Shhh! Don't tell Dan Da Silva that he leads the Portland Winter Hawks in goals scored. He might get too comfortable and relapse into bad habits.

'We knew all along he could score goals,' coach Mike Williamson says of Da Silva, an 18-year-old winger from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who has 13 goals. 'If he works to get the puck in front of the net, he's got a good sense of touch and feel.

'And when he's moving his feet and playing with grit, he's effective.'

Getting to the net and playing with grit Ñ when Da Silva doesn't do them, he finds himself benched, which has happened often this year, including three times for long stretches. But when Da Silva grinds, he and linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Chad Wolkowski can be potent.

'Most of the times I got benched, I knew what I'd done wrong,' Da Silva says. 'I'm not the quickest guy on my skates, so I have to keep my feet moving, be alert and aware and react quicker.'

With 13 goals, Da Silva ranks 25th in the 20-team Western Hockey League.

I'm bad: Seattle's Zack FitzGerald threw about 20 punches in a 15-second set-to with Portland's Tomas Fojtik on Saturday, and Winter Hawks tough guy Robin Big Snake responded by chiding T-Bird Adam Huxley into a fight.

The Winter Hawks welcome FitzGerald's rough tactics Ñ does bull in a china shop describe him, or what? Ñ because he usually lands himself in the penalty box, as was the case for Portland's fourth and decisive goal in its 5-3 win Saturday.

Big Snake says he never felt inclined to go belly to belly with FitzGerald to defend his teammates. Why? 'FitzGerald doesn't want to fight me,' says the Portland light-heavyweight, who claims victory in his only fight with the Seattle slugger, last year. 'He doesn't want to fight anyone since he's been drafted.

'I've fought tougher guys than him.'

BIg Snake's goal?: 'Forty points and 400 penalty minutes.' He has nine points and 119 penalty minutes in 23 games.

Off to camp: As expected, Braydon Coburn was invited to attend camp for the Canadian junior national team Dec. 11-18 in Kitchener, Ontario, where players will be determined for the World Junior Championships.

Coburn nearly made the team last year as a 17-year-old, and should he make Team Canada and be gone from Dec. 18 to Jan. 6, he would miss at least 10 Winter Hawk games. Asked to put playing for Canada in perspective, Coburn says:

'For Canadians in general, it goes Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL regular-season and the world juniors. You hear a lot about bowl games down here É but world juniors is huge in Canada, the main focus of everybody around Christmas time. I remember opening my presents on Christmas Ñ and watching the game at the same time.'

Team chemistry: Coburn, the team captain, notices something different about the Winter Hawks this season. 'So much intensity,' he said after the Seattle game. 'A lot of guys really care about this team. Makes it easier. Guys really believe this year and have confidence.'

Williamson says the leadership has been great, including some from second-year player Alex Aldred, 17. 'Big time,' Willy says, describing Aldred's leadership qualities. 'He's totally selfless.'

Ouch!: On Teddy Bear Toss night Saturday, an astray bear did not end up in the hands of a sick child, as its charitable owner intended. Instead, it landed near the Thunderbirds bench, where a member of the Seattle bench staff ripped off its head and threw it back into the stands as several Winter Hawks fans watched aghast.

Ñ Jason Vondersmith

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