The boss is back: Winterhawks return to the ice - KPTV - FOX 12

The boss is back: Winterhawks return to the ice

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

Out with the old, in with the old: Mike Johnston returns to rebuild the Portland Winterhawks back into the bullies on the block in the Western Hockey League. 

From the NHL to the junior level and back again, this Saturday's season opener will be a bit of shape-shifting event for the new boss, who's the old boss. 

"Honestly, words can't even describe how excited everyone in the locker room is and me personally to have him back," said Winterhawks left wing Skyler McKenzie. 

Instant credibility for the man who helped groom 24 NHL draft picks, six first-rounders – the boss is back along with his .660 winning percentage. 

"Those were good years, five and half years I was here," said Johnston. 

After losing his gig as head coach and general manager of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins early in the winter, Johnston replaces the departed Jamie Kompon as Portland's GM, coach and also vice president. 

"It's incredible to have a guy like Mike come back after he has been to that pro level coaching players like Sidney Crosby … now we have a chance to play for him too," said McKenzie. 

Last season was a letdown for Johnston and the Winterhawks, who swept out of the first round – their shortest WHL playoff run in more than a decade. 

"Last year was a really bitter feeling ... eager to prove ourselves," said Winterhawks center Alex Overhardt. 

After two years away from the Rose City, the boss returns to the same soil that bloomed four consecutive conference championships and a Chynoweth Cup in 2013, but it wasn't always that way. 

"It's a little bit more involved with the age of our group," Johnston said.  "It goes back to my first and second year here ... now we have to try and restock our group with 1999-born, 2000-born players."

Johnston's first full season was 2009, adding 48 points to the year prior. This youthful nest of "hawks" should be in playoff contention for an eighth straight year by seasons' end. 

"I am always looking for new drills, new ideas on how we can challenge our group to play faster ... because we want to play the game with speed," Johnston said. 

The puck drops on the 'Hawks' "game of speed" this Saturday at 7 p.m. against the rival Seattle Thunderbirds at the Moda Center to begin a three-game regular season homestand. 

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