By Andrew Eide
KENT – The defending WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks skated into the ShoWare Center and made an early season statement by blitzing the T-Birds in the first ten minutes to win their 10th straight game. Portland buried Seattle early, scoring three goals, two by Brendan Leipsic and never looked back.
“We lost the game in the first ten minutes,” Justin Hickman said. “They score three goals and its tough to recover after that. We weren’t ready to start tonight and it ended up biting us.”
The slow start for Seattle (11-4-0-2) is a bit surprising as they had been playing well, and playing with a bunch of confidence.
“We had guys not ready to play,” Steve Konowalchuk said. “Not too many (players) in the first period were ready to play. We weren’t physical, we weren’t trying our game plan. I thought half the guys were able to snap themselves into it to give us a litte bit, but the other half couldn’t get going.”
The loss was the first in regulation on home ice for the T-Birds and their second straight lop sided loss to their I-5 rivals.
The T-Birds came out of the gate sluggish and things turned worse when they got in some early penalty trouble. It started with an interference penalty against Brandon Troock and then 20 seconds later Seth Swenson was called for tripping Taylor Leier to give Portland a two-man advantage. Portland’s dangerous power play capitalized seconds later as Leipsic slammed home the puck into a wide open net for his first on the night.
The goal seemed to deflate the T-Birds and Portland (13-3-0-1) started flying. Leipsic found the net again and then four minutes later Garrett Haar’s wrist shot from the blue line got past Myles and the early rout was on — Portland led 3-0.
Shell shocked, the T-Birds could not generate any offense as Portland took the first 15 shots of the game and Seattle did not register a shot until there were just two minutes left in the period.
“I don’t know how we come out and have turnovers in the neutral zone, almost on the first five shifts in a row,” Konowlahcuk said. “You’re not even ready to win, you’re not even committed to winning. It’s going to be the same thing tomorrow, we have to be committed to win”
If Seattle wanted to get back into the game they would need to come out in the second with more fire.
Unfortunately they came out with a bit too much fire. Evan Wardley was given a five minute-major charging penalty as he took out Adam De Champlain just inside the Portland zone. De Champlain was hurt on the play, had to be helped off the ice and did not return.
For the next five minutes Myles was forced to face the deadly Winterhawks power play.
“You’ve got to be able to hit,” Konowalchuk said about the play. “But you’ve got to be able to hit within the rules….I’ll take a look at it and see, I didn’t think it was as bad as the ref there but it happened quick.”
The T-Birds were holding their own short handed but near the end an exchange happened that summed up the night. Seth Swenson and Eric Benoit had a two-on-one short handed chance but could not score. Portland took the rebound back down the ice and Taylor Leier fired a wrist shot that found the net for Portland’s fourth goal. Instead of cutting the lead to 3-1 and getting some momentum back the T-Birds found themselves further behind.
Seattle did manage to get a goal later in the period when Jaimen Yakubowski beat Brendan Burke while short handed to cut the lead to three goals. That did little to spark Seattle though as they continued to struggle managing the puck and had trouble getting out of their own zone. At the end of the second period they were out shot 32-8.
To start the third period Konowalchuk mixed up his lines to try and find some kind of offensive spark. It appeared to work early on as Brandon Troock found Hickman at the face off circle to cut the lead to 4-2. Seattle began to generate some chances but Burke, facing the most action he had all game, stood tall and kept the T-Birds at bay.
Leier put the T-Birds out of their misery after stealing the puck from Alex Delnov and scoring on an empty net.
Seattle continues to struggle against the Winterhawks, as many teams in the league do, and last season Konowalchuk felt that at times his guys were giving Portland too much respect. With now two ugly losses in a row to Portland, have the T-Birds slipped into that again?
“You know, I don’t know what exactly is going through our guys heads to have a start like that,” Konowalchuk said. “The bottom line is if its too much respect and their not working hard or they just don’t want to work hard, you’re not working hard. That’s the bottom line. There’s no difference, who cares about the reasons and excuses, its tough all the time. Its not an excuse oriented business, you either get the job done or you don’t. if you want to be a deer in the headlights and look like your floating, well you’re floating.”
Seattle will now have to regroup and travel up to Everett to take on a Silvertips team that plays a completely different brand of hockey than Seattle saw Friday night. Hickman said that the team would look at film on Everett and be ready to come out with a better effort.
“We’ve got Everett coming in and we play them ten times,” Hickman said about Saturday night’s game. “This battle is going to be another one that’s huge, we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go tomorrow because its another big two points.”
The Winterhawks five goals pushes their league leading total to 87 on the year — by far the best in the WHL.
Wardley’s hit will be looked at by the WHL and he may face a suspension De Champlain was hurt on the play.
Portland has now scored 15 goals in the last two games against Seattle.
Seattle will take on an Everett team that is coming off a bizarre loss to Brandon. Everett was called for a five minute major penalty 30 seconds into the game. Brandon then scored three times on the power play on their way to a 6-3 win on only 16 shots.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide