The Winterhawks are sharpening their weapons for the Western Hockey League playoffs, and they have their most important one back in the holster.
Center Cody Glass has returned to Portland's lineup after missing nine games with a knee injury, and the future Las Vegas Golden Knight made his presence felt in a 5-2 win over Seattle on Sunday night at Moda Center.
Glass served up three assists to linemate Joachim Blichfeld, who increased his WHL-leading totals in goals and scoring with three goals and an assist against the Thunderbirds.
The Glass/Blichfeld/Josh Paterson line had a field day, combining for four goals and five assists as Portland (35-16-3-3) improved to 7-2 against the Thunderbirds this season and fortified its hold on second place in the U.S. Division behind Everett (39-14-1-2).
Since arriving in Portland after a Jan. 10 trade that sent Ryan Hughes to Saskatoon, the 6-3, 205-pound Paterson has teamed with Blichfeld and, when able to play, Glass to form one of the premier lines in the league.
"We showed great chemistry right from the start," Blichfeld said. "It's great to have him on our line. I've never seen a guy so strong with his stick, and he can make plays. He creates room for Cody and me."
"Josh is a good complementary player for that line," Portland coach Mike Johnston said of Paterson, who has 21 goals and 23 assists in 53 games for the Blades and Winterhawks this season. "He's big and strong, has a good stick and is good at the net."
The return of the 6-2, 185-pound Glass — the sixth pick in the 2017 NHL draft by the Golden Knights — is a welcome sight for the Hawks, who need his leadership, his passing skills and his production on both sides of the ice.
"We've had to play a lot of games (21) without one of the best players in the league," said Johnston, who notched his 350th victory in 8 1/2 seasons as the Hawks' head coach. "He changes the whole look of our team with his work on the power play and as a penalty-killer, and he's a great two-way guy. You can play him against top lines, and he just changes the game with the plays he can make."
After playing in wins over Red Deer on Saturday and Seattle on Sunday, Glass was expected to sit out Monday's visit to Vancouver to face the Giants.
"(The knee is) a little sore and tight right now," Glass said after the win over the T-Birds, "but it's nice to be back on the ice. I had a lot of fun playing out there. I just want my knee to get to 100 percent."
Blichfeld was glad to have his partner back in the saddle.
"Cody finds me wherever I am on the ice," said Blichfeld who has 48 goals and 98 points in 57 games. "I just have to get open, and he gets me the puck. It was going in tonight, and it felt great."
The 6-2, 180-pound native of Denmark had 24 goals and 32 assists during the regular season a year ago, but has exploded into the WHL's top point-producer this winter.
"It's a lot more fun when you score goals and win games," Blichfeld said. "It's been good so far. We just have to keep it going."
"When you look at the combination of him and Cody, you see athletes with great chemistry," said Johnston, who spent a season and a half as head coach of the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins. "Those two just have it."
"The guy loves to shoot the puck," said Glass, who has 14 goals and 54 assists in only 36 games. "It's a lot of fun playing with him. I'm a playmaker, and he's one of those guys who can find the easy openings. He finds those slippery lanes, and it doesn't take a lot for him to get his shot off. We're a good 1-2 combo."
Blichfeld and Glass didn't play on the same line often last season.
"When we knew 'Blich' was coming back, I told Cody I'd like to play them together early in the year," Johnston said. "Right from Day One, you could see they could find each other all over the ice. They're both great passers. Cody should shoot more. He has a great shot, and 'Blich' could set him up. It's a nice tandem to have. They're special players; they're hard to shut down."
At 20, Blichfeld is an overage player who was a No. 2 draft pick by San Jose in the 2016 NHL draft but didn't stick with the Sharks in training camp this season.
"I just want to work on my game and make sure I stay up there next year," he said.
The other trade the Hawks made in early January brought them 18-year-old goaltender Joel Hofer, who made 33 saves against Seattle after shutting out Red Deer the night before. Hofer is dividing time with 19-year-old Shane Farkas, who started the season as Portland's regular goalie.
"Hofer and Farkas are lights out right now," Blichfeld said. "When either of those guys are in net, it's a lot easier to play up front."
On Monday, the WHL named Hofer its Goaltender of the Week.
"Joel is getting used to our team," Johnston said. "He's had two shutouts and two other games where he was scored on in the last minute (and gave up only one goal). He makes the extra save that we need. He's going to be a guy moving forward who is going to be a real good player for us.
"But Farkas has responded well. He has had some great starts for us recently, too — a shutout and a one-goal game last weekend. But Hofer is the key guy. That's why we acquired him."
The Hawks have eight players in double figures in goal-scoring, but only Blichfeld, Paterson and Reece Newkirk (20) have as many as 20. There's not a lot of experience on the front line, and four of the six defensemen are in their first or second year in the WHL.
"It's going to be about how much can the in-between guys — our defense group, the last three lines— improve by the time playoffs start," Johnston said. "We're giving them every opportunity. We need them to be ready."
The Hawks would love to pass Everett and win the division, but it's not likely. Going into Monday action, the Silvertips have a five-point lead and a game in hand on Portland. And the Hawks have only three of their last 10 regular-season games at home.
Portland probably will face the No. 3 team in the U.S. Division, Spokane (30-29-2-4), in the first round.
"Doesn't matter that much who we play," Glass said. "Our team has come a long way from the start of the year. We're progressing. We're going to make a good run at it no matter who we go up against."
NOTES: Justin Morrison scored five goals to lead Team White to a 13-7 victory over Team Red in the first Hockey Challenge for Ronald McDonald House exhibition played after the Winterhawks-Thunderbirds game. Six former Hawks played in the game, including Taylor Peters, who had a hat trick for the losers. Hawks broadcasting legend Dean "Scooter" Vrooman, now the club's director of corporate partnerships, said the hope is to make it an annual alumni event to benefit Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing and support for families of children in serious medical crisis. Ex-Hawks Jim Dobson, Mike Williamson, Darren Yankovsky and Anton Cederholm served as coaches for the exhibition.
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