If Mitchell Chapman is fit and ready to go this weekend for the start of the WHL playoffs, there’s no mystery what his job will entail against the high-octane Portland Winterhawks.
The big, physical, shut-down defenceman knows he’ll have his hands full with the likes of Ty Rattie (57 goals), Sven Bartschi (94 points) and Brad Ross (42 goals), but it’s a role the 19-year-old Chapman relishes.
“I’m excited about the challenge,” said Chapman, who hopes to return to the lineup for Game 1 Friday in Portland after missing the last five games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. “I feel like it elevates my game when I get to play against players like that. They’re great players and it’s going to be a big test. I’m excited to get it going.”
In Portland, the Rockets will have to contend with both the WHL’s highest-scoring team and the most potent power play.
The ‘Hawks scored 328 times in 2011-12, including 104 times (29.1 per cent) with the man advantage.
Needless to say, staying out of the penalty box will be vital if the underdog Rockets are to advance beyond the Western Conference quarterfinal.
At the same time, Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton says it’s imperative his team plays a physical, grinding and smart style against the ultra-skilled Winterhawks.
“We’re going to have to play lunch-box style, lots of body contact,” Hamilton said. “Normally teams that are of high skill aren’t as interested in that kind of activity and that’s the only way we’re going to have success.
“We have to play our game, but discipline is going to be critical. We can’t get into foolish penalties or we’ll have no chance.”
As gifted as the Winterhawks are on offense, Rockets head coach Ryan Huska said coping with Portland’s defense can be equally challenging.
Led by 21-year-old captain William Wrenn—with strong support from the likes of Troy Rutkowski, Derrick Pouliot and Joe Morrow—Huska rates the ‘Hawks blue line staff among the WHL’s finest.
“They have one of the best defensive groups in the league,” Huska said. “They’re very composed and they move pucks out of their own zone very well. We’ll need to forecheck hard, get on them quick and give them a lot less time to make decisions.”
While the status of Chapman and fellow defenceman Madison Bowey remain day-to-day for the Rockets, rearguard Myles Bell has been cleared to play Friday after missing the last two games of the regular campaign with a leg injury.
Centre Spencer Main’s status remained day-to-day as of Wednesday. The 19-year-old Main has missed 60 games this season with concussion-like symptoms.
The Winterhawks won all four regular season meetings between the clubs—6-5 in a shootout, 3-1, 4-2 and 2-1.
Games 1 and 2 will be played Friday and Saturday in Portland. Games 3 and 4 will be played in Kelowna next Tuesday and Thursday.