Winterhawks set bar, struggle to reach it
Since they reached the No. 1 ranking in all of junior hockey on Oct. 18, the Portland Winterhawks have struggled.
Sunday's 3-2 loss to Everett was the third in a row for the Hawks, who won nine of their first 10 games.
The biggest difference? Scoring chances aren't becoming goals at the crazy rate they were at the start of this season.
Portland scored six or more goals in six of its first nine Western Hockey League games this season. In the four most recent games, the Hawks have scored a total of 11 goals.
"I don't think we're playing any differently. We're still getting our shots. We're still getting our scoring chances. We're not converting as much as we did before," coach/GM/VP Mike Johnston says.
The high-profile line of Cody Glass, Skyler McKenzie and Kieffer Bellows continues to produce. Bellows is especially hot, with eight goals and six assists over the past seven games to bring his 13-game totals to 12 goals and 11 assists.
But since Ryan Hughes suffered a broken leg on Oct. 10, the Hawks have lacked consistent production from other lines. Hughes is expected to return in December. In the meantime, other players will have an opportunity to contribute.
"We need other guys to step up, and the last few games we haven't been able to get that. So that's been a big difference from the start (of the season)," Johnston says.
Johnston has put Ty Kolle, Mason Mannek and Bronson Sharp in Hughes' spot on a line with Alex Overhardt and Joachim Blichfeld. But, replacing Hughes — who had four goals and three assists through six-plus games — has been tough.
"We have to get some chemistry going with the line there," Johnston says. "We need Blichfeld to get going. We need Overhardt to get going."
Johnston has kept Glass, McKenzie and Bellows together but splitting up that trio "is something we might look at."
Johnston was pleased with the effort against Everett. After a sluggish start, the Hawks kept Everett goalie Dustin Wolf busy.
Johnston says his players might have been a bit tired after a demanding week of practice. Playing only one game Oct. 22-28 presented a window to push the players at practices.
Now the coach is hoping that a busier schedule might help his team rediscover some rhythm.
The Winterhawks play host to Prince George on Wednesday at Moda Center, the second of four games over seven days. Portland plays at Spokane on Friday and visits Everett on Saturday.
• Keoni Texeira has been a team captain before, and he has watched closely the way older teammates led the Winterhawks. Now in his fifth season in Portland, it's Texeira's turn to wear the "C" on his sweater and guide a team with the highest of aspirations.
He says he learned from the examples set by previous Winterhawks' captains — beginning with Taylor Leier in 2013-14, when Texeira was a 16-year-old rookie.
"Seeing how they treated the guys and what kind of people they were off the ice as well. I just think it's very important to be close with everybody and to give it your all every single day," Texeira says.
Texeira, who was a captain during his time with the L.A. Selects before joining the Winterhawks, says he can make himself heard when needed, but focuses on leading by example.
"I'm pretty talkative," he says. "But I also like to display it on the ice and lead by example on the ice as well."
Early in the season, it's especially important to connect with the rookies.
"I've been in the same shoes as these 16-year-olds," he says. "It's not an easy thing to leave home and live with a new family. It's about making them feel comfortable and making them feel comfortable to move on (with their careers)."
While comfort is important, complacency is a problem. The three-game blip can serve as a reminder, according to Texeira.
"We need to keep doing the right things. Because of how much talent we have, sometimes I think we rely on that a little bit instead of our hard work ethic," Texeira says. "We need the hard work ethic along with our talent to be the great team we know we can be."
And greatness is the bar for these Winterhawks.
"We have a really special group of guys this year. I want to lead this team all the way to the finals. I want to go all the way to the end," Texeira says. "This is my last year. I want to give it everything I've got, and I want to just enjoy the year with a good group of guys."