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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Winterhawks captain embraces final year of junior play

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Keoni Texeira, Portland Winterhawks captain and defenseman, tries to get through a double-team of Spokane Chiefs during a first-round game in the Western Hockey League playoffs.Keoni Texeira was a 16-year-old Western Hockey League rookie when he scored his most memorable goal for the Portland Winterhawks.

He's scored snazzier goals than the one he forced home on May 11, 2014. But none was more significant than the goal that came as part of a huge rally at Edmonton in Game 6 of the the WHL finals.

"I remember I drove to the net with Chase De Leo and the puck was just sitting there. I just kept fighting and jamming the puck. I saw it cross the goal line," Texeira recalls. "That was probably the biggest goal of my career so far. It was insane."

Portland rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period that night and won in overtime. The experience has stuck with Texeira throughout his time with the Winterhawks.

"I learned that games are crazy and games can change just on a dime," he says.

That lesson resonates now. As the Winterhawks' team captain, the 21-year-old Texeira is a steady force for Portland as the Hawks battle the Everett Silvertips in a Western Conference semifinal series.

Game 4 is 7 p.m. Thursday at Moda Center. Game 5 is on Friday at Everett. If needed, Game 6 will be at 5 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Coliseum and Game 7 will be on Tuesday at Everett.

Texeira, in his 20-year-old hockey year and final season of junior hockey, embraces the urgency of playoff time. The defenseman has scored only three goals in 41 playoff games since that gritty goal in Edmonton, but he has developed into a player who coach/GM/VP Mike Johnston describes as a consummate playoff performer.

"He brings experience, and he brings winning. He's been around winners here for several years," Johnston says.

While Texeira is more than willing to join the rush and will occasionally surprise opponents with his ability to create scoring chances, his is a more old-school defenseman's role.

"He plays playoff hockey. Playoff hockey is not easy. It's hard," Johnston says. "There's a lot of physical battles, and he's not afraid of the battle. He fights through it. He's a strong presence in front of our net.

"He's playing his best hockey for us right now. He's a warrior."

Texeira's competitiveness is heightened the bigger the game — a necessity for playoff hockey he says he learned quickly as a 16-year-old rookie on a Hawks team that came within one win of a league title — the Game 7 loss that followed that rally at Edmonton.

"No one is going to have to ask me to compete. I'm going to compete as hard as I can," he says. "I'm going to block shots. I'm going to take a hit to make a play. I'm going to make big hits, and I'm going to try to get us on the board and make good plays and get up into the rush when I can."

That competitiveness came naturally to the Fontana, California native, who grew up rooting for the Los Angeles Kings. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are two of his favorite players.

Texeira ranks second all-time in regular-season games played for the Winterhawks (344), behind only Troy Rutkowski's 351. His 62 playoff games entering Tuesday's contest ranked 13th in Winterhawks history.

After five seasons in Portland, Texeira appreciates the city and its food scene (he's a sushi fan) but says the best part of his junior hockey experience has been playing in front of "amazing fans, the best fans in the league."

Playing alongside players now in the NHL taught Texeira about what it takes to turn that competitive desire into results.

"I do a lot of warming up and stretching to make sure I'm prepared for the game," he says. "When I was 16, I just wanted to play soccer (before games) and didn't really take care of my body as well. As I got older over the years and watching these NHL draft picks, these top-end players that I've been playing with since I was 16, it really teaches you that it's really important to take care of your body."

The other lesson Texeira says he would relay to his 16-year-old self is about perspective.

"One of the big things is, I would tell myself to enjoy the moment because it goes by so fast," Texeira says.

"I remember when I was 16 and we lost that Game 7 (of the finals to Edmonton) and (Brendan) Leipsic said, 'All you young guys, don't take this for granted. Because it goes by in the blink of an eye. Enjoy every single moment. It's a privilege to play here. It's not just given to you. So really enjoy it and soak it all in.'"

Prior to the first-round Game 7 this year against Spokane, the 2014 Game 7 WHL finals loss to Edmonton, also played at Memorial Coliseum, crossed Texeira's mind.

"It's do or die. You have to leave everything out there. You have to leave the rink knowing you gave it everything you've got and hopefully you're coming out with the win," Texeira says about the pressure of a Game 7.

The Winterhawks did win that Game 7 versus Spokane, scoring twice late to break a third-period tie and advance to face Everett in this series. Texeira says handling such pressure-packed situations comes down to embracing the challenge.

"You have to focus on the game and stay in the moment," he says. "As much as you want to win, you also have to enjoy the moment because you never know when your last game is going to be."

Texeira does not know where hockey will take him next. He has not signed a professional contract. His agent has had contact with a few teams, but Texeira isn't worrying about his next chapter.

"I'm really just focused on playoffs right now, and whatever happens after playoffs will happen," he says.

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