BACK HOME: The Winter Hawks (11-11-2) have two tough games at Memorial Coliseum this weekend Ñ Seattle at 7 p.m. Saturday and Kelowna at 5 p.m. Sunday.

The Hawks went 2-4-2 on their recent road trip, which included two disappointing losses, 5-1 at Swift Current and 6-2 at Medicine Hat. 'We didn't play very well,' coach Mike Williamson says. 'The other teams cranked it up, and we didn't handle it. The biggest reason we struggled was we only had two or three (good) players on a particular night; we never had six play well.'

TOP PLAYERS: Defensemen Braydon Coburn and Richie Regehr and goaltender Krister Toews were Portland's best players on the trip. Coburn was to play two games this week in the junior-level WHL vs. Russia Selects Super Series.

TOP 10: Western Hockey League rankings by vote of sportswriters: 1. Kelowna-2. Kamloops 3. Moose Jaw 4. Swift Current 5. Prince Albert 6. Vancouver 7. Medicine Hat 8. Spokane 9. Calgary 10. Tri-City (Portland was 14th).

STAT LEADERS: Points Ñ Brandon Dubinsky, 9 goals-17 assists-26 points; Dan Da Silva, 12-8-20; Regehr, 6-11-17; Coburn, 5-12-17. Plus/minus Ñ Shane Halifax, +7; Regehr, +6; Ivan Dornic, +4. Penalty minutes Ñ Robin Big Snake, 112; Cody McLeod, 79; Halifax, 69. Goalies Ñ Toews, 9-9-2 record, .906 save percentage, 2.72 goals-against; Kevin Opsahl, 2-2-0, .909, 2.93.

3-FOR-3: Portland trainer Innes Mackie pointed out illegal sticks being used by opponents three times on the road trip. Each time, the result was a penalty. Ironically, all three violating teams had former Winter Hawks as head or assistant coaches: Richard Kromm and Bruno Campese in Calgary, Shaun Clouston in Medicine Hat and Luc Theoret in Lethbridge.

The Lethbridge penalty led to Dan Da Silva's game-tying regulation goal. In last year's playoffs, Mackie called an illegal stick on Spokane, but the officials disagreed; on an ensuing Winter Hawk penalty, Spokane scored.

Overly bent sticks can create more lift and speed on the puck.

'There are players on almost every team, including ours, who play with an illegal stick,' Williamson says. 'The penalty used to be called to protect goalies who didn't wear masks Ñ but with the better protection of the goalie, it's an outdated rule. And with the technology now, you can doctor the stick to get the puck high anyway.'

Williamson would like to see the WHL get rid of the illegal stick penalty or change the penalty to a 10-minute misconduct rather than a 2-minute power play.

Ñ Jason Vondersmith

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