When they faced one another in the opening game of the round-robin stage of the 2013 Memorial Cup, the Halifax Mooseheads spotted the Portland Winterhawks an early 3-1 lead before responding with a five-goal onslaught in the second period, ultimately prevailing 7-4.
Winterhawks’ campaign ends in Saskatoon
When they faced one another in the opening game of the round-robin stage of the 2013 Memorial Cup, the Halifax Mooseheads spotted the Portland Winterhawks an early 3-1 lead before responding with a five-goal onslaught in the second period, ultimately prevailing 7-4. The championship rematch on Sunday night started out in much the same way, as Halifax raced out to a 3-0 advantage at the first intermission. This time, the Winterhawks nearly clawed their way out of the hole twice, displaying the resolve that propelled them to the team’s first Western Hockey League championship in 15 years despite unprecedented sanctions that left them without head coach and general manager Mike Johnston for the season.
With both teams seeking their 77th victory of the season in Saskatoon, Halifax proved too strong in the end, and Nathan MacKinnon’s empty-net goal in the final minute sealed the 6-4 championship victory for the Mooseheads. The Winterhawks, meanwhile, could only watch as the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions hoisted the trophy in front of the crowd of 11,488 at the Credit Union Centre.
Halifax fought off an early Winterhawks offensive rush, biding their time and waiting out Portland’s barrage of shots in the first three minutes of the opening period. Once Brendan Leipsic’s hooking penalty gave Halifax a man advantage, the Mooseheads had the opening they needed to take the lead. Forty seconds into the power play, Konrad Abeltshauser’s slap shot found its way through the bodies parked in front of the crease to beat netminder Mac Carruth 6:31 into the contest.
Less than 90 seconds later, Abeltshauser set up MacKinnon, who built up speed through the neutral zone and across the blue line. Kicking the puck from his left foot to his stick, MacKinnon fought off three Winterhawks and shot high over Carruth’s blocker to make it 2-0. Czech winger Martin Frk added a one-timer 4:01 from the intermission to give the Mooseheads a three-goal buffer.
Even with the hefty lead, Halifax was somewhat lucky to remain ahead at the end of the second period. After Oliver Bjorkstrand picked up a slashing minor midway through the frame, defenseman Derrick Pouliot carried the puck into the Halifax zone and ripped a shot on goal. The attempt was rebounded by Ty Rattie, who found Nicolas Petan in front of the net. Petan deked Mooseheads goalie Zachary Fucale to backhand the puck into the net and reduce the deficit to two.
The Winterhawks continued to create chances for themselves. Exiting the penalty box, Bjorkstrand nearly made it 3-2, but his shot rang off the crossbar. Rattie almost made up for the miss when he gloved down the puck in the crease and brushed it past Fucale with 5:44 remaining in the period, but after a lengthy video review the goal was overturned when officials determined that the puck had caromed off Fucale’s skate and into the net before Rattie’s stick sent it the rest of the way.
Seth Jones, the defenseman expected to go first overall in next month’s NHL draft, left no doubt with his own attempt when he finally notched Portland’s second goal 1:19 from the second intermission. With the teams playing four-on-four hockey because of offsetting minor roughing penalties, Jones passed to Rattie behind the Halifax net. Drawing Fucale to his glove side, Rattie hit Jones on the opposite edge of the crease with a return pass, and the defenseman’s one-timer cleanly beat Fucale to draw the Winterhawks within one at the break.
Unfortunately, their efforts were undone by a dynamic Halifax attack in the final frame. Midway through the third period, a puck in the Portland zone skipped over Winterhawks captain Troy Rutkowski’s stick and landed at MacKinnon’s feet, just outside Carruth’s net. Kicking the puck to his stick, the center scored his second goal of the night to restore a two-goal lead. MacKinnon set up Abeltshauser’s second goal less than four minutes later, and with 8:49 remaining the Mooseheads held a 5-2 lead.
Portland wasn’t quite finished, however, as the line of Leipsic, Petan and Rattie nearly sparked an improbable comeback. Leipsic scored with 5:28 left on the clock to make it 5-3, and the Winterhawks, sensing another momentum shift, began to ratchet up the pressure on Fucale and the Mooseheads defensemen.
With just over a minute left in the game, Winterhawks head coach Travis Green pulled Carruth, and four seconds after Bjorkstrand jumped on the ice as the extra attacker Pouliot found Rattie with a cross-ice pass that the winger rifled past Fucale. With the score at 5-4, Portland peppered the Halifax goaltender with renewed vigor, but the Mooseheads managed to clear the zone and MacKinnon found the empty net as the Memorial Cup MVP completed his hat trick to close out the championship.
“Losing a game of this magnitude is tough,” Green said in his final game at the helm before the end of Johnston’s suspension. “We didn’t have the first period that we wanted but [we] showed a lot of heart to get back into it. As a coach I have to be proud of the way our team fought back.”
The Winterhawks merely did what they have done all season long, stubbornly grinding their way through a rough stretch against an elite team to give themselves a shot at the win. Though Halifax proved to be just one adversary too many, Portland wrapped up one of the most successful campaigns in franchise history—an effort that will be difficult to top for next season’s squad. They’ll no doubt be eager for the opportunity.