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18-year-old forward scores Teddy Bear Toss goal, game-winner as Portland edges Seattle 4-3 in Saturday shootout.

COURTESY PHOTO: MATTHEW WOLFE/PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS - After scoring the first goal on Saturday, Dec. 10, Portland Winterhawks forward Marcus Nguyen celebrates by diving onto a pile of stuffed toys as bears rain down onto the Veterans Memorial Coliseum ice.Marcus Nguyen scored the shootout winning goal and the Teddy Bear Toss goal as Portland beat Seattle 4-3 in front of 9,863 fans at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The annual game to collect stuffed animals for area charities to share with children in need turned into one of the games of the year as the teams with the top two records in the Western Hockey League's Western Conference battled through overtime.

The Thunderbirds scored three times in the third period to erase a 2-0 Winterhawks lead and were in position to win, but Seattle goalie Scott Ratzlaff misplayed the puck leading to a tying goal for Portland's Luca Cagnoni off a James Stefan feed with 30 seconds left.

After a scoreless overtime, Nguyen used some clever stickwork to score his fourth shootout goal of the season. Portland goalie Dante Giannuzzi denied all three Seattle shooters — with help from the crossbar.

Nguyen gave Portland a 1-0 lead — and set off the tossing of stuffed animals — by beating Ratzlaff on a breakaway chance 8:26 into the first period. After a break to collect most of the 14,787 stuffed animals donated by fans, Dawson Pasternak scored to make it 2-0 Portland 9:15 into the game.

Those would be the only Portland goals until the desperate tying tally with Giannuzzi on the bench for a sixth attacker.

Seattle outshot Portland 35-15 over the second and third periods, much of both played in the T-Birds attacking end of the ice.

Giannuzzi finished with 31 saves, and was especially strong on Seattle's five power plays.

The win allowed the Winterhawks (20-4-2-1, 43 points) to stay just ahead of surging Seattle (19-4-1-1, 40 points) in the conference and U.S. Division standings.

Portland is back at the VMC at 5 p.m. Sunday against Everett.

Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston said the game in a playoff-like atmosphere was great experience for his club. He noted that half of this roster was introduced to playoff hockey last season, but the younger players need games like Saturday's to prepare for postseason challenges come spring.

The crowd, announced as a sellout, was the largest in several years for the Winterhawks.

"I've never played in front of a crowd that big," Nguyen said. "It was awesome seeing everyone in the city kind of come together."

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