Penalty box second home for Portland as Ice even series
There's no doubt about the heart, or the skill, or the competitiveness or the will to win.
The Winterhawks have all those attributes in spades.
Do they have the poise, though, to claim the Western Hockey League championship?
That remains to be seen after Portland's second-period brain freeze Saturday night, which couldn't have been more costly in a 7-5 loss in Game 2 of their best-of-seven WHL finals with Kootenay.
The Winterhawks should have been charged rent for use of the penalty box in the second period. Beginning at the seven-minute mark, they occupied the sin bin the rest of the way. Carrying over into the third period, coach Mike Johnston added it up as 18 straight penalty minutes.
'I've coached more than 25 years and never seen that many calls in a row on a team,' Johnston said.
Four power-play goals later, Portland trailed 6-1, backup goalie Keith Hamilton had replaced a frazzled Mac Carruth and a sellout Rose Garden crowd of 10,947 was left to serenade referees Matt Kirk and Reagen Vetter in rather unfriendly fashion.
What followed was nearly one of the more remarkable comebacks in franchise history. Portland scored near the end of the second period to go into the final intermission behind 6-2. Then the Hawks, who had been outshot 35-17 through two periods, came on with a frenzy, outshooting the backpedaling Ice 27-8 over the final 20 minutes.
And suddenly, as Taylor Peters and Joe Morrow scored 13 seconds apart, Portland was within 6-5 with yet 12 minutes to play. The Garden throng was Trail Blazer loud, standing and cheering and pumping adrenaline into the local lads.
A couple of sensational saves by Kootenay goalie Nathan Lieuwen stemmed the tide, and an empty-net goal in the closing seconds evened the series at 1-1, but the mad house had registered heavily on the Richter scale.
'It's not the most (fans) I've played in front of, but it's close to the loudest I've played in front of,' Ice center Cody Eakin said. 'They were electric out there. Portland fed off them and used them as a sixth guy. It will be nice going back to our arena' for Tuesday's Game 3.
'I was really proud of how we played in the third,' Johnston said. 'We let our emotions get the best of us in the second period.'
The penalty binge started when Portland's Brad Ross and Kootenay's Matt Fraser locked legs on a skate-by, both falling hard to the ice with apparent knee injuries. Fraser had to be helped off the ice; Ross eventually returned to the bench, but neither made it back into the game.
Ross was assessed a double minor on the play. Fraser was not penalized.
'The hit on Ross was right in front of me, the collision there,' Johnston said.
The Winterhawks' view was that Ross shouldn't have been penalized, either, that his reputation for feistiness played into the referee's decision.
Moments later, Tayler Jordan was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for taking Kootenay's Steele Boomer into the boards. Hockey officials are erring on the side of caution on hits to the head these days.
'On those type of calls, you want to be sensible,' said Johnston, who admitted he didn't get a good look at Jordan's hit.
The Portland coach got a better look at Kootenay's James Martin taking out Sven Bartschi late in the game.
'Bartschi got blindsided,' Johnston sad. 'That should have been at least a five-minute penalty, for sure, 100 percent. On our top player, and it wasn't called.'
Later, Portland's Riley Boychuk drew a five-minute major and game misconduct for a hit that was ruled high on Kootenay's Hayden Rintoul.
The referee 'explained Rintoul he had a concussion, and then he's back playing right away,' Johnston said. 'It wasn't an elbow; it wasn't a high hit. It was a very clean hit with the arm down. Maybe Rintoul didn't see him coming, but there was no concussion, as (the officials) were saying on the ice.'
Kootenay, of course, was seeing things from a different perspective.
'The officials handled it properly and gave the appropriate penalties,' Ice coach Kris Knoblauch said. 'Unfortunately, I lost some of my players today. I'm sure it will be handled appropriately.'
The latter reference was to potential suspensions for Game 3. An automatic review is called for on major penalties such as the ones sustained by Jordan and Boychuk, so they may get a sit-down Tuesday. The Ice could ask for a review, too, on Ross.
Johnston said the severity of Ross' injury wasn't known. Knoblauch declined comment on the condition of Fraser, who scored 36 regular-season goals and netted his team's first two goals Saturday night. By the looks of it, Fraser is worse off than Ross.
Whether or not some of the calls were unwarranted, Portland's second-period recklessness was disastrous. It was deja vu from the opener of the Hawks' second-round series with Kelowna, when a spat of penalties proved fatal in a 5-1 loss.
The Hawks are nothing if not resilient, and they bounced back to bottle the Rockets in six games. Kootenay is a more worthy opponent, though, and the next two games are on its home ice. It will be a tall order for Portland to get even one of the next two games there.
Asked what he learned about the Hawks in the first two games, Kootenay center Max Reinhart replied, 'We have to be extremely disciplined with the firepower they have.'
Disciplined should be the Hawks' mantra, too.
At even strength, they're the better of the two teams. Playing the penalty kill for one-third of the game, that isn't the case.
'It was an incredible third period,' Johnston said. 'I was disappointed we fell short.'
Be smart, Hawks. Just play hockey, and a WHL title is there for the taking.