Winterhawks Excited About Saturday’s Season Opener

By: Lauren Pullen

Optimism is running high around the Winterhawks after a successful preseason in which Portland went 5-1.

The Winterhawks displayed an explosive new offense in which the team averaged more than five goals a game, up from just over two goals per game last season. Portland also outshot their opponents 288-147, averaging 48 shots a game while the Hawks’ defense held their opponents to just 24.5 shots a game.

“It was a really good preseason for us,” said Oliver Gabriel. “We showed the other teams in our division that we are going to be a force in the U.S. Division and that we’re going to have a chance at winning it.”

Gabriel and Chris Francis led the team with four goals apiece in the preseason. The Hawks also displayed balanced scoring, with 16 players scoring at least one goal during the preseason, while 20 players tallied at least one assist. Troy Rutkowski led the Winterhawks in assists with eight and total points with nine.

“Stuff just went my way,” said Rutkowski. “I had good players passing to me, but my teammates deserve most of the credit.”

After a tough loss to Seattle that opened the preseason, a game in which Portland had twice as many shots on goal as the Thunderbirds, the team stayed positive, believing in the progress they were seeing every day in practice.

“We had a really young team in the game against Seattle and we outplayed them a lot, but we couldn’t come out on top in that one,” said Gabriel. “Now we have a lot of the older guys back and most of the NHL guys are back from their camps. We will have a really good team coming into this season.”

Seattle took the series from Portland last season with a record of 8-4-0-0 during head-to-head competition, while the Hawks finished the season 3-8-1-0 against the Thunderbirds. Seattle also held the advantage with goals, scoring 45 to the Winterhawks’ 36.

Opening on the road in Seattle in front of a hostile crowd will be an exciting challenge for the Winterhawks as the 2009-10 season gets underway.

“We would have liked to start the season out at home, but hopefully if we can get a few wins on the road then maybe more fans will come out for the home opener,” said Gabriel.

In last year’s season series against Seattle, Gabriel and Luke Walker led the Winterhawks in goals with four apiece, while Francis led the team in points with 12; three goals and nine assists.

Greg Scott and Prab Rai were the leading scorers for the Thunderbirds in the season series with Portland last year, each with nine goals, but only Rai will be the returning to Seattle for another season. Seattle also returns their starting goalie from last season, Calvin Pickard, who had a goals against average of 3.03.

Catch all the action Saturday in Seattle by tuning in live to Freedom 970 AM.

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