Backup goalie battle part of Winterhawks' focus
The Portland Winterhawks experienced quite a variety of circumstances while going 2-3 in five preseason games.
They scored 11 goals in a win.
They scored a shorthanded goal in the final minute of a third period to force overtime.
They outshot one opponent by 30 shots in a game that featured two young lineups.
And their youngsters were welcomed to Western Hockey League play by a veteran Spokane team in a loss.
There is young talent to build with when the regular season opens on Sept. 22 at Seattle.
"Preseason for us was to get to know our group, but also to get to know what else is out there within our division and our league," Winterhawks associate coach Kyle Gustafson says. "We feel confident with where we're at."
This week and next, while 10 veteran players are attending NHL camps, the focus will be on details and trying to find continuity among players who might become line mates once the puck drops for real.
"Right now, with the group we have, it's more dialing into details and attention to detail and really trying to get them up to speed," Gustafson said.
One position battle that will unfold this week is for the backup goalie spot behind Shane Farkas. Evan Fradette, 17, and Dante Giannuzzi each had one strong outing in the preseason.
"We talked to both of our (backup) goalies about the importance of this week in practice," Gustafson said. "For the coaching staff, we're going to try to create as much live game simulation as possible."
As players return from NHL camps — four or five of the 10 are likely to play for Portland this season — line combinations and chemistry will get more attention.
Defenseman John Ludvig (Boston), forward Jake Gricius (San Jose) and goalie Farkas (Calgary) will return to Portland at some point.
Also, Cody Glass will be back in Portland if he doesn't make the Vegas Golden Knights, and 20-year-old defenseman Brendan De Jong (Carolina) could return.
Not expected back in Portland are defensemen Henri Jokiharju (Chicago) and Dennis Cholowski (Detroit) and forwards Skyler McKenzie (Winnipeg), Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose) and Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders). They are likely to begin their professional careers either in the NHL or the American Hockey League.
• As planned, the Winterhawks sent 16-year-old defenseman Kurtis Smythe to play for Delta Hockey Academy this season.
Smythe had a strong preseason with Portland, including two assists in four preseason games, and is expected to be a Winterhawk as a 17-year-old next season.
Portland also released 19-year-old forward Lucas Cullen.
• Lukus MacKenzie, injured late in the 2017-18 regular season, should be ready when the 2018-19 regular-season opens on Sept. 22 at Seattle.
MacKenzie has been practicing full, though he did not play in the preseason.
The 19-year-old figures to bring a needed physical presence to a skilled but young forward group.
• Nick Perna, a promising 17-year-old defenseman from Dallas, missed the preseason because of injury but is about a week away from joining practice.
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