The Portland Winter Hawks' slump has reached the crisis stage, with coaches criticizing the players' character and work ethic.

'When a coach questions work ethic 61 or 62 games into a season, it's embarrassing,' defenseman Joey Hope said. 'We haven't come to terms with it.'

In turn, have the players quit on head coach Mike Williamson and assistant Blake Wesley? On Sunday, it sure looked like it. Spokane beat the Winter Hawks 4-1, and Portland managed only a franchise-low 11 shots on goal. The night before, Seattle unleashed 55 shots against them, and Williamson lashed out at his team.

The Winter Hawks (18-34-7-3) are 1-1-8 in their last 10 games but still hold a six-point lead over Tri-City for the WHL Western Conference's last playoff spot. They play Tri-City on Wednesday in the Rose Garden.

The coaches have General Manager Ken Hodge's support. 'This is as low as it gets,' he said. 'It's a difficult hurdle to get over, but I'm sure (the coaches) are going to find a way. I want our players to be accountable to our coaches.

'I think Mike Williamson is in the upper echelon of coaches in the Western Hockey League,' he said of the coach, who led the Hawks to the WHL finals two years ago and the U.S. Division title last year.

Hope and defenseman Richie Regehr, the team captain, have not played well lately, their performances marred by turnovers and poor defense. The defensive corps got a workout Sunday Ñ Hope and David Turon committed turnovers that led to goals, and rookie Michael Funk got run through for another score.

Wesley pointed to the play of 19- and 20-year-old players Ñ 'key individuals who are part of our leadership' Ñ as ones who need to improve. 'This is a very uneasy time,' Wesley said. 'You search for an approach or an idea, and sometimes you feel like guys tune you out.'

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