Flames prospect Wotherspoon playing key shutdown role for WHL champs
Portland defenceman forms one half of superstar pairing with potential first overall pick Seth Jones
There is a loading dock at the Memorial Coliseum where the Portland Winterhawks drop their gear off and enter into the arena.
Mentally and physically exhausted, the newly crowned 2013 Western Hockey League champions arrived at their home rink Monday afternoon to find a group of 400 assembled fans which had followed their Game 6 dispatching of the Edmonton Oil Kings in the league final on Sunday.
Which, of course, reminded them of their next task ahead.
“(Sunday night) we were talking,” said Winterhawks defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon, a signed-draft pick of the Calgary Flames. “And yeah, we’re tired. We feel kind of sore. It was a battle of a series, Edmonton was a really good team. But you get home and see that crowd, it just rejuvenates you . . . now we just want to go and win a Memorial Cup and want it to start on Saturday.”
The schedule leaves little time for the WHL representatives to prepare for the Canadian Hockey League championship tournament, which goes from May 17 to May 26 in Saskatoon.
The star-studded Winterhawks, who open against the Quebec Junior Hockey League champion Halifax Mooseheads, fly out Wednesday.
Taking a deep breath on Monday, Wotherspoon recalls the process fellow Flames draft pick and longtime pal Laurent Brossoit went through last year when the roles were reversed and the Oil Kings eliminated Portland to go to the Cup.
“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Wotherspoon said. “It’s hard to take it all in right now. We’re all going out to dinner (Monday) and get back to work with a practice (Tuesday) and start preparing. Game 7 is finishing up tonight in the Ontario (between the Barrie Colts and London Knights) and we’ll prepare for Halifax (Tuesday).
“A quick turnaround, I actually didn’t expect it to be this quick until last year when I saw Brossoit go.”
Then again, who is complaining? Definitely not Wotherspoon, who recently signed a three-year entry level contract worth $925,000 per season — a big indicator that these are his final days of junior hockey. Wotherspoon, now the Flames’ lone signed-representative at the Memorial Cup, received a few text-messages of congratulations from management on Monday.
The six-foot-two, 203-pound Surrey, B.C., native was drafted 57th overall by Calgary in 2011 and has been a core part of Portland’s defence, especially in the last two years. And especially in the post-season.
He and potential No. 1 draft pick Seth Jones are sure to make their Memorial Cup competition skittish, especially given the way they contained the high-powered Oil Kings, limiting them to 10 goals the entire series.
A typical defence-first player, Wotherspoon is complimented by the smooth-skating Jones who likes to jump into the play.
The two rarely get caught. The two rarely get scored on (finishing a combined plus-26 in 21 games of playoffs).
“I couldn’t ask for a better partner in the CHL, really,” said Wotherspoon who finished with a pair of goals and eight assists in the WHL post-season while Jones had five goals and 10 assists. “It’s been great. We’re both really good skaters, we both think the game really well. We kind of compliment each other that way and kind of cover for each other’s mistakes.
“When one guy goes up, he backs the other guy up. It’s really awesome how that works out.”
The pairing of Portland captain and Ottawa Senators-signed draft pick Troy Rutkowski and Pittsburgh Penguins draft-pick Derrick Pouliot also has been dominant during the WHL playoffs which included a six-game first round series against the Everett Silvertips, a second round sweep of the Spokane Chiefs, and five games against the Kamloops Blazers in the third round.
But now, it’s Game On for their defence — especially against the Mooseheads’ Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, who are expected to go No. 2 and 3 behind Jones at the draft.
“It’s going to be a really good test going up against those guys,” said Wotherspoon, who played with both with the Canadian world junior team this winter in Ufa. “I’ve kind of got a taste of it, practising with them at the world juniors. We’re going to do our best to shut those guys down — they’ve had a really spectacular year so far. We have as good a shot as anybody.
“We think we’ll be fine.”
Truth be told, however, it’s been a long time coming for his squad which finally got their hands on the Cup after coming up short in the final the previous two seasons and are gearing up for one last round.
“It’s cool to see the energy in the room actually,” he said. “Even with such a hard-fought series, all the boys just want to get back out there and win another championship. That’s exactly what I want to do.
“This could be my last kick at the can and I just want to win a championship.”
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