Tuesday, April 23, 2013

By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor

Marek Hrbas didn’t spend Sunday worrying about the Portland Winterhawks.
No, the Kamloops Blazers defenceman, who is from Plzen, Czech Republic, was more concerned about his beloved Miami Heat.
When the Heat opened the NBA playoffs with a 110-87 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, Hrbas was watching. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to watch Game 2 tonight because he and the Blazers will be getting ready for Game 3 of their Western Conference final with the visiting Winterhawks.
“I’m a big fan of the Heat and a huge fan of LeBron James,” Hrbas said Monday afternoon after practice at Interior Savings Centre, all the while wearing a Heat cap and a LeBron t-shirt. Yes, he also has a LeBron bobblehead.
Hrbas said he has played basketball pretty much all of his life. He played street ball in Plzen and also watched as much NBA on TV as he could. These days, he watches and plays “whenever I can.”
Hrbas, who turned 20 on March 4, admits that he was attracted by the entertainment spectacle that is the NBA.
“I like that it’s about the fans,” he explained. “I like the dunks and how they sell it and all those things.”
Hrbas has been to two NBA games, one in Detroit and another in Portland where he saw the Trail Blazers beat the Dallas Mavericks on a buzzer-beater.
“It was very cool,” he said, adding that the court appeared smaller in person than it looks on TV, but that the players “are huge.”
“I got close to the bench. It’s a different world,” the 5-foot-11 Hrbas said, with a chuckle. “They are really huge.”
Hrbas said he played for his high school team in Plzen, where his coach nicknamed him “Golden Wrist.”
“I made pretty much every shot,” a chuckling Hrbas said. “I wish I was taller, that’s all.”
But is he the best hoops player on the Blazers?
“I think so. I think I’m the best shooter,” he said, adding that 6-foot-4 defenceman Sam Grist “is pretty good, but he’s taller.”
Hrbas added: “We always play 21 . . . and I’ve never been beaten here. So. . . .”
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There are more and more signs pointing towards Portland D Seth Jones as the No. 1 selection in the NHL’s 2013 draft.
“People have marveled at (the Minnesota Wild's) Jonas Brodin and (Boston Bruins’) Dougie Hamilton and what they have done this season,” NBC analyst Pierre McGuire told Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. "But Seth Jones is probably a step up on both of those players.
"He's the franchise defenceman every team is looking for. His ability to one-time the puck is huge. He can really skate. He can log big minutes. He's not going to be intimidated."
Former NHL general manager Craig Button, who now works for TSN, told Allen: “To me, (Jones) is as clear-cut a No. 1 as you can be."
NHL Central Scouting will release its final 2013 rankings on Wednesday.
The 2013 draft is scheduled for June 30 in the Prudential Centre in Newark, N.J.
———
Portland F Ty Rattie was saluted as the WHL’s player of the week yesterday, with Portland’s Mac Carruth taking the goaltending honours.
Rattie had two goals and four assists as the Winterhawks opened the Western Conference final with 4-1 and 4-0 home-ice victories.
Carruth, meanwhile, stopped 60 of 61 shots in the two games.
In April, Carruth is 7-0 with a 0.71 GAA and a .975 save percentage. He has allowed one or fewer goals in five straight games.
———
JUST NOTES: The Winterhawks, who have won seven straight playoff games, are 10-2 in this postseason. They also have six players averaging at least a point per game, led by Rattie, who leads all WHLers with 25 points. . . . Portland’s Derrick Pouliot leds all WHL defencemen with 15 points. . . . The Eastern Conference resumes tonight in Calgary. The Hitmen and Edmonton Oil Kings are 1-1.

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