Powerful Kelowna next for Portland in WHL Western Conference finals

When it came to hockey, Portland easily dispatched of Victoria on Thursday at the Moda Center, 5-1, and moved on to the Western Hockey League Western Conference finals.

When it came to brawling, the Winterhawks saw something positive happen and something very negative happen.

The Royals and Hawks engaged in many skirmishes, including one near the end of second period during which defenseman Derrick Pouliot leveled Victoria's Joe Hicketts with a punch. It was something to behold. Hicketts had to be helped off the ice. It was part of the key stretch of the game, after Victoria's Steven Hodges' had narrowed the visitor's deficit to 3-1 with a one-timer goal, and then engaged in a scrum with four seconds left in the period after Brendan Leipsic's penalty had given the Royals the man advantage. Stupid penalty.

But, in the third period, with Portland safely ahead 4-1, the Royals' Brandon Magee high-sticked Portland playmaker Nic Petan from behind and pushed him into the boards. In the ensuing scrum, Petan jumped Victoria's Ryan Gagnon from behind, and the two fell to the ice, fighting. Well, Gagnon threw punches and wailed on Petan and, when referees broke up the tussle, Petan lay injured.

Petan, Portland's leading scorer in the regular-season and one of the WHL's best centers, had to be helped off the ice. He appeared to be nursing his leg.

Mike Johnston, general manager and coach, says Petan was hurt from the Magee high-stick hit and punches, and acknowledged that the player's leg could be an issue, too.

It's all important because the Winterhawks play Kelowna in the Western Conference finals, starting Friday and Saturday, April 18 and 19, in Kelowna. With Petan hurt and/or out, it could be a big blow for Portland against junior hockey's top-ranked team. And, Kelowna swept the four regular-season matchups with Portland, although some of the Hawks' NHL prospects missed the first two and their Canada junior stars missed the next two.

"I talked with him in the dressing room," Johnston said, of Petan. "At least he's coherent enough that way (to talk). It'll probably be 3-4 days, or five days, before we get a real evaluation of where he's at. ... He said his legs felt fine. We'll get a full evaluation."

Johnston said the Magee hit was a dangerous one. Leipsic agreed. "Cross-checked him in the head — you don't do that when you're up 4-1 in a game and you're going to be going on (in the playoffs)," he said. "That's not the right way to do it."

Neither Petan nor Pouliot were available for media interviews after the game. Pouliot, although reluctant, has a reputation as a hellacious fighter and a tough and strong young man. He proved it against the smaller Hicketts.

"We joke around that he's kinda got the belt now," Leipsic said. "He's a heavyweight. But you don't want to mess with him, I guess."

The Royals came out with energy and pressured Portland in the offensive zone in the first period. But, goalie Brendan Burke was stopping any shots that got to him — and there weren't many, as the Hawks got sticks on pucks and swiped away rebounds.

Taylor Leier scored on a rebound on the power play and Adam de Champlain added a second goal, shooting the puck off Victoria goalie Patrik Polivka at a sharp angle as Portland went ahead 2-0.

The Royals pressured in the second period, but Portland got the key third goal when Oliver Bjorkstrand beat Polivka with an odd goal — the goalie distracted by a glove that had come off a player, and he tried to sweep the glove away from in front of him.

But, Hodges scored on a blistering one-timer at 15:11 of the second period on the power play, giving Victoria life at 3-1.

Hodges, who hit Petan with the butt-end of his stick at one point, cost his team dearly at the end of the second period. As Leipsic received a double-minor for roughing penalty in front of the Victoria bench at 19:56, putting the Royals on the power play, Hodges, sitting on the bench, jabbed Leipsic with his stick and got away with it. Video on the Moda Center's big screen showed Hodges flashing a big grin, minus some teeth.

On the ensuing faceoff, Hodges instigated another altercation, not only negating the valuable power-play opportunity that would have extended into the third period but turning the momentum around immediately.

Pouliot leveled Hicketts (and received a game misconduct, along with Hicketts). Hodges got a game misconduct among his penalties.

"I didn't understand that," Johnston said, of how Hodges' action turned the game around. "That was a huge turning point."

Said Leipsic: "That's playoff hockey for you. Emotions boiled over."

Chase De Leo scored two third-period goals to ice the game, although the game turned sour when Petan suffered his injury.

"He's doing all right," Leipsic said. "We'll see how he is."

Johnston said the 4-1 series victory was surprising.

"It was a hard series," he said. "I really believe Victoria was a top team in the league. They have some skill, talent, physical players and had good goaltending all year. For us to beat them like we did, 4-1 (in the series), I really compliment our team. I thought it would be a longer series than that, because of the quality of their team."

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