Portland wins 3 of 4 on the road; new D-man from NHL could help Hawks cut down on goals against

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Adam De Champlain, Portland Winterhawks forward, scored the final regulation goal on a four-game trip, as the Hawks won 5-4 in a shootout Sunday at Vancouver.It was quite the week for the Portland Winterhawks.

And it won't be the last week filled with close, intense games.

The Hawks came through well in their stretch of four games on the road in five nights against quality teams. They came away with, in order: a victory at Everett, a shootout loss at Victoria, a win at Victoria and a shootout triumph Sunday at Vancouver.

"That was a tough schedule," Portland coach/general manager Mike Johnston says, "and I was really proud of the guys. Really happy with how they played and how they battled."

The seven points (of a possible eight) kept the Winterhawks on top in the well-bunched Western Hockey League U.S. Division. Portland's lead is six points over three teams — Seattle, Spokane and Everett.

"It's really tight, and down the stretch we're all going to play each other a lot, so it will sort itself out," Johnston says.

Portland got its trip started with a 4-1 win last Wednesday at Everett, then lost 3-2 Friday at Victoria, won 2-1 against the Royals and prevailed 5-4 at Vancouver to cap three games in British Columbia in three nights.

Victoria has been one of the top clubs in the WHL West all season, and "Vancouver has been playing really well," Johnston says. "They were all good games."

Victoria finished the season series with three wins in four games against Portland, but the Hawks got the last one, as Oliver Bjorkstrand broke a 1-1 tie on a power play with five minutes remaining.

"It was really important to get a win, for sure, and to play well against them," Johnston says. "After losing to Victoria on Friday in a shootout, we responded with the win, and that was a real key game for us."

The next night, at Vancouver, Adam De Champlain scored with 2:41 minutes left to force overtime. It was only his fifth goal of the season.

"Vancouver was on a power play and mishandled the puck at the point," Johnston says. "He outraced guys for the loose puck in the neutral zone and went in to score."

Portland went on to get its first shootout win of the season, with Derrick Pouliot and then Taylor Leier scoring, and with newly acquired goalie Corbin Boes stopping Vancouver's opening two attempts.

Boes played Friday and Sunday, and goaltender Brendan Burke returned from injury to handle the duties and pick up the victory on Saturday.

"Burke is our No. 1 goaltender — he has been since the beginning of the year," Johnston says. "He's back at 100 percent from a hip flexor he got against Tri-City (on Jan. 3).

"Boes has played a lot this year for Lethbridge, so he's game-sharp. He will be able to come in and play quality games for us and give us stability because of his experience.

"Like at any position on the team, you need depth."

Portland's forward depth was back last week, with the return of Nic Petan and Taylor Leier from the world junior championships in Sweden, along with the return of Brendan Leipsic from WHL suspension.

And Portland's defensive depth is about to grow. Ballyhooed D-man Mathew Dumba is driving from Calgary to the Rose City and is scheduled to take his first practice with the Winterhawks on Tuesday.

The first-round NHL draft pick — who had been with the Minnesota Wild this season — is expected to make his Portland WHL debut on Friday, as the Hawks play host to Moose Jaw at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.

"He's a good all-around defenseman and can play in all situations," Johnston says. "He really adds a lot to our defense."

And defense will be a focus for the team in the stretch run and playoffs.

Portland leads the WHL with 193 goals, but has given up 153.

"I'd like to get more balance," Johnston says. "We want to continue to be a good scoring team, but we need to cut down our goals against."

The past week was a step in the right direction in that area, too, as the Hawks allowed only nine goals in the four games.

And getting positive results in three out of the four — none of it coming easily — should have some extra benefits.

"Those are big character wins," Johnston says.

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