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WHL champs add veteran forward, two defensemen

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Nic Petan is one of several returning forwards who will give the Portland Winterhawks firepower in their bid to repeat as Western Hockey League champions.The Portland Winterhawks retooled in the offseason to bolster their defense corps and experience, and they entered training camp with the expectation of being one of the Western Hockey League’s top teams.

“We’re well-respected after we won the league (last season),” center Nic Petan says. “Everybody’s going to be gunning for us. We’ll accept the challenge.”

The Winterhawks won 57 games, tallied a franchise-record 117 points and claimed the WHL title in 2012-13. They advanced to the Memorial Cup championship game before losing to Halifax. All that came after the Hawks had won consecutive Western Conference championships.

Graduated from last season’s squad are defenseman Troy Rutkowski, forward Taylor Peters and goalie Mac Carruth, and assuredly gone are forward Ty Rattie and defensemen Tyler Wotherspoon and Seth Jones to the pros.

But the Hawks return several talented forwards — namely Petan, Brendan Leipsic, Chase De Leo, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Taylor Leier and promising second-year guys — and added veteran Shane McColgan in a trade with Saskatoon.

Defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Josh Hanson return on the blue line, and Brendan Burke takes over in goal after serving two years as Carruth’s backup.

The Hawks also added two defensemen during the offseason.

They traded with Medicine Hat for the rights to Garrett Haar, 20, who had played the two previous seasons for Western Michigan University. He’s 6-1, 200 and a Washington Capitals draft pick.

“He’s a really strong and stocky guy who has mobility and a booming shot from the point,” says Mike Johnston, Portland general manager and coach.

In the Canadian Hockey League import draft, the Winterhawks picked Swede Anton Cederholm, 18. He’s 6-2, 210 and a Vancouver Canucks prospect.

“He’s a lot like Wotherspoon, a two-way, really solid defenseman,” Johnston says. “A big, strong, physical player.”

It’s likely that 16-year-old rookie D-man Keoni Texeira, who spent time with Portland during the 2013 playoffs, will

also be on the roster.

“He’s more of an offensive-type guy,” Johnston says.

Haar and McColgan are the team’s current overage, 20-year-old players. Joey Baker has left the team to pursue educational opportunities.

Cederholm and Bjorkstrand are the team’s import players. The team waived Russian defenseman Kirill Vorobev.

Haar and Cederholm are among the many players who will be attending NHL camps. The others: Petan (Winnepeg), Leipsic (Nashville), Leier (Philadelphia), Bjorkstrand (Columbus), Pouliot (Pittsburgh), Burke (Phoenix) and Adam De Champlain (Vancouver).

Leipsic and Petan tied for the WHL scoring title last season and will surely team up again.

“I’m playing more of a leadership role on the team,” Petan says. “Play consistent, same thing as last year. Manage habits on the ice, be better every time out there, lead my team to wins.”

The spirit has been good in camp, he says.

“Every year we have the same team, do the same thing — high-octane offense, good defense,” Petan says. “We’re looking forward to a good season.”

Travis Green, who served as interim head coach and general manager for most of last season with Johnston suspended by the WHL, moved on to be head coach of the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League, the Canucks’ top affiliate.

Johnston hired Karl Taylor, a longtime acquaintance, as assistant coach and promoted longtime scout Matt Bardsley to assistant general manager. Also, Kyle Gustafson, a Gresham native, will assume greater responsibilities in his assistant coach role, and will be behind the bench for all games.

Johnston says he missed practice time and being on the ice with players during his suspension.

“I really enjoy being on the ice,” he says. “The games are exciting, but I enjoy being on the ice, teaching and working with guys through things.

“Training camp’s always an exciting time to evaluate the organization, a chance to lay the framework to how you’re going to play.”

Says Petan: “There’s not much of a difference, but it’s great for him to be back. He brings intensity into it, and is very professional with everything.”

The Hawks play five exhibition games: Friday (versus Spokane), Saturday (Tri-City) and Sunday (Everett) at Everett’s Comcast Arena, and Sept. 6 (against Everett) and Sept. 7 (Seattle) at Kennewick, Wash.

The season opener is 7 p.m. Sept. 20 against Prince George at the Moda Center.

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