Updated Dec 26, 2012 - 8:37 pm
Catching up with T-Birds General Manager Russ Farwell
The T-Birds have had some things to celebrate in the first half (Photo courtesy of Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds completed the first half of the WHL season on a down note. They hit the break with a five game winless streak and find themselves one game under .500 at 16-17-1-1. Despite the recent stumble there have been some good moments in the first half, some reasons to be optimistic and some things to be improved upon.
Prior to the last home game against Tri-City, Seattle general manager Russ Farwell was kind enough to spend some time with me to chat about the first half of the season, areas the club can improve, Mathew Barzal and the trade deadline.
"We've been up and down," Farwell says of the first half. "A lot of positives in that we're coming together offensively, scoring some nice goals and we see some chemistry with the Delnov line. We've had pretty good balance with three lines and I think there's still lots of growth still to come with a lot of those guys, so that's good."
A lot of attention has been placed on the young Seattle defense this year and they've had their moments, and their struggles. How does Farwell feel about their play so far?
"Hauf has really grown and stepped up," he says. "Forsberg's been steady but I think every one has another level yet. Forsberg can polish his game a lot and I think Hauf needs to build on what he's done and take that step to keep showing he's a prospect. Theo is the guy that, as he goes we go, he can help, we play so much less in our own end when he's going but he needs to work on consistency because if you're going to be a top end guy it's not what you did last night, its what's coming."
One of the positives so far this season is that several players on the roster are on pace to improve on their numbers from last year. That includes some of the more veteran guys like Luke Lockhart and Brendan Rouse.
"Locks is back," says Farwell. "All I would say is he's back to where I thought he was two years ago. Last year was an off year for him as far as numbers. He still played well defensively and now he's getting his shot away and getting some good goals. Rouse is that quiet, dependable guy who's also going well."
Farwell and the club made two first-round selections in this past year's CHL Import Draft picking up Alex Delnov and Roberts Lipsbergs. Both players have been great additions to the club as Lipsbergs leads the team in scoring and Delnov is fourth. Bringing players over from Europe is not always a sure thing but it appears that the T-Birds are happy with what they are getting out of these two guys.
"It's very much a roll of the dice but we are happy," Farwell says of the two imports. "They're both good citizens, both good kids. Delnov has star ability and boy, Lipsbergs is a good solid player. Everyone likes 'Lippy, he's always smiling and he's always into it."
The T-Birds also made three big acquisitions this summer as they picked up goalie Brandon Glover, winger Riley Sheen and defenseman Jesse Forsberg in trades. So far all three have played a major role with the club. I asked Farwell to comment on each.
On Glover: "A real good older guy. He's been on the brink of having some great games and we get a little sloppy and his numbers suffer. His numbers aren't as good as he's played. He's given us good goal tending and he is a real steady, nice guy."
On Forsberg: "Forsberg's key to us. You can look at him two ways, he's a wonderful competitor and he wins a lot of battles, plays so hard and we really needed that, just picture our team without him, but I think in his case we have to make sure that you don't just get comfortable with a guy's play. You have to keep pushing him to get better and make simpler plays and higher percentage plays."
On Sheen: "I like Sheen. He's a competitor, he's a couragous kid. He got hurt on the east trip, spent three days on crutches and never missed a game. He has moves in practice and in games, you see him handle it and he doesn't get everything out of those skills yet, but he's coming. He's only 18 and this is the first year he's really played regularly. He's going to be a good, good player by the time he's done in junior. When it's tough going he's one guy you can really count on to play hard."
The WHL trade deadline is fast approaching and it will be the last chance to make any moves this year. How active does Farwell see the team being?
"You know, we've got that big question out there of how healthy is Branden Troock going to be," Farwell says. "If we knew we could count on him we will be adding a guy who can play in our top six. If we didn't have Troock at all, we have to add a forward, we only have twelve and that's hard - depth wise. We may trade a defenseman but I don't know if we will have to do that. We're going to see where we are that first week after Christmas, see where Troock is at and adjust from there."
When Seattle picked up Seth Swenson from Portland last year they picked up a couple of first round draft picks. The second of those is in next season's first round and could be a trade chip. Would Farwell be willing to part with that, for the right deal?
"We would give it up," Farwell said. "But not for a short term guy. We have a bit of a hole on our list for 17 year-old forwards so I would give it up for that guy, but I don't see that trade out there."
One of the big down points of this first half was the retirement of Tyler Alos. Alos was a spark plug for the team, a leader on and off the ice and a player that could contribute in many aspects of the game.
"It was tough," Farwell says of Alos. "He is the type of guy who could step up and play on your second line and he's a real solid third line guy and gave us that depth we thought we had. Alos was a real blow because he was in the best shape of his life, he really built himself up to be a strong man so he was way more effective. He's going to be here through the year and we'll see if it works out for both of us next year."
Farwell went on to say that Alos is working with the coaching staff breaking down film while working with other aspects of the hockey operations. Alos plans on attending college later this year.
One of the burning questions in T-Birds nation is the status of last year's top draft pick Mathew Barzal. Barzal has yet to sign with the club and has said that he is keeping his options open, but continues to say the WHL is his preference. Are the T-Birds still optimistic that he will sign?
"Well, we are optimistic," Farwell says. "We talk, we stay in contact. We invited him in for Christmas and he said he'd rather wait until the end of the year so we're still optimistic that he wants to play in the league and we'll be excited to have him."
The T-Birds get back to business this Friday with a home and home series with the Everett Silvertips. What would Farwell like to see the team continue to do or improve on in the second half?
"Well I'd like to see a healthy Troock," he says. "I think we like the Delnov line, they're exciting and are a real plus. We need Hickman to Keep progressing. I think the balance is still a big deal, one night its Swenson-Sanvido, the next night Rouse, so the balance is real important for us. Then as a unit our D has to be consistent. We like our team, we like our guys and we just have to decide what we want to add."
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