would go -1 with 6 PIMs in the two games, but his stats weren’t as important as his willingness to punish anyone who touche the puck. He will be a valuable player, come playoff time.
Collectively, the Hawks forwards (with the exception of Rattie and Bartschi) weren’t overly dominant at any point in the two games. They are a big, bruising bunch (only three forwards under 6′ on the entire roster), and they are very skilled, carrying three lines that can put the puck in the net at any given time.
The Chiefs are led up front by diminutive forward Tyler Johnson. Coming off of a gold metal with Team USA at the World Junior Championships, the hometown boy has without a doubt proven himself at the WHL level. Johnson was held scoreless with a -2 rating in the two games, but he showcased his blazing speed and two-way ability and helped lead the young group of Chiefs forwards. Johnson attended camp with the Minnesota Wild this summer.
Flanking Johnson is long-time teammate and linemate Levko Koper (Atl – 2009). Koper would also go -2, adding 2 PIMs for the Chiefs while playing his typical brand of physical, defense-first hockey. The tandem of Koper and Johnson is being leaned on heavily to provide the Chiefs with offense and leadership, but they were simply out-matched by the Hawks on these nights. Joining them on the right side was 2011-eligible Brady Brassart, who would go -3 with 2 PIMs on the weekend. Brassart is a big body (6-2″, 185lbs) and he has shown flashes of a skilled power forward, but like Johnson and Koper, will have to be more consistent to be successful this season.
Blake Gal would lead the way offensively for the Chiefs. Fresh off a main-camp invite with the Philadelphia Flyers, Gal scored 2 of the Chiefs’ 3 goals on the weekend. The 6-1″ 190lb Lethbridge native was solid in all three zones for the Chiefs, adding a +3 and 2 PIMs. His goal in the second game was especially impressive – before he scored the goal, he had two excellent scoring chances that he just missed converting on. He could have scored three goals on that shift alone; without a doubt Gal was the best forward the Chiefs had all weekend.
Mitch Holmberg (eligible 2011) spent some time on the powerplay unit, and looked to have good offensive instincts. Holmberg isn’t overly big (5-10″ 165 lbs), but has a strong shooting ability and is able to slip away from the play and appear just in time to get a scoring chance. Holmberg went -1 with 2 PIMs for the Chiefs in the two losses, but will be a player to keep an eye on for the upcoming draft. As a whole, the Chiefs are full of smallish, young players, but it was a good sign for the young team that they were able to out-shoot a very good Portland team by such a wide margin on both nights. There is alot of potential in the lineup for this team, only 3 years removed from a Memorial Cup title.
Tags: Blake Gal, Brad Ross, Brady Brassart, Brett Ponich, Cole Hamblin, Derrick Pouliot, Ian Curtis, James Reid, Jared Cowen, Levko Koper, Mac Carruth, Mac Engel, Mitch Holmberg, Oliver Gabriel, Reid Gow, Riley Boychuk, Ryan Johansen, Spencer Bennett, Sven Bartschi, Tanner Mort, Taylor Aronson, Troy Rutkowski, Ty Rattie, Tyler Johnson, Tyler Vanscourt