Portland’s Winningest Team Isn’t Just About, Well, Winning

Junior hockey’s Winterhawks aim to develop pro talent. The league trophies are cool, too.

By Brendan Nagle October 23, 2019 Published in the November 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Blazers? Timbers? Thorns? Sorry, all—by one reckoning, Portland’s most successful sports team is a bunch of teenagers, most of them Canadian.

That would be the Portland Winterhawks. Part of the Western Hockey League—a stepping-stone to the pros with 22 teams, including Manitoba’s Brandon Wheat Kings, BC’s Prince
Albert Raiders, and the Tri-City Americans—they rarely miss the playoffs, and boast three league titles. But victory alone is not all the ’Hawks strive for: the club’s higher mission is to develop pro prospects. While football and hoops pro hopefuls generally play at least some college ball, in men’s hockey top youth talent and NHL draft picks typically log a few amateur seasons at the “junior” (ages 16–20) level. Portland’s squad has produced more NHL players (139) than any other in the WHL, including current stars like Columbus’s Seth Jones and Nashville’s Ryan Johansen, as well as Hall of Famers including longtime Boston Bruin Cam Neely.

Mike Johnston, the team’s long-serving VP/GM/head coach, says success feeds itself. “If we can produce NHL players,” Johnston says, “then more players will want to come to our program. And then we will win, because our players will be much better players.”

The Winterhawks play eight home games in November. 

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