WINTERHAWKS: Texeira's first goal anything but a bear
What a time for your first Western Hockey League goal 16-year-old Portland Winterhawks defenseman Keoni Texeira got his 4:43 into the second period Saturday, triggering the annual avalanche of teddy bears onto the Memorial Coliseum ice.
The Teddy Bear Toss night has become one of the Hawks' biggest events. Fans throw the stuffed animals over the boards, and the team later donates them to local charities, who give them to underprivileged children.
Each year, the first goal by a Portland player ignites the flinging frenzy, and Texeira's wrist shot from the left side made the score Seattle 2, Portland 1.
And with that, down came 11,862 bears, courtesy of the sellout crowd of 10,108.
"A really exciting moment," Texeira says.
The 6-0, 195-pounder from Fontana, Calif., had been talking with some teammates/housemates and their billets before the game, and the host family mentioned that it would be neat to have one of their player guests get the teddy bear goal.
"I think I can do it," Texeira told his billets.
When it happened, though, "it was a shock at first," he admits.
"It was just a really neat experience. It feels great," he adds. "I've had a lot of opportunities (to score). It feels good to finally bury one."
The Hawks played better after that, and caught fire in the third period, scoring three unanswered goals Texeira had his 10th assist of the season on the third one to beat the Thunderbirds 5-3.
"It kind of fired up the guys," Texeira says of the teddy bear tally. "We came back, fought hard and won the game."
Mike Johnston, Portland's general manager and coach, says Texeira's goal did have an impact on the game.
"We needed that momentum," Johnston says.
The Winterhawks play host to Western Hockey League U.S. Division rival Everett at 7 tonight at the coliseum.
Then the Hawks have 10 days off and most of the players will be going home during the holiday break.
They'll return for a Dec 27 game at Tri-City, then play host to the Americans Dec. 28 at Memorial Coliseum before the annual New Year's Eve game, which is 8 p.m. against Kelowna at Moda Center.
"It's going to be nice to get a little break," defenseman Garrett Haar of Huntington Beach, Calif., says, "but I'm excited to get back and play more hockey."
The Winterhawks have five players at world junior camps or tournaments, giving understudies such as Texeira more playing time for a few weeks.
The Hawks hope to add Canadian D-man Mathew Dumba to their fold after the world junior tournament, which is Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 at Malmo, Sweden.
Portland recently acquired the rights to Dumba in a deal with the WHL Red Deer Rebels. Dumba, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, has been playing with the NHL Minnesota Wild, but the big-league club might elect to send him back to juniors, in which case he would join Portland after the world tourney.
The 6-0, 180-pound Regina, Saskatchewan native has one goal and one assist in 13 games for the Wild this season.
"He's a dynamic, physical defenseman," Johnston says. "He can jump up on the attack and is good on the power play, but the big part of his game is his physical play."
The Hawks' coaching staff will spend part of their holiday break studying trade prospects and options, Johnston says, partly in the event that the Wild choose to keep Dumba.
The WHL trade deadline is Jan. 10.
"If Dumba doesn't come here, we'll have to make another move," Johnston says.
Portland forward Paul Bittner, also a 16-year-old player, had a hat trick in Saturday's 5-3 victory over Seattle.
"Paul had a great night," Johnston says. "He's not (NHL) draft-eligible until next year, but a lot of NHL people feel he could be a top pick. He's a big, strong guy. He handles the puck well and played in front of the net on the power play (scoring twice with the man advantage in the Seattle game). He's really rounding into a good player."
The Hawks have been using a few newcomers to help in the absence of world junior competitors Nicolas Petan, Taylor Leier, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Derrick Pouliot and Layne Viveiros.
Johnston says 6-1, 180-pound defenseman Justin Greer "has taken a big step forward since training camp."
Up front, 5-5, 140-pound center Skyler McKenzie "has a lot of energy and could be a Petan/Leier type down the road," while 5-9, 155-pound right wing Colton Veloso "is a fearless player who gets up and down the ice."