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U.S. Division Recap: Portland goes East and Silvertips swing deal

By Andy Eide

At some point in the season every team in the U.S. Division has to go through the annual gauntlet of the Eastern Swing.

It’s a barnstorming trek through one of the WHL’s Eastern Conference’s divisions and includes a packed schedule of games with a lot of miles, and hours, on the bus. This season the U.S. Division heads out to the Central Division, which is not as taxing as busing out to the East Division, but it still can be hard to get through.

Teams sometimes plow through the swing, beating everyone, while other times the travel and schedule make it tough.

The Portland Winterhawks were the first of the U.S. Division clubs to load up their bus for the swing this season. Beginning with an Oct. 4th game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Winterhawks would play six games over the next nine days, all on the road.

They would lose that first game against the Hurricanes, and the next two against the Calgary Hitmen and the Medicine Hat Tigers. Portland found it’s road legs however and finished the trip with back-to-back wins over Swift Current and Red Deer before finishing the swing with a shootout loss in Edmonton.

Five points in six games is decent and the Winterhawks return home sitting in first place in the U.S. Division.

Defenseman, and 2019 Florida Panthers draft pick, Johnny Ludvig caught fire and finished the swing with goals in each of the last three games, along with a pair of assists for a five-point flurry.

Portland Winterhawks defenseman Johnny Ludvig finished the Eastern Swing with a flurry. (Brian Liesse)

The Seattle Thunderbirds will be the next U.S. Division team to head out as they hit the road on Oct. 25th followed by the Tri-City Americans on Nov. 8th, Everett Silvertips on Dec. 4th, and the Spokane Chiefs on February 19th.

Here’s the latest news surrounding the red, white, and blue division.

Everett Silvertips add offense with Cole Fonstad 

The Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson was the first to make a notable trade this season. Everett picked up 2018 Montreal Canadiens fifth-round pick Cole Fonstad in a deal with the Prince Albert Raiders. In return, Everett sent forward Reece Vitelli, a second-round and fourth-round pick in 2021, and a conditional third round in 2022.

Fonstad, 19, was part of Prince Albert’s WHL Championship squad in 2019 when he scored 29 goals, 44 assists, and 73 points in 67 games. He added six more points in the playoffs and this season was off to a two-goal, seven-assist start for the Raiders.

Vitelli is a hard-working 18-year-old forward who scored 11 goals for Everett last year but had yet to find the back of the net so far this season.

Everett needed an offensive boost and this trade should provide that. The Silvertips are coming off a weekend where they were held to two goals in two games and 0-for-8 on the power play. They’ve averaged 2.62 goals-per-game in their first eight games.

The power play has been a struggle early on for the Silvertips. Before Fonstad, they were 21st in the league with a 14.3- percent rate. Look for Fonstad to slide onto Everett’s top unit.

Fonstad will get used to his new environment as the Silvertips play their next three games at home starting Wednesday against the Brandon Wheat Kings. Both players in this trade will be in Everett Saturday, as the Prince Albert Raiders will be in town.

Will this move be enough to push Everett past the Winterhawks and Chiefs?

U.S. Division notes

The Tri-City Americans headed into the past weekend on a three-game skid but got right with a pair of wins at home. Getting over-ager, and import, Krystof Hrabik back from the San Jose Barracuda helped as the big winger had a goal and two assists in the wins.

Seattle’s Roddy Ross was good Saturday night but was out dueled by the Silvertips’ Dustin Wolf (Brian Liesse/Thunderbirds)

If you like goalies, and not goals, be sure to check the calendar for the next time Seattle Thunderbirds Roddy Ross squares off with Everett Silvertips Dustin Wolf. The two goalies faced each other Saturday night at the Angel of the Winds Arena and steered their teams into overtime tied at 0-0. It was reminiscent of a game between the two last March that was also scoreless after three periods.

The March game ended the same way Saturday’s did, a Silvertips 1-0 overtime win.

U.S. Division Games on the radar

There are two inter-division games this weekend to keep an eye on.

Friday night, the Tri-City Americans, coming off two straight wins, will be in Everett to take on Fonstad and the Silvertips. It’s early, but the two clubs are tied for second in the division with 10 points and Everett will look to avenge and opening night home loss to the Americans.

Saturday night, Tri-City returns home to face the Seattle Thunderbirds. Seattle is still looking for its first road win and coming off perhaps its best 60-minute performance Saturday night in Everett.

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