May 12, 2013
Where once their situation couldn't be direr, now the Portland Winterhawks could not be much higher. Paced by Ty Rattie scoring a hat trick to in his final Western Hockey League game to set a new league record for career playoff goals, the Winterhawks beat the Edmonton Oil Kings 5-1 on Sunday to wrap up a six-game Ed Chynoweth Cup victory.
It's a long time coming for the Winterhawks, not solely by virtue of having lost the two prior finals to the Oil Kings (in seven games in 2012) and Kootenay Ice (in five in 2011). Portland is not the most popular team in WHL circles these days, yet no so long ago it was the most pitiable. Less than five years ago, it was at such a low ebb competitively and commercially that it was considered "a rescue operation" which could have ended up being the team that fulfilled the Dub's desire to put a team in Victoria.
Instead, in what should be viewed as one of junior hockey's great — and certainly its most complicated, thanks to the WHL sanctions which will come due for the team some time in the next few seasons — rebirth stories, the Winterhawks were resurrected after being bought by Calgary billionaire Bill Gallacher. Some of the right people, such as super scout Matt Bardsley, were already in place before the sale, but it was essentially a double-lung transplant for a franchise that was barely breathing.
Mentioning that might seem like running over some well-trod ground, but when any team wins the league, there's more to it than what the coaches and players did inside the glass. There's what it signifies to the people who were there for the lean years. Plus so many hands are ultimately on the blueprint exclusive of the 20 players who ultimately saw it through to the fourth victory in the final.
Continuing on a theme Scott Sepich advanced two years ago, Portland's ascension takes in so much more than benefiting from a bumper crop of high bantam draft picks. Having a high draft slot to land Rattie, defencemen Derrick Pouliot and Tyler Wotherspoon and second-line centre Taylor Leier in the 2008 and '09 drafts provided a strong leg up, of course. The same goes for suspended coach-GM Mike Johnston and assistant Travis Green making Portland an attractive place for star D-man Seth Jones, among other ambitious American talents, to showcase his game during his NHL draft season.
There is that, and so much more. Now one sits back to see what Portland, having won the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the first since 1998, can do at the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon. They will be going to Saskatoon as both the WHL's Evil Empire and as its new hope.
Portland will face Halifax on Day 2 on the Memorial Cup on Saturday. The host Saskatoon Blades open the tourney Friday vs. the OHL champion, either Barrie or London.
Ty Rattie becomes the first player in WHL history to score 50 career playoff goals and he does it with a hat-trick in Game 6. Remarkable.
— Evan Daum (@evandaum) May 12, 2013
Ty Rattie makes it a hat trick. He'll be WHL Playoff MVP. And pretty sure I won't be catching a plane to Portland in the morning for Game 7.
— Terry Jones (@sunterryjones) May 12, 2013
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.