The Hawks’ Nest

Mike Johnston article
September 1, 2009, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Winterhawks | Tags: ,

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The past 10 days have been a whirlwind for the Winterhawks: the opening of training camp with over 100 players to evaluate, the three-day Neely Cup, and on Saturday, a preseason game against Seattle.

That night the Winterhawks doubled Seattle’s shot total, 46-23, yet came away with a 4-2 loss. It was a tough result to swallow, but there were plenty of encouraging signs: Portland dominated play through two periods and generated numerous scoring chances, but were victimized several times by goalposts and solid goaltending from Kyle Jahraus.

Furthermore, none of Seattle’s goals came at even strength: three were on the power play, and one was an open net. Looking back, Winterhawks General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston came away happy with the effort.

“It’s really difficult at this time of year for both teams, you don’t have a lot of structure in the games, so you’re almost watching guys’ pure instincts and pure talent,” he said. “I thought if you looked at that in the game, we really held the edge.  Our puck movement was good, we created a lot of scoring chances, I thought our speed was good. Overall I was quite happy with the game.”

With the Seattle game in the rearview mirror, it’s time to get back to the business of the preseason. After initially bringing in over 100 players, the roster is down to below 40, with several players set to leave at the end of the week for NHL training camps.

Where much of last week was spent evaluating talent, now Johnston and the rest of the coaching staff are getting down to the business of installing systems.

“We try and do a little bit every day. Our focus has been on defensive play right now, we’ve told the guys to let their offense take care of itself with their own creativity and instincts. So we’ve focused on our forecheck, our backcheck pressure and how we do through the neutral zone and then our defensive zone coverage,” said Johnston. “We haven’t really focused on anything to do with penalty kill or power play until this week. But every day we do a little bit in each of those areas and then now as the week goes on we’ll start to add more offensive structure to our game. Usually you work defense from the other end, from forecheck all the way back to your own end to defensive zone coverage and try to get a framework and then you start to work on the individual things from there.”

Portland will work on those aspects of their game in preparation for this weekend’s tournament in Everett. The team is expected to carry 30 players on the roster, and all will be looking to make a positive impression with the hopes of gaining a roster spot for the upcoming season.

Johnston and his staff had a successful summer on the recruiting trail, having added many talented players. It’s given them an enviable problem: a surplus of talent that will lead to some very difficult decisions when it comes time to setting the regular season roster.

“I like the look of the new guys right now. We’ve got a lot more depth up front than we had last year… Our defensive core is good, and is going to be good, but it’s still going to be a maturing process. (Travis) Ehrhardt as a 19 year-old was a big part of our defense last year and we’re going to miss him a lot. I think that’s a hole we haven’t filled yet, but (Brett) Ponich has improved, and (Travis) Bobbee is there and then we have the young 92s and 93s below that,” said Johnston. “And then we have the same three goaltenders vying for two spots, and we aren’t going to carry three. They know that, and we’re going to evaluate who the best two are and come out of training camp with those guys.”

After a busy 10 days, the hard work is just beginning.


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