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Hawks gather a storm on ice, reap rewards

Weekend win against Swift Current gives team a positive spin

The Portland Winter Hawks sit on a rock in the middle of an unfrozen pond, and they could either jump back to being young and bad or leap forward to being a legitimate WHL playoff team.

Forward Craig Valette uses the analogy to describe the state of the Winter Hawks, who stand at 9-15-3-1 just more than one-third through their season.

On Sunday, Portland exploded against Swift Current, one of the Western Hockey League's better teams, as Chad Wolkowski and Valette combined for an incredible 11 points in the 6-1 win.

A ßuke? Yes, because the Hawks could do little wrong, which won't happen every night. Something to build on? Maybe, depending on whether more Hawks watched how Wolkowski and Valette did it.

The Hawks are not blessed with natural goal scorers, although Wolkowski claims to be one. He played on Calgary's third and fourth lines last year and became 'a healthy scratch' many times this season before the Hitmen traded him. Valette hadn't been called on to score since his midget hockey days.

But Wolkowski and Valette simply planted themselves in front of the net Ñ got in the mugs of Swift Current goalies Ñ which usually spells success for anybody carrying a stick. Coach Mike Williamson preaches to his team every day about simple positioning and 'going to the net.'

'Before I got here, that was one of the problems they were having,' says Wolkowski, who had four goals and two assists. 'Our team is learning that, and we're getting a lot more chances.'

'It kinda gets contagious,' Valette adds. 'You go to the net and get rewarded.'

Valette leads the team with 16 goals, and Wolkowski has 13. The two played, at times, with Roman Prazak and Matt Girling on Sunday, and looked like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and some other guy on the ice. Crisp passing, banging home rebounds, patiently waiting for chances, doing the grunt work, executing odd-man rushes.

'We played so simple, it seemed easy,' Williamson says.

The Hawks, who averaged less than two goals in the Þrst 10 games, have scored at least four goals in Þve of the last six. Williamson, partially upset because he thought that Portland lost winnable games against Medicine Hat and Vancouver before beating Swift Current, says his team is 'on the cusp of Þnding an identity.'

The identity: 'We've got to be a very tenacious, hardworking group that doesn't give up anything (defensively) and goes to the net to create offense. We've had great goaltending.'

NOTES: Well, he Þnally did it. Williamson popped the question to his longtime girlfriend, Michelle Schroeder, last Thursday and she said the magic word: 'Yes.' The 29-year-old Williamson says the wedding day will be in the summer, on some island in Hawaii. Kidded a friend: 'You're on your own island now.' É The Winter Hawks are averaging only 3,874 fans in nine Memorial Coliseum games and have not drawn more than 8,860 in any of Þve Rose Garden games. É Defenseman David Turon, sidelined since training camp because of a broken collarbone, could be back Dec. 11 if the Toronto Maple Leafs clear him to play. The Maple Leafs, however, may want him to sit until after the holiday break, at which time Turon could be called to play for the Czech junior team in the world championships.