MEDICINE HAT, Alta. - The struggling Portland Winter Hawks employed a new strategy Friday night: burst out to an early lead, then hold on for dear life.
In what can be termed the major upset of the young WHL season, the basement-dwelling Winter Hawks defeated the Central Division-leading Medicine Hat Tigers 4-3. The outcome sent a sellout crowd of 4,006 fans home in a state of shock.
Portland improved to 3-13 with the win, while the Tigers fell to 12-4-2.
"We kind of blew that game a bit, especially in the first five to 10 minutes," said Tigers captain Daine Todd, whose team is ranked 10th in this week's CHL rankings. "It wasn't good. We just came out flat.
"I think we have done that a few times this year. Hopefully, we learn from that and definitely don't make that mistake again."
Portland jumped on the Tigers early. Just 21 seconds into the game, Winter Hawks right-winger Nick Hotson swerved around Tigers starter Tomas Vosvrda and deposited the puck into the goal.
The Winter Hawks followed with a three-goal outburst to take a 4-1 lead before the Tigers closed to 4-3 heading into the first intermission.
Left-winger Viktor Sjodin scored Portland's first road power-play goal of the season. Matt Schmermund and Frazer McLaren scored Portland's other two goals in the opening period, while Todd, Jordan Hickmott and Mark Isherwood replied for Medicine Hat.
Vosvrda was pulled after Portland's fourth goal having faced only 10 shots. Ryan Holfeld came in and stopped all 12 shots he faced the rest of the way.
"It is hard to explain," said Tigers associate coach Shaun Clouston about the opening 20 minutes. "There were a couple of really scrambly-type goals, where the puck found the back of the net for both teams.
"I think after that, both teams kind of settled down. It was a lot more structured game. A start like that you just don't see very often in the game anymore."
While the Tigers played a better second period, there were still signs they were having trouble getting an offensive rhythm. This was best shown when Todd and linemate Yashar Farmanara accidentally collided with each other at the Portland blue-line.
In the third period, the Tigers pretty much fired everything they had at the Portland net out shooting the Winter Hawks 19-7 in the frame. Goaltender Kurtis Mucha made 41 saves overall to preserve the win for his club.
Winter Hawks centre and former Tiger Tyler Swystun said he enjoyed coming back and beating his old team.
"It was pretty exciting for me and Undy (injured Portland centre and former Tiger Kevin Undershute)," said Swystun, who earned an assist and improved his team-leading point total to 11. "It is hard to lose against them, but we managed to get the win tonight.
"We were pretty happy afterwards. Hopefully, we can come up with another win or two the next couple of road games."