PORTLAND- The Winterhawks are gearing up for a new season and are right where they want to be, playing hockey.

It s my life, says Hawks center Chase De Leo. It s everything I live for. I couldn't t imagine myself doing anything else. The 17-year-old De Leo is back for his third year in Portland. Chase scored 18 goals last season and helped the Winterhawks win their first WHL League title in 15 years. They reached the championship game of the Memorial Cup tournament before losing to Halifax.

Winning the WHL is something De Leo will never forget. All the boys really became a family, De Leo said. It was honestly an unbelievable experience. Words can t even describe how it felt and just being in the Rose Garden with all those fans behind us. There s nothing like it.

Background: Leipsic's 4 goals leads Winterhawks comeback

The Hawks will raise the Western Hockey League Championship banner when they open the season against Prince George, Friday Sept. 20 at the Moda Center.

The Winterhawks have eight of their best players away at NHL training camps including Brendan Leipsic, Nic Petan and Derrick Pouliot. That opens the door for younger players like forward Ethan Price from Lincoln, Nebraska.

Oh, it s unbelievable, said Price. I m playing with NHL ers every day, just getting better each day. With coach Mike and everybody it s just a great atmosphere.

Hawks Head Coach Mike Johnston took over the team five years ago. In the last four seasons the Hawks have averaged 50 wins a season.

It s good for us to really focus on a small group right now, Johnson said. The veterans have better habits. They understand how we want to play. They understand what their roles and responsibilities are. So it s a little bit easier to work them in. This is a new group and this is a group that is excited to really establish their identity and establish their mark on the Winterhawks.

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