The 2018-19 regular season begins tonight in Kent, Washington against the Seattle Thunderbirds. It’s the first of twelve head-to-head meetings in the battle against Seattle.
Puck Drop: 6:05 p.m.
Watch: WHL Live
Banner Bank Video Preview: Click Here to Watch
Last season, the Winterhawks took care of business against Seattle, finishing with an 8-1-1-2 record against their U.S. Division rival. Entering this weekend, both teams have a much different look on their rosters. With the Winterhawks graduating a handful of high caliber skaters, including former captain Keoni Texeira (pictured below), the attention shifts to the youth.
Portland opens the season with four 16 year olds on their roster and a handful of players eager to assume more minutes. Earlier this week, the Winterhawks heard news that forward Joachim Blichfeld was returning to the Rose City and he is expected to dress tonight for the Hawks.
The Thunderbirds are hungry for redemption after finishing fifth in the U.S. Division a season ago. Seattle’s leading scorer last year, Nolan Volcan (32-44—76), returns to the WHL for his fifth and final full season of junior hockey.
Andrej Kukuca (4-5—9), Seattle’s first round pick in the CHL Import Draft, raised some eyebrows during the preseason after registering at least one point in all five September games. He has won three gold medals playing for the Slovakian national team and last year scored 41 goals and 26 assists in 42 games while playing in the Under-20 league in Slovakia.
Defensively, it’s a different look for Seattle with the departures of top producers Austin Strand and Turner Ottenbreit. Kelowna native Liam Hughes is expected to assume the starting duties this season after backstopping 36 games last year to go with a 3.15 goals against average and .909 save percentage. A couple of 17-year-old rookies are still vying for the backup duties this year.
This is the first time the Winterhawks are playing their season opening game in Kent since the 2010-11 season. They are looking to make it three straight season opening wins.