Teens preview Winterhawks' bright future
Down three injured forwards is hardly ideal, especially when the schedule means three games in three days.
But injuries to Seth Jarvis, Simon Knak and Robbie Fromm-Delorme presented a peek at what looks like a bright future for the Portland Winterhawks.
Specifically, 16-year-olds Jack O'Brien, Gabe Klassen and James Stefan all got the chance to play at least some shifts at center as the Winterhawks dropped games in overtime and a shootout before beating Winnipeg 4-1 at home on Sunday.
"It was good for them to get that kind of exposure, to have to check and have to play down low against older guys and have to play penalty-kill minutes and some power-play time," associate coach Kyle Gustafson said after Sunday's victory over the visiting Ice. "It does talk to our depth a little bit. If you're looking long-term, you should probably be a little excited that guys are able to contribute at a young age."
The three forwards sidelined for the three-game weekend are youngsters themselves. Jarvis, Knak and Fromm-Delorme each is in his 17-year-old season, but all are playing roles often held by older players. They accounted for 15 goals and 31 assists through last week.
Jarvis, who was hurt early in Friday's OT loss to Spokane, is second to Reece Newkirk in points and tied for the team lead with nine goals in his 18 appearances.
The good news is none of the injuries is expected to be a long-term problem. Gustafson, while not specifying projected return dates, said the recovery time for the injured players is at worst week-to-week.
• It was a memorable weekend for three Winterhawks rookies. Kishaun Gervais, Klassen and Stefan each recorded their first Western Hockey League goals.
Gervais had two goals. The energetic 18-year-old from Kamsack, Saskatchewan, scored off the rush Friday against Spokane and converted his own rebound in the opening moments Sunday.
On Saturday against Seattle in Kent, Washington, Klassen and Stefan worked together to score their first WHL goals. First Stefan redirected a Klassen shot-pass. Later, Stefan provided a screen in front on Klassen's first.
• Even being without several key players, the Hawks thought it should have been a three-win weekend.
"We would like a couple more points here and there. We would like to close teams out in regulation. But there's a lot we can take from the weekend," Gustafson said.
Portland largely controlled Friday's Moda Center game against Spokane before James Finley poked in a loose puck in the final minute and scored the winner in overtime. On Saturday, the Winterhawks outshot the Thunderbirds 51-27 but lost in a shootout thanks to Seattle goalie Roddy Ross. A Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, Ross made 47 saves and then stopped both Winterhawks shootout attempts.
• Winterhawks goalie Joel Hofer was busy last week. Not only did the St. Louis Blues prospect stop 55 of 60 shots in his two weekend appearances in Portland, he also helped the Canadian Hockey League win the annual Canada/Russia Series. He stopped 29 of 32 shots last Thursday at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in the final game of the six-game series, the second game between a WHL all-star team and the Russians.
Russia won the shootout and that game 4-3, but that meant a second shootout decided the entire series. Hofer stopped five Russian skaters in the seven-round series tiebreaker won by the WHL.
"It was intense. Both teams were super-skilled and fast. I think overall our team got better as the game went on," Hofer said.
One highlight of the experience, which will help determine the roster for Team Canada for the 2020 World Juniors, was getting to know some of his WHL opponents.
"To put a personality to the face is cool," he said of playing with, rather than against, some of the WHL's top players.
"I thought the team played well in front of me. To go into a shootout and to go into another shootout to determine the series was exciting."
Hofer didn't have much time to digest the Canada/Russia showdown. By noon Friday he was back in Portland and played that night in the 4-3 overtime loss to Spokane.
Hofer has been the best player for the Winterhawks in the first quarter of the season. The Winnipeg native had backstopped all 12 Portland wins entering a Wednesday home game against Vancouver.
"I think I'm just going into games with a lot of confidence," Hofer said, giving credit to the skilled skaters in front of him, and the willingness to block shots, for contributing to that confidence.
• The Winterhawks will play home games at 6 p.m. Saturday against Everett and 5 p.m. Sunday against Saskatoon, both at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Portland entered a Wednesday home game against Vancouver with a record of 12-5-1-2, two points behind U.S. Division-leading Everett.
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