Winterhawks know of Kootenay's Eakin, and expect to learn more about the Ice

by: JAMIE SQUIRE Cody Eakin, who signed with the Washington Capitals, is a standout for the Kootenay Ice, who will face the Portland Winterhawks for the Western Hockey League championship.

Kootenay, formerly the Edmonton Ice in the Western Hockey League Western Conference, struggled for a while after Christmas but caught fire after the acquisition of Cody Eakin, 19, from Swift Current.

Now the Ice are in the WHL finals against the Portland Winterhawks. The best-of-seven series starts Friday night at the Rose Garden, with Eakin expected to lead the visiting Eastern Conference champions.

"He's a tremendous player," says Hawk center Ryan Johansen, a teammate of the 6-foot, 190-pound Eakin on the Canada world junior team. "He'll definitely be a difference-maker. He's a two-way, all-around player, plays the penalty kill and power play. He's got an unreal shot and he's really fast. Very fast.

"We knew when they picked up Eakin they'd be a targeted team. He's given their team an extra boost."

Eakin is a signed prospect of the Washington Capitals.

• Max Reinhart (14 goals-8 assists-22 points), Matt Fraser (12-9-21), Brayden McNabb (3-17-20) and Eakin (8-10-18) lead Kootenay in playoff points. Reinhart had five goals in the Eastern finals against Medicine Hat.

"They've shut down teams, offensively," Portland assistant coach Travis Green says. "Their top guys are playing well."

• Portland's Craig Cunningham hails from Trail, British Columbia, close in proximity to Cranbrook, home of the Ice. He knows about the team, too.

"It's the team I grew up watching," Cunningham says. "They have depth up front, a good goaltender. They pride themselves on defense, playing a trapping style."

• McNabb has a plus-20 rating in the playoffs.

• Kootenay goaltender Nathan Lieuwen has a 12-2 record and a 1.96 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

• Eakin had 36 goals and 47 assists for 83 points in the regular season, and Reinhart finished at 34-45-79.

• The Ice had a record of 46-21-1-4 for 97 regular-season points, six fewer than Portland.

• Kootenay beat Portland 5-3 on Dec. 1 at Memorial Coliseum. For the Ice, Kevin King had two goals, and Brendan Hurley, Reinhart and Joe Antilla also scored. Lieuwen got the win.

Johansen had a goal and an assist, and Brad Ross and Riley Boychuk also scored for Portland. Goalie Mac Carruth took the loss.

Johansen says he doesn't remember anything from the December game. Now, with two teams that don't know each other that well, forecasting the series isn't easy.

"In each series, you can be up two or three games and the team down will find out what the other team is about and bring things into the game plan," Johansen says. "In these series, things can turn really fast. At the same time, this is where everybody raises their game and plays their best game. In the finals of a playoffs, you're always going to have close games."

Cunningham agrees.

"There's always a time when a team cracks," he says. "You never know when it's going to come. With all the video and stuff, they know everything about us, and we're going to know everything about them."