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Hawk goalie Carruth returns to practice; could play this week

by:  KEITH HAMILTON

The Portland Winterhawks expect starting goalie Mac Carruth to get back in the action this week, as the team works to clinch the Western Hockey League U.S. Division and Western Conference titles.

Carruth has missed most of the past three weeks, after sustaining a concussion Feb. 22 in Prince George and then straining a groin/hamstring muscle in warmups before the Hawks played Seattle March 4.

Coach Mike Johnston says Carruth returned to practice on the ice Monday.

"We'll see this week if he'll be able to play," says Johnston, whose team plays Vancouver, 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Rose Garden. "You're always more cautious at this time of the year." Johnston says he expects Carruth to be available for the upcoming WHL playoffs, and that Carruth would be the starting goalie.

Backup Keith Hamilton has been solid in net, replacing Carruth in the Feb. 22 game and starting and playing in all but one game since then. He's gone 7-2 during that stretch.

Carruth returned for one game after his concussion, as Portland won at Tri-City 6-5 March 1, before the injury preceding the Seattle game.

"It's been a lot of work for him," Johnston says, of Hamilton. "He's not had that type of workload since the beginning of the season."

Carruth has a 30-13-0-1 record, 3.08 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Hamilton's numbers are: 15-5-0-2, 2.77, .918. Both are 18-year-old players.

The Winterhawks (47-18-0-3, 97 points) led Spokane (45-17-4-2, 96) by one point in the U.S. Division and Western Conference standings entering the week. After the Vancouver game, Portland plays host to Everett at 7 p.m. Friday (Rose Garden), plays at Seattle at 7 p.m. Saturday, and then plays host to Spokane at 5 p.m. Sunday in the regular-season finale in the Rose Garden.

The Chiefs play host to Chilliwack on Wednesday and Seattle on Friday, before travelling to Tri-City on Saturday and Portland on Sunday.