Winterhawks come up short in 4-2 Game 7 vs. Edmonton
Some Western Hockey League history was made Monday night at Memorial Coliseum at the expense of the Portland Winterhawks, who had all the momentum going into Game 7 of the WHL finals.
Edmonton stormed to a comfortable lead with four-second period goals and held on through a tense third period to beat Portland 4-2 and reclaim the WHL championship, which the Hawks won on the Oil Kings' home ice last May.
Edmonton advances to the Memorial Cup tournament in London, Ontario.
In the 48-year history of the junior-level WHL, it was the first time the visiting team has won Game 7 in the championship series. The home team, including Edmonton against the Hawks in 2012, had won the previous 10 Game 7s.
"They're a hell of a hockey club, and it feels even better to beat them in Portland," said Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal, who, coincidentally, played for the 1983 Hawks team that won the Memorial Cup at the Coliseum.
"There's no better feeling in the world than winning a championship, especially in Game 7," added overage forward Reid Petryk, who had one of the four goals in the second period, when Edmonton thoroughly dominated the Hawks in every sense.
Edmonton blew two three-goal leads in Game 6, eventually losing on Keegan Iverson's overtime goal, which the Hawks felt gave them some momentum and advantage going into Game 7.
But the Oil Kings, after trailing 1-0 early Monday and then scoring four goals, played much better in the third period to secure the win and title.
Brendan Leipsic scored on a 6-on-4 power play with Petryk in the penalty box and Portland goalie Brendan Burke pulled at 16:38, but the Hawks couldn't beat standout goalie Tristan Jarry any more the rest of the way.
The Oil Kings celebrated as the sold-out crowd of 10,095 filed out and WHL Commissioner Rob Robison presented them with the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champs.
"All the guys were pretty emotional," said Portland captain Taylor Leier, of the Hawks locker room. "There's a chance a lot of us won't see each other again. It's sad. All those guys are my brothers in that room. We thought we could do it. Just came up short."
The Hawks' season-long mission was to return to the Memorial Cup and win it, after losing in the 2013 championship game to Halifax. But Edmonton, which won four of the final five games of the series, got in the way with its size, defensive ability, experience, steadiness, leadership from the likes of captain Griffin Reinhart and the play of Jarry.
At no time was Edmonton's game more prominent than in the second period. Portland scored in the first period, with leading goal-scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand netting his first of the series off transition. Edmonton had a goal waved off, and Burke stopped some Oil Kings' chances. The Hawks felt they had the momentum.
But it didn't take the Oil Kings long to seize control. Mitch Moroz scored at 3:50, as he lost control of the puck and regained it and slid it past Burke. The next goal really hurt it came while shorthanded. Petryk's roughing penalty on Leipsic stick and gloves to the face put Edmonton at the disadvantage, but Mads Eller carried the puck into the offensive zone and dropped it off to Curtis Lazar, who beat Burke with a good shot at 9:02.
"That was the key turning point," said Mike Johnston, Portland general manager/coach.
Petryk exited the penalty box and got his revenge, breaking in alone on Burke and scoring to make it 3-1 at 9:42. "The two goals back-to-back around the 9-minute mark are the ones that really stung us," Johnston added. "They put us back on our heels a little bit. We couldn't recover."
Later in the period, the Oil Kings took possession of the puck after an Alex Schoenborn turnover and Mathew Dumba inadvertently fell down at mid-ice, giving Edmonton an odd-man rush. Eller scored on it at 17:17 to make it 4-1.
All the while, the Oil Kings were not allowing Portland anything, offensively. Shots in the second period: Edmonton 15, Portland 5. Domination.
Said Jarry: "I think our guys played a great defensive game, and it showed throughout the ice, and we were able to get some chances off of our defense."
Paul Bittner, Bjorkstrand and others had chances in the third period, but the Hawks couldn't draw closer than 4-2 after Leipsic's goal. There wouldn't be another third-period miracle comeback.
Said Leier: "It felt like (Game 6), really, we never lost hope. I felt like we gave it our all in the third period. We tried to be relentless but they stuck to their game plan. They played steady. They didn't make very many mistakes. That's why we didn't score."
"Coming from behind (in Game 6) was amazing," Johnston said. "Trying to do it two nights in a row we couldn't put ourselves in that position in this hard of a series, seven games in 10 nights."
Edmonton, he added, "played with a lot more poise than they did (in Game 6). They chipped pucks out, and they were content to keep the pucks deep in behind our defense. They didn't take any chances. We had two power plays in the third pulled the goalie on the one and got the goal. Other than that, it was hard to generate chances."
So, Edmonton has won two WHL championships and Portland one in the past three years. Leipsic and Derrick Pouliot played full-time, key roles on four consecutive Western Conference championship teams. The Winterhawks, again, reigned as one of the top junior-hockey teams.
Now comes an offseason of some change, as Leipsic, Pouliot and several others depart, and the Hawks retool with the likes of Petan and Bjorkstrand. The big question: Will Johnston return as GM and coach, or be hired away by an NHL team?
We'll see. For now, the Hawks gave their dedicated fans another season to remember.