Blichfield, Glass fuel optimism for Winterhawks
Linemates Cody Glass and Joachim Blichfeld aren't in the NHL yet, but they're coming, folks.
The Winterhawks' dynamic duo put on a splendid display of offensive skill at the Moda Center on Sunday night, combining for nine points in a 10-2 undressing of the Kootenay Ice.
Blichfeld notched a three-goal hat trick and an assist, and Glass scored twice with three helpers as Portland (16-10-0-2) swept Kootenay (7-20-3-1) off the ice.
"It was one of those nights where everything went right," said Blichfeld, a 6-2, 180-pound left wing from Denmark. "It felt great. Cody and I have good chemistry. We showed it tonight."
The 20-year-old Blichfeld (25 goals, 28 assists) ranks third and 19-year-old Glass (11 goals, 40 assists) is fourth in scoring in the Western Hockey League, the latter despite missing four of the Hawks' 28 games. They combine with Ryan Hughes to form the WHL's most potent line, which was far too much for the Ice defenders to handle.
"Everything was clicking out there," said Glass, a 6-2, 185-pound center from Winnipeg, Manitoba. "It's fun to play with a player like 'Blich.' He's a great shooter. I'm more of a playmaker, so he fits well into my game."
Most any player who can skate and convert a set-up can fit well with Glass, who was the sixth pick by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL draft, then led the Hawks in scoring with 37 goals and 102 points a year ago.
"Cody sees people all over the ice who nobody can see except for the fans," Portland coach Mike Johnston said. "It's amazing how he makes plays. Cody and Joachim have great chemistry. Joachim is a shooter. He gets open. He's really smart.
"But Cody is just so good with the puck. He can shoot, he can pass, he can do so many things. I like his work ethic this year. Cody has been the driving force with our team. He's a real leader. We have the best player in the league, and I think he's going to be a really good NHL player."
Glass spent six weeks in training camp and played a pair of exhibition games with the Knights — who reached the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural campaign last season — before being sent back to the Hawks.
"I was disappointed," Glass said. "I felt like I showed well, but they're going for a Stanley Cup again. It was a good experience. I was happy with the way I played. Getting sent down is a bad feeling, but I have another year of junior hockey, so I'm looking forward to the rest of the year."
Blichfeld, a seventh-round selection by the San Jose in 2016, was in the Sharks' camp but didn't play any exhibition games before being returned to Portland.
"It's good to see how the NHLers do things on and off the ice," said Blichfeld, who scored 24 goals and had 56 points in just 56 games with Portland last season. "It was a great experience. I took a lot of what I learned with me back here."
Glass assisted on all three Blichfeld goals Sunday, on the latter decking a defenseman with a move inside the blue line, then backhanding a pass that his linemate deposited with precision into the net.
"With 'Blich,' you just have to give him some space," Glass said. "If you give him those angles and that little time he needs to shoot, he has a good chance of scoring."
The Hawks aren't a two-man team despite losing plenty of talent, including first-round draft picks Kieffer Bellows and Henri Jokiharju plus stalwart defensemen Dennis Cholowski and Keoni Texeira. There is a young nucleus probably headed for its greatest success in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. But with Glass and Blichfeld leading the way, this year's Hawks have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs next spring.
"We have a bunch of skill on this team," Glass said. "The more we develop our young players going into the second half of the year, the stronger we'll be."
For the first time in Johnston's nine years as the Hawks' coach, he is using three 16-year-old forwards on regular lines — Seth Jarvis, Cross Hanas and Robbie Fromm-Delorme.
"We decided to commit to those guys because we like them," Johnston said. "They're going to be really good players, and they're coming along, but they have their highs and lows."
Johnston points to 17-year-old center Reece Newkirk, who had eight goals and three assists in 58 games a year ago. Now the 5-11, 170-pound Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, native is a force with which to be reckoned, with 16 goals and 14 assists already this season.
"A kid can explode that next year," Johnston said. "That's why we're trying to give them experience now."
Jarvis, Hanas and Fromm-Delorme "are really good hockey players," Glass said. "They've been doing a good job. Mike is really good at developing players. They need to take advantage of every opportunity."
Goaltender Shane Farkas has replaced departed Cole Kehler — now in the Los Angeles Kings system — and played all but 146 minutes this season. Farkas, 19, is backed up by 16-year-old Dante Giannuzzi.
"Shane has carried a heavy load," Johnston said. "Dante is not quite ready. We may look at getting somebody to back Shane up (before the January trade deadline)."
Portland is third in the 10-team Western Conference, trailing only Everett (22-7-1-0) and Vancouver (20-6-2-0). The Hawks are 2-0 against Vancouver and 2-4-0-1 against Everett, but have been outscored only 22-18 in the seven games by the Silvertips.
"We've played them well," Johnston said. "We're right there with them."
It's an unusual season for the Hawks, who after suffering heavy losses are re-tooling instead of rebuilding.
"Usually after 20 games, I know where our team is at," he said. "We have nine new players in our lineup. I'm hoping they're going to grow by February or March to where we're going to be a threat in the playoffs.
"Right now, we're at a point where we can beat anybody, but at the same time, we could lose to a lot of teams in our (conference). I don't think anybody is a clear front-runner on our side. We're right there in the pack."
Or maybe even better than that. If so, it will be with Glass and Blichfeld leading the way.