Fast starts continue for Winterhawks
The Portland Winterhawks continue to come out of the blocks almost as fast as Usain Bolt.
Last week, Portland scored the first goal in all three of its games -- wins over Brandon, Seattle and Spokane.
The Hawks found the net in 52 seconds (Taylor Leier), 3:45 (Brendan Leipsic) and 13:20 (Oliver Bjorkstrand).
They went on to lead Brandon 3-0 after one period, Seattle 3-0 after one period and Spokane 3-0 by midway through the third period -- winning those games 5-2, 5-2 and 3-1.
Is coach/general manager Mike Johnston giving some kind of pregame speech? Channeling Knute Rockne?
"No, none of that," he says.
Something has been working for the Hawks, though. They've won 11 in a row and have taken their past six on the road, including those tests last weekend at U.S. Division rivals Spokane and Seattle.
"Preparation is key," Johnston says. "We do a lot of prep work with our group in the mornings of games and heading into games.
"There's no razzle-dazzle before we play or anything. Our team knows how to prepare to play. They have a routine, and they've stuck with it."
The Winterhawks are at home (Moda Center) for the next four games. They'll play Tri-City at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Then it's Parents' Weekend, with the families of Portland players getting to visit, and games at 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Victoria and 5 p.m. Sunday against Regina. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, the homestand continues with a 7 p.m. faceoff against Seattle.
"It's nice to have a stretch of home games," Johnston says. "Victoria and Regina are teams we haven't played, so you've got to do even more prep work on them. You don't know their roster or their style."
The Hawks have two players out with concussions: defenseman Layne Viveiros and forward Adam De Champlain, who went down after taking a hit at Seattle last Friday.
Through Monday, the Winterhawks had three players in the top 14 among Western Hockey League scorers.
Nic Petan was second with 37 points, including a league-high 27 assists. Bjorkstrand was third with 35 points (Spokane's Mitch Holmberg had 42). And captain Leier was 14th with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists).
The Hawks have been able to count on those forwards, along with Chase De Leo (20 points) and Leipsic (18), for production nearly every game.
"They're very consistent," Johnston says.
And Johnston says he has been pleased with his secondary scorers.
"Paul Bittner, Keegan Iverson and Dominic Turgeon played well over the week, and Presten Kopeck has been chipping in," Johnston says. "We're getting success from those secondary scorers, which is nice to see."
The Winterhawks went 4 of 12 on the power play in last week's three games, scoring at least once with the man advantage in each game.
That makes it five games in a row with one or more power-play goals by Portland.
"We're getting better at that," Johnston says. "We weren't very good on the power play for probably the first 10 games."
The improvement comes through practice, he says, "and getting guys used to playing with each other in those situations. You run set plays, and there are options to read. It's a little more programmed than the rest of the game."