Thursday, November 12, 2015

2015-16: 20 game mark

Mike Johnston always said something along the lines of  "You know what kind of team you have after 20 games...." - around here we take what MJ says pretty seriously.

Its unclear what this Winterhawks team is to this point, which is 18 games in as of this writing.  This is a team that has started slow for as long as I've been watching them - last season they were 8-11-3 at this point last season.  In fact, they didn't reach .500 until (American) Thanksgiving - yet they tied Everett in wins while attempting to win the US Division.

I wrote about their slow start in 2013-14: a season where they lost Game 7 of the WHL Final.

This team sits at 8-9 currently.  They've scored 5 goals in 2 of those losses.  On two occasions they won the game despite only putting up 2 goals.  Adin Hill has recorded 3 shutouts on the young season, but they were shut out once by Prince Albert.

They've shown flashes of brilliance, and can't get out of their own way at times.  Kelowna has been a "measuring stick" game over the last few years - this year is no exception.  Taking a 3-2 lead mid-3rd period is a sign of good things to come.  Turning that lead into a 5-3 deficit over an 8 minute span is a problem.  Jumping out to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes the next night: sure seems like the proper adjustments were made.  However, back to back periods of giving up 4 goals spoiled that promising start.

Entering the Kelowna weekend Hill's GAA was right at 2.00, for a .500 team.  A junior team giving up 2 goals a game should be clipping along at .750 - or better.  This is a team that's scored 5 goals in 8 games so far - pretty much half the games they've played so far.

It might be easy as they're just inconsistent so far.  All junior teams are, right?

The "eye test" is that their struggles are as simple as a handful defensive breakdowns at the wrong time, which I don't have a good way to quantify or break down here.

One issue I have that is demonstrable is Paul Bittner.  I've been really high on him since he was a 15 - especially when he potted those 4 consecutive game winning goals during tournament time.  He ended up with 12 goals in 45 games that season - which projects out to 19 goals in a full 72 game season.  Pretty damn good for a 16 with limited ice time.

Currently Paul is sitting on 4 goals - a 17 goal pace for a full season.  That's just not good enough for a guy that Portland fans are counting on to deliver.  Of course, he lost both of his linemates.  There's a whole new set of expectations.  He'll improve.

The flip side is Team Captain Dominic Turgeon.  I'd heard some folks expressing they felt that Turgeon has a 40 goal season in his sights - which is pretty much the rate he's been shooting so far.  Can he maintain this pace?

Guys like Shoenborn & Iverson are about where a lot of us thought they'd be.  I feel there's a higher level both guys can get to, and if this team wants to do some damage they will both have to.

If they can marry the periods where they play lights out defense with the instances where they demonstrate all that firepower - then they're back in business.  They've shown the ability to play both ends of the ice at an elite level - but not game in & game out yet.

Gregg Drinnan says the season starts at Christmas.  The Los Angles Kings model - take the regular season off & get hot in the playoffs - could be applicable in a conference where only 2 teams miss the playoffs, but most Portland fans would rather they just got their shit together.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Open Letter to Kieffer Bellows

First off, congratulations on winning the Clark Cup!  Earning a championship seems like a great way to cap off a "rookie of the year" caliber season.  Putting up 33G / 19A / 52PTS in 58 games is one hell of a season for anyone - let alone a 16 year old forward.  Playoff runs producing 9G / 3A / 12PTS in 12 games played will get a guy noticed - as well as potential nicknames like "Cy Young".  It takes 9 wins to hoist the Clark Cup - 4 game winning goals coming off of your stick.

It must have been pretty special to win it all last season as well, contributing for Edina High School as they won State (again).  Many of us out west haven't experienced "the road to the X" - but we know its serious business

Committing to Boston University was a very mature decision to make as a young hockey player.  The NCAA route is the right move for many players, and the combination of a 30 game schedule & 1st class education seems attractive indeed.   College hockey is especially suited towards smaller players & late bloomers.

Hockey players are competitive sons-a-bitches by nature, and I'm sure that you're no different.  What you really want to do is end up a better player than your father, who had loads of success:  485 NHL goals, 1993 Stanley Cup Champion, a case for the Hall of Fame.  Some have questioned his toughness, but not his heart.  Brian Bellows starred in the 1982 Memorial Cup: winning it for Kitchner

It had to be a difficult decision to leave Edina, and all their success, for the USHL - but I'm sure you're glad you did.  Paul Bittner had a similar crossroads up in Crookston, and the tougher road to take looks like the right one.  Keegan Iverson left St Louis Park to play major junior, and there's an ongoing documentary being produced about his hockey career.  Blake Heinrich left Cambridge to play for Sioux City, and ended up wearing the "C" for a team with some playoff success.  Playing for Minnesota-Duluth was his initial plan, but ultimately headed out west to Portland - playing a key role.  My suggestion to you would be to ask these Minnesotans about what playing in the WHL is like.

The goal scoring tear you went on during the 2nd half + playoffs this year was pretty impressive.  Players developing at similar rates generally don't stay in college long: one year, maybe two.  Many observers feel that a development path involving major junior makes more sense for a guy like yourself.  Playing 30 games in college is great, but guys in Portland have played 20+ games on average over the last 5 seasons - in the playoffs alone - in addition to a 72 game regular season. 

It had to be frustrating to see how things went with Coach Eades just days after winning the war that was the Clark Cup playoffs.  He'll be fine in Fargo, but do you really want to go up against him all season?  Sioux Falls new coach Scott Owens has a long track record, and I'm sure he'll bounce back from that 7 win campaign he's coming off of.

The ultimate goal is the NHL, correct?  How many chances do you get to play for a coach with a couple of recent Stanley Cups on his resume?  Coach Kompon is simply trying to carry on the winning tradition established by the guy who's currently coaching Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin, by the way.

Keep playing like you did this season & the scouts would find you anywhere.  Of course, playing in a league with 56 guys ranked by NHL Central Scouting seems like it would help get one noticed.  In fact, 9 of the top 30 North American skaters played in the 'Dub this year.  Scouts watching Portland's games picked up on guys like Ryan Johansen, Nino Neiderreiter, Sven Baertchi, Derrick Pouliot, Joe Morrow, & Seth Jones - all guys who went in the 1st round since 2011.

Its pretty easy to conclude that you made the right decision playing in Sioux Falls this year - championships are always the goal.  Its hard to say what kind of opportunity you would have had in Portland as a 16 year old forward on that team - they had a ton of talent up front, and won a bunch of games.  However, it looks like Portland needs to replace 4 of their top 5 scorers from last season.  At the same time, they will bring back 4 NHL-drafted forwards to start the year (plus 3 defenseman & a goalie who've been drafted, too).  Factor all that in, and there's a top 6 spot open, and guys that can get you the puck.  In front of scouts, too.

You're pretty much playing with house money here:  the pro scouts will notice you in South Dakota, Oregon, Massachusetts, or wherever you play.  Picking up a year or two of school along the lines is great - as life after hockey is a 100% certainty.  Of course, players in the WHL earn scholarships for each year they play, in 1/2 year increments - in addition to taking classes during the season.  Its fully within the realm of possibility that playing 3 years of WHL hockey would leave you with more completed college credits than one or two years of Boston University - even if they don't have the clout of a school like BC - and if hockey doesn't work out, that WHL scholarship program would come in real handy.

In conclusion, we'll keep the light on for you in Portland.  Pro-style league, pro scouts, & plenty of opportunity.  If you want to match your dads Memorial Cup, Portland is your only shot.  You'll be drafted either way, but there's more chances to shine out west.  Winterhawks fans are pretty dedicated - you're not gonna see that from the Herd, or the Terriers.  Its always fun playing in front of big crowds, which we have.

I trust you'll make the right decision.


Chad Balcom
Cell Phones & Plane Tickets

Monday, February 16, 2015

 Annie Fowler, of the Tri-City Herald is kind enough to put together a WHL Best of the West poll each year, and hot off the presses its here:

2015 Best of the West

For fun, here's the last one, with some background on how this is put together.  Its a lot of work, and we are lucky that she puts it together for us.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015