Winterhawks readying for playoffs against Everett in climb for Memorial Cup

Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 7:12 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - It’ll be a busy Friday night in the Rose Quarter as both the Blazers and Winterhawks have home games. While the NBA team is sitting its stars for the final week of the regular season, the WHL team is looking to win big on the ice.

Chalk up a sixth straight 40-win season for the Portland Winterhawks to earn a third-seed and home-ice advantage in the WHL playoffs this weekend against their rivals from Everett.

“We have about half of our team that has some really good playoff experience and then the other half are what you would call playoff rookies right now,” says Winterhawks head coach and general manager Mike Johnston.

Trial by fire on the ice.

“Once we play the first game, the series is going to get going fast.,” says Johnston. “We play three games in four nights.”

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Winterhawks and Silvertips are teams who know one another quite well and aren’t the best of friends.

“The electricity in the air is going to be flowing,” says Winterhawks’ MVP Luca Cagnoni. “It’s one of those things, you verse them eight times in a year so there is going to be a little bit of a battle going on.”

The Winterhawks are led by 19-year-old team captain and MVP Gabe Klassen.

“We’ve got a great group of guys here, they make it easy on me and we got a ton of good leaders on this team so it’s an honor,” Klassen says.

Klassen is a center out of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan who registered a career-high 35 goals, 34 assists and was named a U.S. Division 1st Team All-Star in his fourth season with the club.

“These games are going to be the hardest we play physically and mentally so you just have to be ready to go at all times and just have the full team going and see what we can do,” Klassen says.

The other star of the Hawks show is an 18-year-old defenseman from Burnaby, British Columbia, Luca Cagnoni.

“I think we are probably one of the tightest teams in Winterhawks history,” Cagnoni says. “We are so tight and that is kind of what makes a staple of us in games. We stick up for each other whenever something happens. We are so close that nothing can really break through us.”

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Cagnoni went from undrafted in the WHL to being a likely top 50 pick in June’s NHL draft and paces Portland with a club-best 64 points and a whopping 27 assists on the power play man advantage.

“I just try to do my best,” Cagnoni says. “I just try to put the puck in the back of the net and try to help out some other guys put the puck in the back of the net.”

Players like Luca now know what playoff hockey is all about after a second-round letdown last spring against Seattle.

“Obviously, we went through a little bit of heartbreak last year in game 7, you kind of know it’s not over until it’s over,” Cagnoni says. “We were up 3 games to 1 and somehow they crawled all the way back into it.”

Now, the seasoned Winterhawks are prepped for their next postseason stretch.

“It’s definitely not going to be hard to get up for,” Cagnoni says.

The puck drops on playoff hockey in the Rose City for a 12th straight year this Friday and Saturday night for games one and two in the best-of-seven first-round series of the Western Hockey League with a run towards the Memorial Cup.