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Winterhawks' Burke taking all the right steps

Brendan Burke helps Portland extend winning streak to 10 games


Brendan Burke knew the task at hand heading into this season.

After spending last year primarily on the bench, watching Portland Winterhawks' starting goalie Mac Carruth lead his squad to the WHL Finals, coaches made it clear in training camp that Burke would get his time in net — if he earned it.

With nearly half the year complete, the 17-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., has taken strides with each start and now gives Portland a formidable combo between the pipes.

Saturday night at the Rose Garden was the latest chance to prove his worth.

Despite some bad bounces that resulted in Everett Silvertip goals, Burke kept his composure and allowed the Hawks to break a third-period tie with two goals from Paul Bittner and escape 5-3 victors, extending Portland's winning streak to 10 games.

“When you're on a winning streak like this, your confidence is high,” said Burke, who stopped 23 of Everett's 26 shots. “You're going to have games like this where you get tough bounces, but you have to find a way to win. And we did today.”

That confidence, which was shaky at times last season, was steady on Saturday, even after the Silvertips scored a short-handed goal on an odd-man rush seven minutes into the game.

Burke was continually tested in the second period when Everett unloaded 16 shots on net, the most of any of the three periods. And that's when the bad bounces didn't go Portland's way.

The Silvertips took a 2-1 lead when a pass intended for an Everett player in the slot deflected off the stick of Portland's Troy Rutkowski and through Burke's legs for a goal. Then, less than two minutes later, a shot from Everett's Logan Aasman, again, tipped off a Hawk's stick and past Burke, giving the Silvertips a two-goal lead.

But Burke stopped the bleeding.

His ability to respond to adversity, not succumb to the pressure of a tight game and put his team in a position to win resonated on Saturday and has impressed the Portland coaching staff all year.

“He was solid,” Portland's interim head coach Travis Green said. “I like his progression. Every month he's taking another step and looking a lot more solid. For a young goalie, we really like the way he's progressing.”

Despite needing one more win to set a new franchise record, a mark that's stood since 1982, Green decided to sit Carruth and give Burke the nod.

Now 39 games into the season, both goaltenders have shared fairly equal playing time and each sport tremendous win-loss records.

As was the case last season, Carruth has still asserted himself as Portland's first choice between the pipes. He has a record of 18-2 and leads the WHL in save percentage (0.937) and goals against average (1.77).

But Burke's performance, and a goals against average that ranks 12th amongst goaltenders in the WHL (2.79), has helped even the competition.

“(Burke's) a better goalie,” Green said. “They're both better goalies. It's a big jump to come to this league as a 16-year-old goalie and it's not even close from last year.”

Burke approached the off-season, knowing this was a defining year for him. It's the first year he's eligible for the NHL draft, and multiple scouts are closing following the progression of the highly-touted goaltender.

His training regimen focused on strength and conditioning, in order to prepare for the increased workload awaiting him this season.

He tirelessly put in the work over the summer and is now earning the confidence of his coaches every time he steps in the crease.

“He's facing guys that are shooting pucks as hard as some guys in the NHL,” Green said. “So it's a big jump for him.

“But what I like is every month he seems to get stronger, more confident. I like the way he's progressing.”