Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Wenatchee battles to final horn in 5-3 loss to finish 2023-24 home slate


WENATCHEE – The Wenatchee Wild erased a two-goal lead against one of the Western Hockey League’s best teams on Saturday night, and with the clock winding down and the Wild on a power play, they nearly did it a second time.

Marcus Nguyen bookended the scoring for the Portland Winterhawks in a 5-3 win at Wenatchee, giving Portland the WHL’s U.S. Division title and keeping them in the hunt for a Western Conference championship. The game marked the end of Wenatchee’s first regular-season home schedule in the WHL, and its best season at the gate in more than a decade.

The first Winterhawks lead appeared four minutes into the game, when Marcus Nguyen hit the net from the left-wing faceoff circle. The Wild stayed close to their visitors going into the second period, despite surrendering 11 of the game’s first 15 shots, including the last six of the opening stanza. Josh Mori sent a wrist shot to the top of the net 6:50 into the second period for a 2-0 margin.

Wenatchee didn’t wait long to respond – Caelan Joudrey earned his first WHL assist by feeding a pass ahead to Hayden Moore for a finish in transition, and the lead dropped to 2-1 less than a minute later. The Wild out-shot their guests 13-4 in the second period, and with 3:17 off the clock in the third, Evan Friesen found Miles Cooper on the back post to bang in a one-timer and tie the contest.

The tie lasted four minutes – Luca Cagnoni’s toss from the top of the offensive zone sneaked past Brendan Gee at 7:08 of the third to put the Winterhawks in front again. Nate Danielson’s snap down the slot at 11:40 put Portland in front by two goals again, but Wenatchee answered one more time on the power play, thanks to a wrist shot from Kenta Isogai at the left-wing faceoff dot with 1:41 to play. Nguyen ended the game with his second goal, depositing a sharp-angle puck into the empty Wenatchee net with 36 seconds remaining.

“It was a really good hockey game tonight,” said assistant coach Andrew Sarauer. “Right from the start, I liked the way our guys were competing, winning races in the corners, keeping pucks alive. Our defensemen were active, jumping up all night. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way at the end, but it was a really good hockey game tonight against a really good team. It had that playoff feel, and our guys wanted it. They were hungry.”

Graham Sward finished with a pair of assists to lead the Wenatchee offense, as the Wild went 2-for-4 on the power play. Gee made 18 saves to take the loss, as Wenatchee dropped to 33-27-4-0 on the year. Jan Spunar stopped 27 shots to pick up his 24th win for the Winterhawks, and help his team climb to 46-15-2-1. Danielson led the Portland effort with a goal and two assists, finishing as one of five Winterhawks players with more than one point in the game. Both teams enjoyed a measure of success on the power play, with Portland finishing 1-for-4 on the man-advantage.

With Saturday’s home finale, the Wild also saw their first home season in the WHL officially come to an end, with some memorable totals at the box office. Wenatchee celebrated the market’s first-ever season with 100,000 fans through the doors, and the per-game attendance mark of 3,030 was the best in the market since 2011. Wenatchee is guaranteed to host no fewer than two postseason games as well, with its WHL playoff bid already locked up and the magic number to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round parked at five points.


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