Hawks' victory turns things around
A weekend of quick turnarounds for the Portland Winterhawks produced a couple of notable victories.
On Saturday, the first career shutout from goalie Shane Farkas and third-period goals from a pair of rookies ended a 10-game unbeaten run for the Vancouver Giants — and gave the Hawks their 16th win away from Portland.
Back in Portland on Sunday, the Winterhawks fell behind to a good Brandon team 3-0 in the first period. Playing their third game in 47 hours, and after a round-trip bus trip to British Columbia, a comeback seemed unlikely — especially with key forwards Cody Glass and Kieffer Bellows out with injuries.
But that's what happened. Portland scored three times in the second period to pull even, then won with a third-period goal from Alex Overhardt.
It was fitting that Overhardt tallied the winner, and the play demonstrated why it was him and not Evan Weinger who stayed with the Winterhawks for his overage season. On the go-ahead goal, Overhardt cleanly won a faceoff back to Henri Jokiharju at the point. Overhardt then hustled to the front of the net and tipped Jokiharju's shot into the goal.
Overhardt is the Winterhawks' top faceoff man — he won 14 of 23 on Sunday — and is a key penalty killer and team leader.
Weinger is having a fine season, and had a nice return to Portland. He scored twice, including a shorthanded goal, to lead the Wheat Kings to their early lead. In the process, he surpassed career highs for goals and points in a season.
But Weinger does not take faceoffs, a skill the Hawks rely on from Overhardt.
"Weinger's a really good player. He's a good buddy with all of us," Overhardt said. "But when you trade a guy like that, you want to beat him."
On a night when the Winterhawks recognized the billet families that host their players in a pregame ceremony, Weinger got to reconnect postgame with the folks he shared a home with during his three seasons in Portland.
n The Hawks could use another forward these days. With Glass and Bellows out, Portland's fourth line against Brandon on Sunday was Lukus MacKenzie with Conor MacEachern and John Ludvig. MacEachern and Ludvig are defensemen, but MacEachern has played consistently at forward recently with the team short of players there.
Bellows has missed the past four games and Glass the last three with unspecified injuries. After Sunday's game, Johnston described their status as week-to-week, and noted that the Hawks haven't had their complete team together since early December.
"You're going to have injuries, for sure. But with top guys out like that, it's difficult and challenging," Johnston says.
He was pleased with the energy Ryan Hughes had on Sunday after missing Friday and Saturday games because of illness.
"If we can get Bellows and Glass back in the next couple weeks, then we've got to push toward the playoffs," Johnston says.
Despite the lineup challenges, Johnston was pleased with all four games last week, including close home losses to Victoria and Swift Current, two good teams.
Life in the WHL is about busy weekends. After playing four games in five days last week, including up and back to British Columbia, this weekend features Friday and Saturday games at Kamloops before the Hawks and Blazers bus overnight to Portland for a 5 p.m. Sunday game at Moda Center
In his fourth season with the Winterhawks, Overhardt has experienced plenty of such three-game weekends. In a word, he describes them as "exhausting."
"As you go through it more and more, you kind of get used to it. You have to really get used to not sleeping," Overhardt says, noting that the up-and-back trip to British Columbia for Saturday's game was a challenge. "The young guys, I give them credit for playing hard every single night because they're not used to it. For us older guys, we've been doing it for a long time. Still, it never really gets easier."
Even with their lineup inconsistency, the Winterhawks have been the most consistent team in the WHL on the road.
Johnston says it can be easier for less-experienced players when the team is out of town.
"I think when you get the young kids on the road there's less distractions," Johnston says. "I just think we can control everything. When they wake up, when they eat. I think with young kids sometimes it's important that you do that."
In Portland, the players have more control over their schedules — even with school and hockey commitments.
Which makes the coaching staff wonder: "Are they getting up at the right time? Are they eating at the right time?"