The success of the Portland Winterhawks’ (57-12-1-2) season has been highlighted by milestones of big name players like career saves leader Mac Carruth, and WHL scoring title winners Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic (120 points each).
While these record breaking efforts are a huge part of why the Winterhawks finished in first place in the Western Hockey League, they overshadow a secret weapon for the team.
That weapon is the line of Oliver Bjorkstrand, Chase De Leo and Taylor Leier. In the last quarter of the season, the young trio has proven to be nearly as potent as the stat heavy line of Rattie, Leipsic and Petan.
The line started out as an experiment but has since developed chemistry that can maintain the unrelenting attack and fast pace that the team likes to implement.
Leier, a 19 year old from Saskatoon, SK attributes the success to the matching up by Head Coach, Travis Green.
“From the beginning of the year we’ve been trying to find chemistry in the second and third lines,” Leier said. “Coach put (our line) together about two months ago and it’s carried on from there and we really have some confidence going.”
Entering into the playoffs, the fire power of the second line can make all the difference in a close game. The line expects to contribute even more in the postseason now that they have hit their stride.
“It’s definitely important this late in the season that we’re clicking,” De Leo, a 17 year old from La Mirada, CA said. “We’re more confident than ever right now and going into the playoffs, all the boys are positive.”
Bjorkstrand, a 17 year old from Herning Denmark, the leading scorer of the line (63 points) and team Co-Rookie of the Year (with Seth Jones) agrees that the added depth of their line will be a key to making a run at the Memorial Cup.
“Going into the playoffs it is a good thing that we have found this chemistry because we need two good lines to go score goals,” Bjorkstrand said.
The talent level of the line was never in question, as De Leo and Leier are both second year players who contributed as rookies, and Bjorkstrand was selected to play on Denmark’s national team in the 2012 World Junior Championships. The surprise is that such a young line came together late in the season and develop such a high level of play.
Having a second line that is as good as or better than many teams’ first line is a big reason that Portland leads the league in scoring by 25 goals. The youth of line is a promising indicator of things to come for the team because they can play together for at least one or two more years.
With the playoffs commencing on Friday, the team knows what to expect after coming so close to winning it all last year when they were defeated by the Edmonton Oil Kings.
In the words of Leier, “We know it is a game of inches, so if you want to be a championship team, you have to play the perfect game.” The team will look to do just that at the Rose Garden against the eighth seeded Everett Silvertips on Friday.