PORTLAND, Ore. – Hit with unprecedented penalties by the Western Hockey League back in November, the Portland Winterhawks not only prevailed, they won the junior hockey league’s championship.
“We could have used it as an excuse to wipe away the season,” Dallas Stars prospect Taylor Peters said of the sanctions, which included the suspension of the team’s head coach for the balance of the season. “But we used it as fuel.”
The Winterhawks claimed the Ed Chynoweth Cup with a 5-1 Game 6 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings on Sunday. Ty Rattie had a hat trick in the deciding win.
On Tuesday, thousands of fans came out as the city celebrated the title with a noontime rally. Many supporters sported T-shirts reading “Portland Strikes Back.”
The championship – and the cheers – were sweet revenge for the Winterhawks, who in November got hit with stiff penalties by the league for player-benefit violations. The WHL took away several draft picks and fined the team $200,000, in addition to suspending Winterhawks coach and general manager Mike Johnston for the rest of this season.
Johnston wasn’t allowed contact with the team during the season, but he was granted permission from the league to meet the Winterhawks on Sunday night when they landed in Portland after winning the championship. Some 1,000 fans greeted the plane along with him.
“It’s like your kids, when you step back and see them do really good things,” Johnston said. “You can’t help but be proud.”
Assistant general manager and assistant coach Travis Green, a former player for the Spokane Chiefs, assumed Johnston’s duties on an interim basis after the penalties were handed down and the Winterhawks finished with a franchise-best 57 wins in their 72 total games.
“Just having him around and able to enjoy this with the rest of us is important,” Green said about Johnston.
Portland had been to the WHL finals in each of the past two seasons but failed to come away with the trophy until this season. Portland last won the league title in the 1997-98 season.