Roberts Lipsbergs and the T-Birds fell just short against the league's best team (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT, Wash. – Before the season began Thunderbirds Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk felt strongly that his squad could compete with the elite teams in the WHL. Sunday night they took on the Kamloops Blazers, who are the elite of the elite so far this season, and matched them step for step for 60 minutes only to fall short in overtime and lose 4-3. This is a Kamloops team that has yet to lose a game in regulation this season and features the top three scorers in the league. None of that mattered to Seattle for much of the game however.
Seattle started the game well playing a tough physical first period. Both teams went back in forth in the opening frame but neither Seattle goalie Brandon Glover or the Blazers Taran Kozun yielded any goals. It was a well played period with Kamloops having the slightest edge in shots, 15-13.
After 20 minutes of no scoring the second period proved to a wild and entertaining frame that saw the teams combine for six goals. Seattle struck first as Connor Honey threw a puck on net from the side boards that hit Kozun's skate and rebounded into the net. The fluke goal gave Seattle the lead and gave the impression that perhaps this was going to be Seattle's night. A minute later the T-Birds connected again on nice passes from Shea Theodore and Jesse Forsberg that resulted in Brendan Rouse notching his third of the season.
Down 2-0 many teams might be considered out of it, but not the Blazers. Their top line of Colin Smith, Tim Bozon and JC Lipon are as dangerous as they come and can strike at any time. Konowalchuk made sure that he matched that line with Luke Lockhart, Connor Honey and Riley Sheen all night. For the most part they played the Smith line well, often keeping the puck away from them and forcing them to play defense in their own end.
"Lockhart, I believe is one of the best two-way centermen in this league," Konowalchuk said. "So any time I could get that match up I'll take that match up. I'm really comfortable with a couple of our lines against any team's top line but Lockhart's proven to be good against those guys, they do the right thing, they play the right way and they make teams fight for every inch on the ice."
Like most great scorers, you can't keep a team like the Blazers off the board for long. They got back into the game on the power play as J.C. Lipon struck for his 14th goal on the season and Kamloops was back in it. A minute later defenseman Sam Grist fired a point shot that seemed to deflect off a Seattle defender and in, and just like that the game was tied.
Seattle didn't shrink from the pressure however as a minute later Shea Theodore turned in one of the best goals of the season. Tracking the puck down in his own end he circled his net and headed up ice with some steam. He blew through the neutral zone and beat a Kamloops defensemen to walk in on the goal. He had little room to shoot but he found a crease and beat Kozun up high to regain the lead.
"I just made my way around that d-man," Theodore said. "I got in tight there and I saw a nice spot on top corner, so I put it there."
The Blazers then were able to catch Seattle's fourth line on the ice against their top line and took advantage. Smith showed tremendous vision as he hit a streaking Lipon with the puck who fired a snap shot past Glover and the game was tied again.
In the third period the T-Birds were in hang on mode. The Blazers came out firing, out shooting Seattle 16-4, hitting two posts and doing everything but score. Glover made several nice saves to keep the game tied and into overtime.
In overtime the Blazers wasted little time to earn their 15th win on the season. Colin Smith got the puck in front of the net 25 seconds in and was able to squeeze it past Glover for his 13th of the year and end the game.
"It was a good effort," Konowalchuk said of his team. "It sucks to lose, but if we can compete like that and you don't win you can walk out knowing you gave all you have. There were some mistakes we need to correct and some things we need to work on but the guys emptied their tanks and we came up in overtime a little short."
Seattle ends their "three in three" weekend by picking up five out of the possible six points in the standings. That's a huge positive, but right after a tough loss it was hard not to feel disappointed.
"Five out of six any weekend is good," Konowalchuk said. "You do that any weekend and you're in pretty good shape, that part is good but right now, in the moment, our guys wanted that win and they played like it so we're all a little disappointed. They played a good game today. A lot of good things, we're headed in the right direction."
With the loss Seattle's record falls to 7-5-1-0 and they look to keep playing well Tuesday in Spokane.
Along with Lockhart's line, Seattle matched up Theodore and Jared Hauf on the back end against the Blazers top line. "We did a pretty good job," Theodore said. "They're definitely pretty skilled players and we just have to watch out for them next game."
One of the keys to the game was how well Kamloops killed penalties. Seattle was 0-for-3 with the man advantage which included almost a minute of 5-on-3 time that they could not cash in on.
Before the start of the second period there was a delay as the officials spent time talking to each coach. Konowalchuk was very animated speaking with the official and it sounds like perhaps Kamloops coach Guy Charron was trying to work some calls. "I guess their coach got a little upset that we were hitting them, I don't really know what his problem was," Konowalchuk said. "But their guy had a clean-cut dirty check on Rouse so there should be no [whining]."
Kamloops' top line was on the ice and involved in all four goals the Blazers scored.
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