Wednesday, June 25, 2014

That was one hell of a ride...

Well, that was fun.

During the Mike Johnston era we witnessed a lot of goals & a lot of wins.  The last 4 playoff runs featured more wins (59) than the 3 full seasons prior to his arrival in the Rose City (47).  This team posted a .731 winning percentage in the 5 regular seasons that began with MJ behind the bench.  Pretty unheard of for junior hockey, if not anywhere in modern sport.

Most of us are familiar with the meteoric rise of this franchise back to relevance in the WHL, but here's a great piece about MJ turning this ship around.  It shouldn't be forgotten that the Winterhawks were on the verge of either being relocated or simply folding during the dark ages.  My understanding is the previous owner (who I won't even mention his name here), who was a bartender back east somewhere, fired Ken Hodge and was going to play GM himself.  Ron Robison had to step in & force the team to re-hire Hodge in order to have some sort of hockey-man making decisions.  It was that bad.

Some fans feel that MJ is a better GM than coach, and I lean that way - if only because you have to be better at one or the other by definition.  If you look at the talent he's amassed during his Portland career - its pretty staggering.   Guys like Ryan Johansen (7th round bantam pick), Chase de Leo (9th round bantam pick),  Brendan Leipsic (6th round bantam pick) - etc etc etc.   Many WHL teams can't find a decent Euro at all it seems, and we've seen a steady procession of top shelf import talent come through here.

Johnston would argue otherwise - as he's been coaching as a profession for over 30 years.  Much of coaching is managing the players personalities & mannerisms.  It ain't gonna be easy to balance Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin with your 4th line guys, but its all in the approach.

Its apples and oranges, the NHL & major junior, but think about the attitudes he's saddled up here:  Boychuck, Ross, Rattie, Morrow, Leipsic, Pouliot, etc.  You hear the phase "I'd rather try and tame a tiger than paint stripes on a kitty cat" - but that's a whole damn streak of tigers right there.  Remember what he did with Taylor Jordan as an overage?  Made him into a legit hockey player.  He handled both high-profile defencemen who left school for Portland without distraction.

I've heard that there are serious challenges in Pittsburgh right now: salary cap issues, sky high expectations, lack of identity - things like this.  After the mess that Mike cleaned up here, I'm sure the Penguins will be fine.

I have serious concerns about the future of the Portland Winterhawks.  The next time they drop the puck will be my 10th season living in Portland & following this team.  Its not an exaggeration to say that every ounce of success I've witnessed this team have comes directly from Mike Johnston.  To go from worst-to-first is a wonderful story, but the clock is supposed to strike midnight at some point.  Somehow MJ found ways to simply keep this team on top.  The Winterhawks are still stocked full of top shelf players, after 4 years of long playoff runs.  Completely unheard of at this level.

Its inevitable for this team to fall back to earth, but it seemed almost impossible under the leadership of MJ.  The next guy has some shoes to fill, alright.  We may be destined to experience the cycle of winning / losing / wining / losing that every other team is subject to - which is a day I've dreaded for some time.  Its way more fun winning all those games year after year.

Anybody got Travis Green's number?  I hear his contract is up........