The Chilliwack Bruins did what few teams have been able to do this year. They beat the Portland Winter Hawks.
The Bruins played their best game of the season Friday night at Prospera Centre, recording a 7-2 win over a stacked Portland squad (featuring 10 NHL draftees) that had lost just five games to date (21-4-0-1).
After winning just two of their previous nine, it was a game that Chilliwack desperately needed, and they played like it.
A grumpy Bruins squad took to the ice for period one, led by the particularly cranky Curt Gogol. On his first shift, Chilliwack’s penalty minute leader dropped the mitts with Portland’s biggest forward, challenging six-foot-six Tyler Jordan to a center-ice scrap.
Gogol couldn’t even reach Jordan’s face with his punches, opting instead for a flurry of body blows. But the 19-year-old held his own and perhaps made a couple of his teammates play a couple inches taller. That set off a first period penalty parade that kept referees Trevor Hansen and Trent Knorr busy.
The Bruins felt the wrath of the zebras when Blair Wentworth and Brandon Manning were tagged for back-to-back minors, putting Chilliwack two men down for 1:49. But the Bruins penalty killers came up large to keep the game scoreless.
The Winter Hawks would score the only goal of the opening frame, with New York Islanders prospect Nino Niederreiter pulling the trigger. Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Ryan Johansen set him up, wheeling away from a Jeff Einhorn check in the left corner to find Niederreiter uncovered in front of the Chilliwack net.
Niederreiter snapped a blocker-side shot past Bruins netminder Lucas Gore for his seventh of the season at 13:35.
Shots on goal in period one favoured Portland 15-7.
The Winter Hawks added to their lead just 38 seconds into period two. Working just inside the Portland blueline, Chilliwack’s Manning tried an ill-advised no-look backhand pass to defence partner Einhorn. Swiss sniper Sven Bartschi stole the puck and took off like a rocket. Gore made the initial save but couldn’t corral the rebound, and the 18-year-old winger punched it in for his team-leading 17th of the year.
Manning waited seven minutes before redeeming himself on a Chilliwack power play. With Abbotsford native Riley Boychuk banished to the penalty box for interference, Manning blew a point shot missile past Portland keeper Mac Carruth for his 11th of the year.
The Bruins drew even seven minutes later on an Einhorn tally. Credit Ryan Howse for some outstanding work, winning a puck battle with six-foot-seven defenceman Brett Ponich in the right corner. Howse got the puck to Einhorn at the left point, and the Red Deer native had all day to walk in and pick his spot, going over Carruth’s glove for his first of the year.
Shots on goal in period two favoured Chilliwack 15-10.
The Bruins took their first lead of the game seven minutes and 27 seconds into period three on a goal by Buffalo Sabres prospect Kevin Sundher.
The 18-year-old wheeled with a harmless just-put-it-on-net shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. The puck took a right turn off the skate of Winter Hawks defenceman Derek Pouliot, deflecting into the Portland cage for Sundher’s eighth of the year.
Ryan Howse added the insurance goal with 8:38 remaining, cutting into the slot and going top shelf glove-side on Carruth for his 19th.
Just over minute later, Steve Oursov picked Brad Ross’s pocket at the Portland blueline and came in on a short-handed breakaway. The Chilliwack native’s first of the year put the game away, and Brandon Magee and Sundher added late goals to wrap up the scoring.
The three stars were Howse (first), Sundher (second), Einhorn (third).
The Bruins return to action Wednesday, hosting the Saskatoon Blades at Prospera Centre. Puck drop is 7 p.m.