Updated Jan 20, 2013 - 7:42 am
T-Birds stun Portland to end losing streak
Seattle's Connor Honey had a big game as the T-Birds ended their 15 game losing streak (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT - The streak is over. The Thunderbirds beat the WHL's best team, the Portland Winterhawks, 4-3 Saturday night in front of 6,009 fans to end their 15 game losing streak. Seattle got goals from Roberts Lipsbergs, Connor Honey, Brendan Troock and new comer Adam Kambeitz to pace them to the win.
The relief was felt everywhere in the building, from ushers, the fans and the players, everyone was glad to be rid of this season long losing streak.
"It was really needed," Seth Swenson said. "It took us way to long, we know that we still have to get better but it's nice to win again."
From the opening face off the T-Birds played with a determination that had not been seen during this losing streak. They dictated the play, were physical and made smart decisions with the puck. It was going to take an effort like that to end the streak against the league's best, and is a glimpse of what this team can accomplish when it's firing on all cylinders.
"It was a good effort and a smart effort," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said about the game. "You know what, guys stuck to the game plan, they all stuck to it, they worked hard, they worked smart, everyone really chipped in, it was a good team win. We had guys killing penalties, the shut-down line did an excellent job, our offensive guys scored but they also played within our system."
Despite their early stellar play Portland struck first when Brendan Leipsic turned in a highlight reel goal. He had the puck in the Seattle zone with one player to beat. He spun around and fired a wrist shot that seemed to surprise goalie Brandon Glover. It was the kind of moment that seemed too familiar during the losing streak, a good period ruined by one goal against.
Tonight was different though, the T-Birds fought back, they responded, and tied the game up minutes later when Roberts Lipsbergs beat Portland's Brian Burke. It was Lipsbergs 18th of the year and it brought down a rain of teddy bears from the crowd. It was Seattle's annual teddy bear toss game and Lipsbergs goal caused a twenty minute delay as the team cleaned up the bears.
Seattle took the lead later in the period when the Alexander Delnov line, which was good all night, struck again. Delnov took a shot that Burke stopped but the rebound went off a driving Connor Honey's skate and into the net. The goal was reviewed but it was determined that Honey did not kick it and the play stood.
"I was just driving the net hard," Honey said. "I kind of got hauled down and it went off my skate. You drive the net you're going to get rewarded like that. It had been a while since I've scored so it felt good. They all count."
Portland is a dangerous team and despite being out-shot by Seattle all night they fired back and tied the game early in the second period. Leipsic stole the puck at his own blue line and sent Nic Petan and Ty Rattie loose on a two-on-none breakaway. The two passed the puck and Rattie beat Glover, who really had no chance on the play. The goal was another moment where the T-Birds could have wilted.
Instead they kept fighting back.
Four minutes later Swenson turned in the first of his great forechecking plays as he stole the puck from behind the Portland net and found Troock in the slot. Troock wasted no time in getting the puck on net and in. Just like that Seattle took the lead back and was a sure sign that tonight was going to be different.
"I'm just working hard, trying to get pucks on net," Swenson said about the play. "Keeping it simple, that's my game and it was working out for us today."
In past games against Portland Seattle was guilty of giving the Winterhawks too much respect and maybe playing a little scared against them. That wasn't the case tonight. Plays like Swenson's showed that the T-Birds were leaving it all on the ice and winning battles. Later in the second period defenseman Jesse Forsberg made one of the biggest statements in the game. He caught Leipsic skating up ice with the puck and his head down. Forsberg delivered a crushing blow that sent Leipsic to the ice and the Seattle bench roared in approval. Those kind of plays set the tone.
"If you're into the game and you play smart it (the hit) brings some life," Konowalchuk said. "But on the big hits we didn't run out of position, we had composure so it was good."
In the third period Seattle got an insurance goal as Swenson once again stole the puck deep in the Winterhawks zone and got it to Kambeitz who was parked on the doorstep. He deked Burke and deposited the puck for his first goal since joining the T-Birds at the trade deadline. From there it was hang on time as the clock did not seem to move fast enough. Portland got a goal late from Nic Petan to get to within one and then the T-Birds leaned on Glover to make some key saves down the stretch.
As the final horn sounded the building went crazy and the T-Birds mobbed Glover to celebrate the win, and the end of their miserable losing streak.
"It feels great," Honey said. "I thought we played pretty good in Everett, we just didn't get the bounces and had a couple of selfish penalties. A lot of guys stepped up tonight, I thought it was a great team effort. From the defensive zone, just buying in and no turnovers, its a pretty simple game like that, it just feels great winning again."
Saturday night was the first time during the losing streak that Seattle was at full strength. Their depth showed as they were able to roll four lines out all night and got contributions from each.
"It's nice to have a four line team," Konowalchuk said. "There were some guys that didn't get much ice that could easily have played more minutes, guys are fresh, we can skate. If you can roll your lines like that and not over-tax guys and match up how you want to you can out-skate some teams and skate with the top teams."
This losing streak started on December 8th with a loss to this same Winterhawks team, and it had to feel good to end it against the same team, the best team in the league and a bitter rival.
"I told the guys that when things are going the way they are I don't really care who we play, let's just keep playing," Konowalchuk said. "Let's just keep playing and work through it. Any time you can beat a top team though you have to be proud of yourselves so I guess that makes you feel good because they are the best team and we played a pretty good game against them."
Seattle is back in action Sunday evening as they host the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the ShoWare Center at 5 pm.
Roberts Lipsbergs got the teddy bear goal on Saturday. Was there a lot of talking before hand about who was going to get it? "I got it last year," said Honey. "So I said I'd get an assist this year." Honey had the primary assist on Lipsbergs goal.
Defenseman Shea Theodore was a healthy scratch for Seattle last night. This comes on the heels of him not seeing the ice in the third period against Everett as the coaches clearly are looking for improved play from him.
The game was played clean last night, there were only three power plays awarded on the night, two for Portland and one for Seattle.
One of the biggest reasons for the prolonged losing streak was the lack of scoring. Tonight's four goals was the second most they scored during the streak and a big reason why they were able to end it. Not only the goals but the consistent pressure and pucks on net the T-Birds had. They out-shot Portland on the night, something that doesn't happen to the Winterhawks very often and a good sign for Seattle moving forward.
Here are you slump-busting game highlights:
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