Saskatoon, SK – The Portland Winterhawks have finally made it over the hump.
After two straight years of being on the losing end of the WHL Championship series, the Winterhawks pulled off a 4-2 best-of-seven series win over the Edmonton Oil Kings to win the 2013 WHL Championship and book their place in the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament in Saskatoon, SK.
The elation of finally having reached the top of the mountain in the WHL, though, must be put aside as the Hawks refocus and set their sights on the biggest prize in Junior hockey; the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Winterhawks’ forward Ty Rattie, the MVP of the WHL Championship series and one of nine members of this year’s team to have played in both the 2011 and 2012 WHL finals. “A lot of great players go to that tournament to make a name for themselves.
“It’s going to be a very tough tournament with good competition, but it will be a great experience that we are all looking forward to,” he said.
The Hawks have been among the WHL’s elite teams over the past four years, and have seen several star players come and go in that time including Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter, Joe Morrow, Sven Baertschi and Brad Ross.
Coming into the 2012-13 season, many picked the Hawks to be good. However, nobody could have predicted they would enjoy their most successful season in franchise history. With the development of players like Brendan Leipsic, Nic Petan and Taylor Leier, and the addition of blue chip prospect Seth Jones on defence, the Winterhawks dominated both offensively and defensively all season.
“It’s been awesome, right from the start,” said Jones, who is expected to be the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft this summer. “We knew we would have a special team this year, and we knew we had a lot of experience.
“We’ve got great players like Petan, Leipsic and Rattie, and the defense corps we have with (Troy) Rutkowski, (Derrick) Pouliot and (Tyler) Wotherspoon has been so solid,” said Jones, the 2013 WHL Rookie of the Year.
The Winterhawks will be making their fifth trip to the Memorial Cup tournament and first trip since winning it all in 1998. Joining the Hawks are the host Saskatoon Blades, the OHL Champion London Knights, and the QMJHL Champion Halifax Mooseheads. The Mooseheads were the top-ranked team in the CHL all season, the Hawks finished as the second-ranked team, and the Knights came in at No. 3 in the CHL. Add in the Blades, who won 44 games during the regular season, and you have the makings of a highly competitive tournament.
“Obviously, we are going to face teams with a lot of skill and a lot of depth,” said Jones. “The Mooseheads and Knights won their respective League titles just like us, and Saskatoon is a great team too.
“We know it will be a big challenge for us, but I think we are all looking forward to it.
“Any time you can go up against some of the best players in the world at our age group, it’s going to be pretty cool,” added Jones.
The 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament begins on Friday, May 16th, in Saskatoon, SK. The Portland Winterhawks open their round-robin schedule at the tournament on Saturday, May 17th, versus the QMJHL Champion Halifax Mooseheads.
For more, visit www.mastercardmemorialcup.ca.
NOTES: The Winterhawks have played in four previous Memorial Cup tournaments, winning the tournament as host team in 1983 and as WHL Champions in 1998…The Winterhawks also hosted the tournament in 1986…No current member of the Winterhawks has played in a Memorial Cup tournament…Winterhawks’ trio of Nic Petan, Brendan Leipsic and Ty Rattie finished No. 1, 2 and 3 in the entire CHL in scoring this season…Eight members of the Winterhawks have played 60 or more career WHL playoff games, including three who have played at least 75…Winterhawks’ acting head coach and general manager Travis Green played 970 career NHL games and 56 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs…Goaltender Mac Carruth is the WHL’s all-time leader in career playoff games played and playoff wins…Ty Rattie is the WHL’s all-time leader in career playoff goals with 50…The last U.S. Division team to win a WHL title and play in the MasterCard Memorial Cup was the Spokane Chiefs in 2008, which they won.