By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds traveled south Friday night to take on their friendly rivals, the Portland Winterhawks. After hanging with top ranked Portland for forty minutes the T-Birds gave up four third period goals as the game turned into a laugher. The Winterhawks were paced by WHL leading scorer Brandon Leipsic who notched a hat trick, bringing his goal total up to 48 on the season.
Despite the score Seattle played well for most of this game. After falling behind 2-0 on goals by Leipsic the T-Birds got some momentum when Seth Swenson banged away at a loose puck on the power play and was able to get it past Brendan Burke. Seattle managed to out shoot Portland in the first period 13-11 and seemed energized by the late power play goal.
Seattle tied the game early in what would turn out to be a wild second period when Justin Hickman got a great feed from Swenson and whipped a wrist shot past Burke. It was Hickman's 12th goal of the season and Seattle seemed to be in business.
The Winterhawks, as they often do, took the lead back a minute later as Ty Rattie was left alone in the high slot and fired a knuckle ball shot that seemed to fool Seattle goalie Danny Mumaugh. Mumuagh was making his second straight start as he continued to fill in for the suspended Brandon Glover.
As they did earlier the T-Birds battled back to tie the game. Taylor Green battled for the puck down low, won his battle and flipped it to Adam Kambeitz who was parked right in front of the net. Kambeitz wasted no time in firing a quick shot that beat Burke on the short side. Seattle had managed to fight back for a second time in the game and seemed to be playing with a swagger that they rarely have shown in Portland.
Seattle had several chances after that to take the lead. Luke Lockhart was stymied on a short-handed break away. Later Kambeitz also had a free run at Burke that the goalie turned aside and to complete the trifecta Shea Theodore had his turn, and was turned away.
A bit turning point came late in the second as a Seattle turnover at the Winterhawks blue line led to a two-on-one breakaway for Portland. Oliver Bjorkstrand carried the puck, kept it, and fired a shot past a helpless Mumaugh. Bjorkstrand's 30th goal came with two minutes left in the period and seemed to undue all the hard work the T-Birds had put in.
Things got worse four minutes into the third.
Seattle was awarded a power play and had a chance to yet again fight back in the contest, but Portland turned the tides. Leipsic got the puck and let go a low shot that beat Mumaugh between his legs -- a goal he probably wishes he could have back. As hats reigned down from the capacity 10,947 crowd at The Rose Center it felt like the goal emptied Seattle's tank a bit.
Portland has given up the fewest goals in the WHL and once they had rebuilt their two goal lead they began to clamp down. Seattle was not able to generate the shots and chances they were earlier in the game. Frustration began to build and the game soon devolved into an ugly fight filled affair that led to two Portland five-on-three power plays that they scored on. Portland added three more goals as the flood gates had opened and any chance Seattle may have had, evaporated.
After seeing Brandon Glover get in a fight last week the T-Birds had another unlikely pugilist step up Friday night. After a big hit on Griffin Foulk by Adam deChamplain Luke Lockhart went after the Portland bruiser and engaged him in a fight. It was only Lockhart's third career fight and he held his own against deChamplain, who is among the league leaders in fighting majors.
Seattle has clinched a playoff spot but is still working to hold off the Everett Silvertips for seventh place in the West -- which would avoid a first round playoff match up against Portland. Despite the loss on Friday they maintained their three point lead on Everett, who lost at Victoria. Seattle has one more game, Saturday, against the Winterhawks at the ShoWare Center. Everett will host Victoria and if they lose they will not be able to catch Seattle regardless of what Seattle does Saturday.
Seattle's Andrew Johnson may hear from the league after his gloved punch to deChamplain after the Lockhart fight. As deChamplain was getting up from the scrap, in front of the T-Birds bench, he bumped Johnson who responded with the punch. Johnson was only given a two minute penalty but the game was televised and there was a clear, hi-def replay of his punch.
The two teams combined for only ten penalty minutes in the first two periods of the game and 62 in the third.
The Prince George Cougars were eliminated from the playoff race as they lost at Kamloops Friday. That loss propelled Everett back into the playoffs for the tenth straight year -- every year of their existence.
Seattle prospect Ethan Bear played his first WHL game Friday in a limited role. He looked like a kid making his first start as he had one or two mistakes, but also showed some signs as to why the T-Birds are high on the young defenseman.