Big. Strong. Fast.
When it comes to the Portland Winterhawks, there's little wondering why they're the No. 1 team ranked in major-junior hockey. There was also little wondering who was the better team on Saturday night, as the Winterhawks crushed the Kelowna Rockets 5-1 in WHL action at Prospera Place.
"They are a good team, no doubt about it," said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. "They were the better team by far. We stood around and watched them skate. They were full credit for their win."
More like a credit and a half, with the extra half being earned for treating the weekend twinbill at Prospera Place like a playoff series - which, considering it featured the Western Conference's top two teams, it was. Notably, Portland played so well, that one NHL scout commented that it was the best he'd seen the Winterhawks play this season.
"It was (the best we've played)," said Portland acting head coach Travis Green. "We've had some games this season where we've played OK and still won. We've been looking forward to this matchup for a while because we knew the compete level was going to have to be real high, or we weren't going to get the result we needed. We talked about it (Saturday), that we knew they were going to come out and try to establish a strong game right from the get-go. Our compete level was high, and that was good to see. It was as close to a playoff-compete level that you're going to see. I was real happy with our team's effort, from top to bottom."
Nic Petan, with a natural hat trick, Ty Rattie, with his 31st goal of the season at 10:15 of the second period to make it 4-0, and Brendan Leipsic, with a breakaway goal five minutes later at 15:44 to make it 5-0, also scored for Portland (45-8-1-2). On Friday, the league-leading Winterhawks raced out to a 4-0 lead in a 5-3 victory over the Rockets. Petan's goals were his 38th, 39th and 40th of the season.
Colton Sissons, with his 22nd goal of the season midway through the third, replied for Kelowna (40-13-3-1), which lost back-to-back home games for the first time this season. The Rockets' home record is 24-4.
Mac Carruth stopped 31 shots for Portland. Jordon Cooke took the loss for Kelowna, making 18 saves on 23 shots before giving way after 40 minutes to Jackson Whistle. Whistle stopped all 12 shots he faced in the third.
For Portland, ranked No. 1 in the CHL, the two games were a chance to establish itself as the league's best team.
For Kelowna, ranked No. 4, the two games were more about establishing itself as a title contender.
Following Saturday's lopsided result and looking at both games in Kelowna as a whole, the Winterhawks were the clear winners, having won five of six periods.
Portland also gave itself a big boost in both games by scoring two soft goals on Rockets starter Cooke in each first period to open the scoring. On Saturday, backup Whistle came on in relief after 40 minutes. Tonight, the Rockets are in Everett, and Whistle will get the start.
"We looked lethargic right from the start of the game," said Huska. "When that goal went in early . . . it was not a good goal to give up. It kind of deflated us at that time and it gave them more energy. From that point on, they were doing all the skating and we were doing all the watching."
Today, the Rockets visit the Silvertips. Game time is 5:05 p.m., and Kelowna won't have any time to digest what happened on Saturday night - which may be for the better.
"We have to get right back at it, we have to rebound," said Huska. "This is the first time we've faced adversity in quite a while. It's a challenge to our players."
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