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Hawks face confidence deficit

WHL's youngest team sees bright side of close loss to Everett
by: DENISE FARWELL, Portland’s Frazer McLaren keeps the puck ahead of Calgary’s Keegan Dansereau during a game last month at Memorial Coliseum.

It's the youngest team in the Western Hockey League, but it's not the worst. Portland has been competitive, and the Winter Hawks expect to be better by March.

The month of March might not include the Western Hockey League playoffs, however, because Portland finds itself 11 points behind Spokane and in last place in the WHL U.S. Division.

And, after last Saturday's 4-3 loss to Everett, the team's record against U.S. Division foes is 1-8.

'At times, we're playing really well,' coach Mike Williamson says. 'We're still not playing with a lot of confidence.'

The Winter Hawks have 13 rookies, the most in recent memory and the most in the league. A rebuilding effort it is, recognized as such by new ownership on down. The Hawks have tried not to use inexperience as an excuse, but even their experienced players have been unable to lift the team to greater heights - yet.

Outside of defenseman Michael Sauer, the Winter Hawks don't have any high-end WHL talent. Collectively, they have to get the job done, and Williamson says lack of focus leads to mistakes and bad goals.

'I think we're guilty sometimes of standing around and watching,' says the coach, using an age-old hockey cliché. 'In games we've lost, the (scoring) chances we've given up have been spectacular - we'll go from a good possession to a position we shouldn't be in, and quickly. We just have to play, think and know where to be.

'It's sometimes older guys trying to do too much and younger guys not knowing what to do.'

Portland is 9-17-0-1 going into Wednesday's home game with Kelowna. Two weekends ago, the Hawks played stellar and beat Vancouver 1-0 in overtime. Last weekend, another fine effort included two rare power-play goals, but Everett scored four times with the man advantage and won 4-3.

Close games with league powers give the Hawks hope.

'We come out with an entirely different attitude with weaker teams. We think it's going to be easy,' center Colton Sceviour says.

'We try to be a hardworking team, because we're not the most skilled. If we work hard, we'll win games.'

Among rookies, skilled forward Chris Francis and composed defenseman Lucas Alexiuk have received the most ice time. Williamson has given everybody their chance, with forwards Tristan King and Chip Petrino getting ample time lately.

One rookie struggling somewhat has been Thomas Frazee, who has been a healthy scratch in some games, including last Saturday's. Williamson says Frazee, who played regular shifts on last year's playoff team at age 15, needs to understand the importance of being '150 percent committed to hockey and school.'

Goalie Kurtis Mucha must continue to be steady, backed by an experienced defense. Sceviour, Frazer McLaren and Rob Klinkhammer have led the offense, but the Hawks must improve their power play. Two goals against Everett broke a 1-for-41 slump in the past five games and 8-for-99 funk the previous 14 games.

Sceviour says that while the Hawks work on cross-ice passes and tic-tac-toe passing, 'if we go back to simple slap shots, screens and tips, it'll snowball and we'll get more power-play goals.'