Net gain: Hawk goalies get job done
The Portland Winterhawks needed Sunday's win over the Everett Silvertips to keep alive their hopes of winning the U.S. Division.
Perhaps none of the Winterhawks needed the result more than goalie Cole Kehler.
The 2-0 victory felt good to the 20-year-old Kehler. After starting his final season of junior hockey as the hottest goalie in the Western Hockey League — winning 17 of his first 20 starts and signing a contract with the Los Angeles Kings — the second half of the season has been more challenging.
Prior to winning his three most recent starts — a stretch that included Sunday's 28-save shutout against Everett and earned Kehler the WHL goaltender of the week honor — he had won only five of his previous 13 starts. At the same time, 18-year-old Shane Farkas found his groove, winning his last eight starts before a Saturday loss to Tri-City.
Farkas was the WHL goaltender of the week a week ago after back-to-back shutouts at Tri-City.
"It's good to see Shane succeeding," Kehler said. "He works so hard in practice and pushes me every day to become a better goalie.
"He's a great goaltender. For me, when Shane's getting those starts I've just got to make sure I'm taking care of myself, that I'm putting in the work every day and I'm ready for my opportunity."
Kehler had the opportunity to start back-to-back games last week at Prince George when Farkas was under the weather. He stopped 38 of 42 shots over the two wins.
Kehler previously won WHL and Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the week honors once in October and once in November. With four shutouts this season, the 6-4 native of Altona, Manitoba, has six career shutouts. Kehler ranks second in the WHL with a 2.72 goals-against average and fifth in save percentage (.910).
Kehler and Farkas communicate regularly with the Winterhawks' goaltending coaches (among them 18-year NHL goalie Andy Moog), but in-person visits from goalie coaches happen only periodically.
So Kehler and Farkas help each other improve.
"We feed off each other," Kehler says. "It's not just (Farkas) asking questions. There's different situations that come up that I'm asking him about when I come to the bench. What does he see? Every opinion is a good opinion. And when you don't have a goalie coach on the bench, your goalie partner is the only guy who really sees the game the same way that a goaltender does. We get along really well, and it's nice that we're both putting together wins and helping our team right now."
The timing of Sunday's shutout for Kehler is fortuitous, says Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks VP/GM/coach.
"When you're heading down the stretch, the key thing is that your team feels good. You want individuals to feel as good as they can. You want them to feel like they're playing well, they're on their game," Johnston says. "And the key individual on every team is your goaltender. It's important to make sure your goaltenders are feeling good and feeling comfortable."
• The Winterhawks conclude their regular season with three games this weekend. They play host to Seattle on Friday, visit Kent to take on the Thunderbirds on Saturday, then play host to Spokane on Sunday.
The March 11 win over the Silvertips pulled Portland to within four points of Everett. The Silvertips played on Tuesday at Tri-City, needing a total of three points from their final three games to clinch the division.
The Winterhawks need one point from their last three games to secure at least second place in the division and home-ice advantage for the first-round, best-of-seven playoff series.
Unless Portland catches Everett, Sunday's game against Spokane figures to be a preview of the first-round series that will begin on March 23 or 24. The Chiefs were five points up on fourth-place Tri-City entering the last week of the regular season.