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Hawks tap into motivation

A challenging and somewhat unfamiliar opponent, and a tough schedule, stand between the Portland Winterhawks and the Western Hockey League championship. Portland opens the WHL finals with games Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.) at the Rose Garden. The Hawks face the Kootenay Ice from British Columbia, a team that beat them 5-3 in Portland on Dec. 1 in their only meeting of the season. “They’re a hardworking team, a veteran team. They don’t overcomplicate things,” says Hawks assistant coach Travis Green. Kootenay outshot Portland 34-27. “They went to the net hard,” Green says. “I don’t think we were at our best.” The championship series, if it goes seven games, would take place in just 11 days; the arenas (Kootenay plays in nearby Cranbook) are an eight-hour bus ride apart. “Every team is tired at this time of the year,” Portland forward Craig Cunningham says. “What pushes you is the motivation.” The winner advances to the Memorial Cup May 20 to 29 at Mississauga, Ontario, along with the champions from the Quebec and Ontario junior leagues and the host St. Michael’s Majors. The Winterhawks won WHL titles in 1982 and 1998. This is their first finals appearance since 2001. “It’s about the will to win,” Cunningham says. “Wanting it more than the other team.” —Jason Vondersmith