Pamplin Media Group – Back to normal? The Winterhawks expect to wrestle

Portland prepares to open its 46th Western Hockey League season; home opener on October 2.

Much has changed since the Portland Winterhawks last played a regular season. These changes start at the top with a new ownership group and include a sharp new emblem that gives the Western Hockey League club a clear identity.

One thing that won’t change are high expectations for a club entering their 46th season in Portland with a roster built to compete for the American Division crown – and possibly a lot more.

The season kicks off Friday October 1 with a road game in Tri-City. The following night, the team welcomed Seattle to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the first home game with fans since March 8, 2020, when 7,777 watched Portland beat Victoria at the Moda Center.

Mike Johnston, entering his 12th season at the helm of the franchise, was pleased with the players’ engagement during the offseason.

“A lot of guys have made great strides. I thought our players had a really focused summer,” he said.

The front will be a position of strength. The Winterhawks went 4-0 in the preseason without eight forwards who were in NHL development camps.

“Our forward squad is pretty complete and pretty talented,” said Johnston.

The strength of the forward squad depends in part on the fate of three veteran players: Carolina Hurricanes prospect Seth Jarvis, Tampa Bay prospect Jaydon Dureau and New York Islanders prospect Reece Newkirk. At 20, Dureau (163 games with the Hawks, including the playoffs) and Newkirk (222 games, including the playoffs) are expected to start their professional careers this season, but could return to Portland at some point for play / development. In his 19-year-old season, Jarvis will be with the Winterhawks unless he stays in the NHL with Carolina, which made Jarvis his first-round pick in 2019.

COURTESY PHOTO: WINTERHAWKS / CHRIS MAST, GETTY IMAGES - Center Tyson Kozak, a Buffalo Sabers prospect, is one of Portland's seasoned forwards.Even without that trio, Portland is well stocked up front. Detroit Red Wings prospect Cross Hanas, Buffalo Sabers prospect Tyson Kozak and Robbie Fromm-Delorme are in their 19-year season. In their 18-year-old season, James Stefan, Gabe Klassen and Jack O’Brien are expected to be key contributors. Another 18-year-old forward, Dawson Pasternak, joins the Hawks after appearing in 51 games in 20-21 with a Chicago Steele team that dominated the USHL.

Defensively, Portland opens the season with a mix of true veterans – among them Clay Hanus, Jonas Brondberg and Kade Nolan, 20 – and players whose WHL experience is limited to the abbreviated 24-game spring schedule. latest. The younger squad includes Ryan McCleary, 18, who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 NHL Draft by Pittsburgh after playing 18 games for Portland last season.

Marek Alscher, a 17-year-old 6-3, 198-pounder from the Czech Republic, arrived last week and could land a key role on the blue line. Alscher and Brondberg are the two importers from Portland.

If Newkirk or Dureau return to Portland, one or two of the over-aged defenders will need to be traded or dropped.

Now 19, Dante Giannuzzi is the number one goalie. Two seasons ago, Giannuzzi was Joel Hofer’s understudy. He’s had a few big games in the abridged spring season and a solid preseason. Substitute Lochlan Gordon is a WHL rookie who, at 18, had a solid preseason allowing just one goal in 80 minutes.

COURTESY PHOTO: WINTERHAWKS / CHRIS MAST, GETTY IMAGES - Dante Giannuzzi (31), pictured in a preseason game at Everett, is set for a big season as the Winterhawks goaltender.For the first time in memory – ever? – Portland won’t have a 16-year-old on the full-time list. With no season last winter for players born in 2005, Johnston said it is essential for these players to have regular playing time before jumping into the WHL.

Portland is well positioned to compete for the U.S. Division title, especially if Jarvis returns and runs after a WHL scoring title. Seattle, which has gone from a powerful team to a more skills-oriented roster that includes five NHL draft players, is also seen as a contender in what may yet be the most competitive division in the WHL.

Everett, who has been among the WHL’s top teams for five seasons, has a young roster. Stu Barnes, who played for the Americans before his 16-year professional career, is Tri-City’s new coach.

COURTESY PHOTO: WINTERHAWKS / CHRIS MAST, GETTY IMAGES - Heading into his first full season, Pittsburgh Penguins draft Ryan McCleary is expected to be a prominent member of the Winterhawks' defense.With the change of ownership – Michael Kramer and Kerry Preete lead the group – Johnston took on more business responsibilities. A seasoned staff that includes coaches Don Hay and Brian Pellerin (replacing Kyle Gustafson, who joined the Vancouver Canucks), strength and conditioning coach Rich Campbell and new equipment manager Clayton Johns means Johnston has the flexibility to take on certain business tasks.

Johns, who replaces retired equipment man Mark Brennan, worked last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs after three seasons as equipment manager for the Barrie Colts in the Hockey League. Ontario.

With the pandemic underway, Portland’s 68-game schedule will be limited to Western Conference opponents. The Winterhawks face each team in the US Division 12 times and each team in the BC Division four times.

Currently, teams based in the United States can travel to Canada, but Canadian teams cannot come to the United States. The first home game scheduled against a BC club is November 19 (Kelowna), so it’s time for the border restriction to ease.

The Winterhawks’ 34 home games are scheduled for the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where a slew of new policies are in place for fans.

Fans must prove that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the game. All transactions are cashless and fans cannot bring bags into the venue. Smoking is prohibited anywhere on the Rose Quarter campus.

Among the seven WHL rule changes this season is the opportunity for a coach to challenge a goal when he believes the game was offside. In addition, teams can no longer change players each time they freeze the puck, even from the neutral zone.

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