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League calls off rest of schedule, and Portland finishes just ahead of Everett

COURTESY PHOTO: MATT WOLFE/PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS - Jake Gricius of the Portland Winterhawks battles the Everett Silvertops in a late-February game at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.For the fourth time in franchise history, the Portland Winterhawks are the Western Hockey League regular-season champions.

Wednesday's announcement that the remaining regular-season games will not be played means Portland finishes with the best winning percentage in the WHL.

The league still hopes to be able to stage playoffs in some form after the COVID-19 threat passes.

The Winterhawks' final five regular-season games did not happen. Portland's record of 45-11-3-4 was good for 97 points. Its .770 winning percentage was better than second-place Everett's .762, which determined the champion.

"It's nice for our organization," Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston said.

He noted that Portland held the top position in the league for a significant part of the season before Everett briefly moved ahead.

On what turned out to be the final weekend of the regular season, the Hawks beat Victoria on back-to-back nights. The first of those was a come-from behind win with the tying goal by Jake Gricius coming with 22 seconds left in the third period and the winning goal by Cross Hanas 18 seconds into overtime.

Johnston called the championship a significant achievement for a team with one of the youngest rosters in the WHL. He said the way the season ended shouldn't detract from the championship.

Finishing first, Johnston said, "is better than missing a out by a point or two after leading for much of the season."

The Winterhawks most recently won the regular-season title in 2012-13, when they went on to capture the league title.

Portland also won the regular-season title in 1997-98 en route to league and Memorial Cup titles, and in 1979-80.

With the end of the regular season canceled, WHL players, including the Winterhawks, have returned to their families. Most of the Winterhawks are from western Canada.

Rich Campbell, Winterhawks trainer and strength and conditioning coach, gave players workout plans to help them remain fit while home and unable to skate if rinks are closed.

The league would like to have some sort of a postseason playoff, but that will remain on hold until venues can reopen for spectators.

Five Winterhawks were ranked in NHL Central Scouting's midseason list of draft-eligible North American skaters. Topping that list was center Seth Jarvis. In his 17-year-old season, the center from Winnipeg, Manitoba, finished with 42 goals and 56 assists. His 98 points ranked second to Spokane's Adam Beckman's 107. Jarvis was third in the league in goals scored and fifth in assists. His eight game-winning goals tied for third in the league.

Other Winterhawks ranked by NHL Central Scouting are forward Simon Knak (61st), forward Hanas (65th), defenseman Jonas Brondberg (107th) and forward Robbie Fromm-Delorme (165th).

Johnston said the shortening of the season should not hurt those players' draft prospects.

"Most of our draft eligible guys have had very good years, which helped their stock," Johnston said.

A draft is next on the agenda for Johnston. The new WHL U.S. prospects draft is scheduled for March 25. The Winterhawks have the 16th and 29th picks in the two-round draft.

This first-time draft allows teams to select 2005-born players from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The traditional bantam draft of 2005-born players will take place in early May. Players available for that draft are from the states listed above and from the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and Yukon.

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