The Portland Winterhawks have been the most successful Junior franchise in recent years.
With Travis Green – now with AHL Uitica – behind the bench last Spring, the Oregon sextet came within one win of taking the Memorial Cup.
Architect of Portland’s renaissance as a top hockey city, Mike Johnston returns as both general manager and coach for 2013-2014.
We’ll be watching the Winterhawks progress on a regular basis and in this, Part One of a Two-Part series, our Adrian Szkolar discussed the following topics with Johnston.
* EVALUATIONS EARLY IN THE SCHEDULE:
We usually wait until 20 games into the season to make judgements. After that, I’ll get a good read on our group, and also a good read on the rest of the league. That is the best measuring stick for our team, and also for where we are in the league.
The thing about Junior hockey is that a lot of players had been away at NHL camps. Now they will begin to come back over the first few weeks of the season. That really changes the dynamic of the league.
We just had Derrick Pouliot back, Griffin Reinhart has come back while Morgan Rielly and Matthew Dumba are still at the NHL level.
* FILLING THE SETH JONES VOID:
We acquired two defensemen in the off-season. Anton Cederholm was from Sweden. We got him in the Import draft; he was a fifth-round pick of Vancouver.
We also traded for Garett Haar, who was a draft pick of Washington, who left Western Michigan. We traded with Medicine Hat for his rights. Those two skaters coming in will help.
Plus we have guys who played behind our top four defensemen last year – Josh Hanson, Layne Viveiros and Shaun MacPherson are ready to step up with more responsibility. They will fill in for some of that void as well.
* ON NAMING TAYLOR LEIER PORTLAND’S CAPTAIN:
I believe that the captain has to have a good rapport with the coaching staff. He has to be comfortable with bringing up players concerns and being open with them.
The second part is we ask the team for their input on the captain, who they would like to see as their captain and why; who they would like to see as their assistant captains and why. The decisions are a combination of our feeling as a coaching staff and also talking with the players.
* ON PROMISING FORWARD PAUL BITTNER:
Paul was invited to the U.S. Under-18 team at the Hlinka tournament last Summer. I heard great reports from a lot of NHL people who watched that tournament. He did very well.
He had a great training camp this Fall and then he broke his finger. But he’ll start playing again and will be a big part of our team.
He’s a power-forward with really good skills and very good awareness on the ice, yet not draftable for two years. I project him to be a high draft pick the following year.
* SEAN BURKE’S GOALIE SON, BRENDAN, STARTING FOR THE WINTERHAWKS:
Like any other 18-year old goaltender, he has had some good nights and some other nights where he has been solid, but I know he thinks he can be better He’s ready to be the number-one goalie this year.
He played behind Mac Carruth for two seasons, and he’s ready to take that next step mentally and physically. The way it is for every other 18-year old goaltender in our league, there’s going to be ups and downs. It was the same with Mac and it’s the same with all top goaltenders, but he’s going to be very good.
* ON OLIVER BJORKSTRAND:
I talked with the people in Columbus after Oliver’s camp, and they were very impressed. They thought he had a great camp. He’s the type of player you don’t appreciate as much as you should until you are with him. Last year at the end of the season, I felt that coming into this year, he could push for 50 goals in our league. He’s got a great touch, a fine knack and awareness plus, he’s got a really good shot and deceptive speed. I see really good things for Oliver this year.