The Western Hockey League teams that have defeated the Portland Winterhawks this season – Seattle, Tri-City, Kelowna, Victoria and Everett – are a combined 1-8 against Spokane.
But the Chiefs have run into a roadblock whenever they’ve played Portland this season or, for that matter, any time in the last 10 months.
Oliver Bjorkstrand’s hat trick Friday night powered the Winterhawks to their latest victory over the Chiefs, 6-3 at the Arena.
Spokane (17-9-0-1, 35 points) is 0-5 against Portland this season. Counting the end of last year’s regular season and postseason, the Chiefs have lost 13 consecutive games against the Winterhawks.
“I think this happens in sports, where one team gets another team’s number, and that’s the case right now,” said the Chiefs’ Mitch Holmberg, whose third hat trick of the season gave him a WHL-leading 30 goals and 64 points.
“We play them enough that we can’t afford to lose that many points. We’re going to have to get over that hump.”
“We’ve never played our style against those guys,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We end up playing their style, and they’re quick. They have a lot of guys who can really skate and shoot a puck, and they have two lines that are as good as any line in this league.”
The game featured seven of the top 17 scorers in the league, including Holmberg, Bjorkstrand and Portland’s Nicolas Petan. Bjorkstrand’s three goals moved him into a tie for third with 48 points. Petan, who is second behind Holmberg with 55 points, assisted on two goals, including Bjorkstrand’s back-breaking power-play goal at 2:52 of the third period for a 5-3 lead.
Portland cashed in on three of its first four power-play chances, capped by Bjorkstrand’s second goal of the game and 20th of the season.
“We had some chances in the third, then we take a penalty, then we took another penalty, then we took another penalty,” Nachbaur said. “It sucked the life right out of the guys on our bench.”
Holmberg hadn’t scored against Portland this season, although he’s piled up seven assists. He tied the game at 1 with a one-timer at 14:32 of the first; cut Portland’s lead to 3-2 with a score at 4:33 of the second; and achieved his hat trick with 2:04 left in the second on a power-play goal.
“It doesn’t matter how you do individually,” Holmberg said. “It’s a team game, so unless your team does well it’s not a good feeling. … It’s been a while, I think, since I scored on them, so it was nice to get those. Kind of a monkey off the back, but it’s kind of a bittersweet feeling right now.”
Portland improved to 19-5-2-1 for 41 points.