Defense is best offense for Hawks

Best of seven series shapes up as a test of odd-man rushes

Portland had better keep defending in its WHL playoff series against Tri-City. The Winter Hawks have four goals in two games.

'If we play defense first, we'll get chances offensively, especially the way their defensemen jump into the play,' Portland's Michael Funk says. 'If we can get the puck behind their defensemen on those chances, there's a real good chance we can get odd-man rushes or chances in their end.'

The best-of-seven series heads to Kennewick, Wash., for Game 3 at 7 tonight and Game 4 at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The series, tied 1-1, will return to the Rose Garden for Game 5 Friday night.

Against Tri-City, it's about who gets the most odd-man rushes, at even strength, anyway.

'Their D-men are fast skaters and good shots and like to jump in the play,' Portland goalie Krister Toews says. 'If our wingers aren't coming back, it's going to be a 3-on-2 or an odd-man rush every time.'

Top-end defensemen Braydon Coburn, Funk and Richie Regehr were tentative for most of Game 1. But they played much better in Sunday's 2-1, two-overtime win Ñ simpler approach, fewer turnovers Ñ and contained Tri-City scorers Ryan Kinasewich and Dylan Stanley, who still combined for the Americans' only goal.

'We did a better job of shutting (the Ams) down and deflecting their rush to outside the (faceoff) dots,' says assistant coach Blake Wesley, who runs the defensive system. Whenever we play soundly in our own end, it's a result of good positioning by our forwards.'

Better 'holdups by the forwards,' Coburn calls it.

Coburn, an NHL first-round pick, has been less than spectacular, and he entered the playoffs with a Winter Hawk-worst minus-19 rating. He calls his season just 'all right.' Coach Mike Williamson says Coburn cares so much, he tries to be perfect on every play, which leads to mistakes and less than physical play. Plus, his NHL team, Atlanta inferred to Coburn he should score points and stay on the ice as much as possible this season.

Wesley also usually pairs Coburn with rookies, either Brendan Mikkelson or Taylor Sutherlin, because he does bring stability to the ice.

'He's trying to become more of a diverse player, and it has affected his game,' Wesley says. 'He's such a solid player positionally when he's concentrating and focused on that one thing.'

Regehr, 20, and Funk have been paired for most of the year. Regehr led Portland in plus-minus (plus-9) and ranked fourth in scoring (9 goals, 34 assists). Surprisingly, the WHL Western Conference coaches and general managers named him second-team, all-conference, and Coburn made the first team.

'He's stepped it up, working out hard, doing everything right,' Funk says of Regehr. 'If he keeps it up, he'll find himself going places.'

Adds Wesley: 'He's reliable, night in and night out, dependable, strong, shows leadership, plays hurt, plays through injuries. You can't ask for anything more out of a player than what Richie gives you.'

The coaches hope Funk learns by watching Regehr. Funk feels the presence of NHL scouts watching him in his draft-eligible season, which helps explain his radical up-and-down year. He's also only 17, and not physically developed.

'In order for him to develop into a solid pro, he has to find that degree of consistency that everybody searches for as a player,' Wesley says.

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