PORTLAND -- Soon after arriving at the Memorial Coliseum for one final team meeting, the WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks posed for one last team picture. On a table in front of them were several trophies, all of which they won this season.
Ed Chynoweth's big cup was there. The Western Conference championship hardware was there too. Scotty Munro had his trophy on the table as well; his goes to the team which wins the regular season championship.
The Portland Winterhawks accomplished all of that and then some. Even their 57 regular-season victories were a franchise best.
But there was one team in all of junior hockey that was just a little bit better. The Halifax Mooseheads won both meetings with Portland during the recently concluded Memorial Cup tournament. There was an empty spot on the trophy table.
To go to the Memorial Cup and take second is not what we wanted, said first-year defenseman Seth Jones, but we know that we had a great season.
They turned in a record-setting season, and did it with an acting head coach, all while thumbing their collective noses at the league office, which came crashing down on the franchise with stiff fines and sanctions after ruling the club provided improper benefits to many of its players and their family members.
Once the final horn sounded Sunday night in Saskatoon, Mike Johnston, the biggest casualty of those sanctions, returned to his post as coach and general manager, his suspension officially lifted.
Anytime you love your job, you're anxious to get back at it, Johnston said after posing for that team photo.
His work will begin immediately. He'll return to a loaded club, but will need to fill some significant holes. Jones - among others - will attend the NHL draft combine in Toronto, and it's likely he won't be back with Portland in the fall.
We're going to have to add two or three defensemen to our core, Johnston added.
Johnston may also be looking to replace Travis Green. Green did a wonderful job filling in behind the bench, but now it's likely some other club, maybe on a higher level, will want to give him a shot to do it on a full-time basis.
I'm sure he's going to get some options, Johnston said of the coach who he never second-guessed, even as he was forced to watch all of those games from home.
That's hard to answer right now, Green said of his prospects elsewhere. It's been quite a grind and run here (this season). But I love this organization.
And the organization would love to have him back. They'd love to have every single player back for the 2013-14 season. But this is sports, and it's junior hockey so that's not possible. Age and budding careers will get in the way of continuity. But the Winterhawks do have consistency, and they just had a season for the ages.
With everything we went through, to win the WHL is unbelievable, said Ty Rattie, the WHL's all-time leader in playoffs goals scored.
So this is something I will never forget.
There isn't a hockey fan in Portland who will forget this team.
It doesn't even matter if the trophy case is going to look a little empty.