Young Hawks sure to struggle

What I expected to be the most difficult part of the Portland Winter Hawks' home opener Saturday night - the hockey part - went off exceedingly well. The previously winless Portland team carved out an impressive 5-2 win over the Kelowna Rockets.

This is not a Hawks' roster that has inspired dreams of long playoff journeys. In fact, just making the playoffs would be a big achievement for the youngest Portland roster ever. The team is carrying seven 16-year-olds in a league full of players most often 18 and 19. Many seasons, the Winter Hawks have had no 16-year-olds.

That's a young team.

Most of the youngsters did not suit up for the opener, however, as the Hawks went with veterans in an attempt to stop a two-game losing streak.

Nineteen-year-olds Nick Hotson and Frazer McLaren were everywhere, backing their size and power with perpetual motion to give the Hawks leadership and skill on opening night.

But I'm afraid the wins aren't going to be frequent. It's difficult sending boys out to play men every night. And if there are injuries to veteran players, a lot of those 16-year-olds are going to be thrust into key spots they may not yet be ready to handle.

However, I'm almost less concerned about everything on the ice than off it. I think new team owner-president Jack Donovan is going to have his hands full this season. The off-ice side of the operation began with the new guy in the mascot costume taking a pratfall during opening ceremonies and a few isolated, sarcastic catcalls at Donovan about crab cakes and replays.

The Hawks are rolling the dice on a philosophy of trading a lot of games on local cable television in exchange for ads urging people to attend home games. It's possible this could work - if the team happened to be contending for a championship or the home venue was just a tad more fan friendly.

But Memorial Coliseum is, sadly, the same old barn it's been for decades. We really didn't realize how inadequate it was until the Rose Garden opened, when we found out that concourses could be bigger, concession stands could be more plentiful and people could occasionally make a trip to a restroom without standing in line.

In short, the coliseum is what it is. And other than imploding it and starting all over, there isn't going to be a lot that can be done to make it much better.

That's not to say if the team were a Memorial Cup contender fans wouldn't be calling it cozy, fun and a wonderful home-ice advantage. Trust me, I know how such things work. And I also know that when you're not going to be a contender you need every edge you can find to get people to buy tickets.

There are promises of a replay screen, but it hasn't arrived yet. And apparently the concession stands offer a wider variety of food - hence, the reference to crab cakes. All that's good, but don't forget, buying anything at a sporting event these days can require a small bank loan.

I bought a 16-ounce bottle of water for $3.50 Saturday night. I don't know what you're paying for gasoline, but even premium gas is a lot cheaper by the gallon than water in the Rose Quarter. I'll save my money and by December hope to be able to purchase a hot dog.

The opening night crowd of 5,494 wasn't exactly as big as I expected. Donovan seems to be a wonderful man, and he has a great staff of dedicated and hardworking people who love hockey. I wish them all the luck in the world because the Winter Hawks have been a big asset to Portland.

But when I think about a good share of home games being telecast locally I wonder how many people will consider their options and just stay home, where they have a comfortable seat and all the tap water they can drink.

And if a young team is having an off night, you can always just change the channel.

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