Updated Jan 26, 2013 - 8:58 am
T-Birds come up short against Rockets in overtime
Seattle's Riley Sheen takes aim at Jackson Whistle of the Kelowna Rockets (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
BY Andrew Eide
KENT - A night after getting blasted by Kelowna in Canada the Thunderbirds returned home to face the same Rockets squad in Kent Friday night. They turned in a much better performance, leading the Rockets for much of the game before finally succumbing and losing 4-3 in overtime. Tyson Baillie scored the game winner for Kelowna, 3:38 into the extra frame to send the Rockets to their 32nd win and their 28th in the last 32. While Seattle lost, there was plenty of positives.
Thursday night Seattle simply did not show up. That was not the case on Friday night as they came out a good jump, played physical and matched Kelowna, one of the best teams in the league. Seattle got on the board first while on an early power play Seth Swenson made a nice cross ice pass to Riley Sheen who beat Rockets' goaltender Jackson Whistle between his legs. It was Sheen's 9th goal of the year and it signaled that Friday night was not going to be a repeat of the 8-0 drubbing Kelowna handed the T-Birds on Thursday.
"Good effort today," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "There's a lot of disappointed guys with the result obviously, they all battled hard, there were still some mistakes, but it is hockey and there's going to be a few mistakes but when everyone's competing and sacrificing you give yourselves a chance to win every hockey game against whoever you play."
Seattle extended that lead 43 seconds into the second period as Sheen made a nice play at center ice, chipping the puck ahead to spring Adam Kambeitz free on a two-on-one with Connor Sanvido. Kambeitz held the puck and ripped a shot that beat Whistle up high and gave Seattle a 2-0 lead. For Kambeitz, who was picked up from Saskatoon at the trade deadline, it was his 11th goal of the season and his second big goal with Seattle (he's also added two assists in eight games). It can take a while for a player to feel at home with his new team, but Kambeitz seems to be doing just that. He's scored big goals and is wearing the 'A' as an alternate captain.
"It's a really good group of guys here," Kambeitz said of his new team. "Everyone is easy to get along with and I'm settling in so I feel comfortable, makes it really nice."
There's an adage in hockey that the worst lead to protect is the two goal lead. That adage proved to be true as Kelowna, the top scoring team in the league, got back into the game less than a minute after Kambeitz's goal as Ryan Olsen flung a puck towards the Seattle net and it beat Brandon Glover. Seattle did not wilt however, they fought back and two minutes later Jerret Smith's shot from the point was deflected beautifully by Andrew Johnson and in the net to build the T-Bird's two goal lead back again.
A key moment in the game came early in a Seattle power play eight minutes into the period. The T-Birds coughed up the puck and Scott Sissons picked it up and found himself on a two-on-one shorthanded break away. He got the puck to Dylen McKinlay who had a wide open net to get the puck in, he didn't miss. The goal cut the Seattle lead back to one and gave the Rockets some momentum.
"Anytime you give up a shortie (it's bad)," Konowalchuk said. "But, we still fought and it didn't change our mindset. Our guys kept going out there and competed but that's a big point in the hockey game right there if we're able to score there and they don't."
The third period was a back and forth affair that saw both teams get some good chances with both goalies keeping their teams in it. The shots were 11-10 in Kelowna's favor and as the clock wore down it looked like Seattle was going to hang on for a tough win. That feeling evaporated however as Zach Franko was able to squeeze the puck in the net to tie the game with just over two minutes left in the period.
"They got possession with the puck," Konowalchuk said of the tying goal. "We didn't expand quick enough in the slot, it was sort of a scramble play and it found its way in."
The game went into overtime with Seattle on the power play. They had several close calls to win it while on the power play, at one point a bouncing puck got over Shea Theodore's stick while he had a wide open net. It was a bad 'puck-luck' moment and Kelowna took advantage of the break as Baillie got the game winner two minutes later.
In the end it was a good game played against one of the best and hottest teams in the league. While there are very few moral victories this game could give Seattle some belief, especially after getting blown out the night before.
"You know, a lot of guys were called out (Thursday night)," Kambeitz said. "We wanted a response and guys needed to respond and everyone did that. We played our system, stuck to our system, they have a good hockey team over there but we proved to ourselves that we can play with the top teams in our conference, I think we need to bring that consistent effort going forward."
Playing hard and leaving it all out on the ice is something that Konowalchuk has been preaching to this team all year. Friday night was an example of the team doing that, despite the loss.
"There's not one player who's effort I'm disappointed in tonight," Konowalchuk said. "There's a little bit of execution that can improve, the Lispsbergs, Delly, Honey line is a little too cute right now, trying too many fancy plays, that being said at least they're competing, you can live with mistakes but we want them to score goals."
Seattle next plays on Tuesday night as they host the Prince George Cougars at the ShoWare Center in a game that has some big playoff spot implications.
Seattle got seven power play chances and was only able to convert on one. Kelowna has one of the best penalty kills in the league and may have been the difference in the game. Konowalchuk would like to see more goals but did feel that the team generated some good chances and a few flurries with the man advantage.
Not only has Kambeitz chipped in with four points since joining the club, he has found himself centering what is becoming Seattle's shut down line. With Sheen and Connor Sanvido on the wings they have taken on the top lines each night. They did a great job Friday against a powerful Rockets team. Konowalchuk likes the chemistry that the three are forming and likes that they relish the assignment each night. "I think you just got to keep it simple," Kambeitz said of playing a shut down line. "You don't want to be forcing plays, being strong on both blue lines, making sure you're getting pucks out and getting pucks in."
Along with Kambeitz, newcomer Andrew Johnson has contributed nicely since joining Seattle. After only scoring five goals in 42 games with Moose Jaw he has already potted three in eight games with Seattle. Johnson and Kambeitz have combined for eight points in eight games since joining the club and have found homes on both special teams. Kambeitz is an over-ager and won't be back next year but Johnson could be a nice contributer to the team next season, as well as the rest of this one.
With Prince George coming in on Tuesday the playoff race is heating up. The Cougars lost to Everett last night which put them six points behind the T-Birds and vaulted Everett to five points ahead of Seattle.
Here are the game highlites:
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