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Hawks rely on power plays

After 0-for-39 start, the man-advantage unit is seventh in WHL

The turnaround has been startling.

That the Portland Winter Hawks sport one of the Western Hockey League's top power-play units borders on remarkable. At the start of the season, many wondered whether the Winter Hawks would re-establish their own mark of futility Ñ by scoring the fewest goals ever in a WHL season.

But the Hawks (15-24-6-3) got their offensive act together, and they sit comfortably in the WHL playoff picture. Going into Wednesday's game against Tri-City in Memorial Coliseum, they have recovered from quite a hole in the man-advantage department.

Portland began the year 0-for-39 on the power play and were 3 for 73 (4.1 percent) through 10 games.

The Hawks now rank seventh in the 19-team WHL, having converted with the man advantage 18.4 percent of the time, including 22 percent in the past three months.

Portland coach Mike Williamson just wants to see more consistency from the unit, which usually features skilled defensemen Richie Regehr, Braydon Coburn and David Turon and hardworking forwards Craig Valette and Chad Wolkowski. Even Joey Hope, a defenseman playing at forward, and rookie Brandon Dubinsky are getting into the act, each notching a goal Friday against Kamloops.

'It's working best when our defense gets shots through and we're working for the pucks,' Williamson says. 'The biggest thing we didn't do early was go get the puck. We'd bobble it, and then just leave it. Left it there for the other team's PK guys to take it. Our recovery has gotten so much better.'

The Hawks' penalty kill hasn't been too shabby, either, jelling at 84 percent, good for sixth in the WHL in the man-down situations.

Most coaches point to goaltending as the key in the playoffs. Portland has two veterans in Lanny Ramage and Krister Toews, the latter the hot one of late. Williamson says defense will be important, too, and that is where the Hawks' strength often lies. The next important things in playoff games: the power play and penalty kill.

'We're relying on them too much,' Williamson says. 'If either one lets us down, we don't have firepower and depth to overpower teams.'