On Sunday, the Portland Bluebacks made their eagerly-awaited debut at Willamette River Arena. The former Seattle Sailors have spent the last several months in their new hometown, meeting the fans and building up excitement for hockey in the Rose City. Since the team held their uniform unveiling at the beginning of December, anticipation has reached a fever pitch.
“It feels like we’re a part of the city already,” said RW Vince Mango. “But until we actually hit the ice, it’s not going to feel 100% real.”
The matchup for the Bluebacks’ first game was a favorable one, as they faced the rebuilding Dakota Jackalopes. A sellout crowd came hungry for victory. And the Bluebacks were able to send their fans home happy, dispatching the Jackalopes by a 3-2 score.
“We really wanted to get this first one at home,” said Bluebacks coach Harold Engellund. “It was a little closer than we wanted, but we’ll take it.”
It took all of 33 seconds for Portland to get on the board for the first time. Bluebacks D Stan Gallagher picked off a Dakota pass in the neutral zone and fed RW Philippe Durien, who ripped a shot past the blocker of Jackalopes goalie Lorne Mollenkamp. The team’s goal song, “Smoke It” by the Dandy Warhols, blared as the fans roared their approval.
Less than four minutes later, the Bluebacks got their first power play, as Jackalopes D Kirby Hanlon was sent off for elbowing. On the ensuing power play, Mango deked the defense by faking a slapper, then fed D Benny Lambert, who found the back of the net, triggering another round of the Dandy Warhols.
Dakota cut the margin in half before the opening period ended, however, and they refused to let the Bluebacks put the game away. Although Portland dominated the puck, outshooting Dakota 50-25, Mollenkamp made a number of dazzling saves to keep his team from falling too far behind. Things got a bit too close for comfort at the end, when RW Elliott Pepper took a double-minor with two and a half minutes remaining and the Bluebacks up by only a single goal. But the penalty kill came through, and the home team came away with the victory.
“The energy in the arena was electric,” said Mango, who had an assist in the game. “It was one big party. The fans were really vibing with us, and it was awesome. I hope we can keep that energy for the rest of the year.”