Branden Troock and the Seattle T-Birds open their season this Saturday (photo Christopher Mast)
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds begin their 2013-2014 season this coming Saturday as they host their friends, the Portland Winterhawks, at the ShoWare Center. A year after getting back to the playoffs and coming a hit post away from pulling off an upset for the ages, expectations are high for Seattle this year.
The T-Birds return the core of their team from last year and have added some promising looking rookies as everything points to the team winning more games this season. General Manager Russ Farwell took some time out of his schedule to talk to us about the preseason, the upcoming season and how he sees it playing out.
During training camp and preseason it has been clear that Seattle is going to be icing a deeper team than they have had in the past few season. Farwell was pleased with training camp, although wasn't overly surprised by how it went.
"We didn't have any disappointments, but we didn't have anyone push their way in," he said. "(Lane) Pederson has made it real tough, decision wise, he's grown enough and is in the hunt to make the team. Other than that we didn't have anyone really surprise us."
In years past, with less depth, there may not have been as much discussion about a rookie like Pederson making the team - he would have been a lock. But now, with a solid team that can throw several good lines at you, solid players like Pederson will have to work harder to crack the lineup.
"We're going to have two real good lines, and we have to capitalize on that," Farwell says. "I think our third line can be effective too, (Michal) Holub has taken a real step and is making a real bid there. He can improve a lot, he hasn't played center exclusively so he's learning there."
The Thunderbirds did not make any big off season trades, but just before the Bantam Draft in May they made perhaps the biggest move the team has made in years. They were able to get 2012 first round draft pick Mathew Barzal to sign with the club. Barzal has been impressive in the preseason and already is garnering a lot of attention north of the border. There have been several news stories and a TSN video about the young center -- all before his first regular season WHL game.
Farwell thinks the young Burnaby, B.C. native can handle the attention.
"He's had it (attention) since he was 13 so he's kind of used to that," Farwell says about his new star player. "He's beyond his years handling that kind of thing. It's just going to be the playing every day, dealing with that as he learns the game. He's learning and Steve (Konowalchuk) loves him because he's receptive to things."
Farwell, like many Seattle fans, sounds excited to see how far Barzal can go this season.
"I think he's naturally going to get a lot of attention early, he's a great player," he says. "He's an exciting player and he's so fun to watch play. I think he's going to make the guys better."
Another player who could be in for a big year is Branden Troock. Troock suffered an unfortunate injury last year that relegated him to only 19 games last season. Healthy now, Troock could be a real X-factor for the T-Birds as the highly talented forward has been unable to show how good he is.
"Everything is aligned for him," Farwell says. "He needs to have a full year, he needs to play all the games, he needs to take a step. He wants a chance to go on and I think he's gone through the worst and is in good shape, 100 percent, and he is a tough guy to stop. He's got to get some game experience with the guy's he's playing with. He's going to be a tough guy to stop when he gets going."
A big question mark for the T-Birds is how their goaltending will hold up. With Brandon Glover graduating the T-Birds are left with three guys who have little WHL experience. Farwell says that it is likely the team will open up with Justin Myles, Danny Mumaugh and Devon Fordyce still on the roster as they sort out the proper rotation. There was a lot of speculation, and some assumptions, that Seattle would make a move this summer to bring in a veteran goalie. Farwell says that there really was not any realistic options out there to do that - none that made sense anyway.
"Its not like we missed on anybody," Farwell says of the goalie market this summer. "Every time we got talking about a goalie we got back to 'well, he's not as good as Myles' so we thought why not find out if Myles can stay healthy or not. Because he is a pretty good goalie, he's a talented big guy."
With the expectations high, Farwell says that the team hasn't really set any specific goals as far as number of wins and that they are looking to just improve on what they accomplished last season.
"We would like to build on that (last season), and be taking a step" he says. "Everyone wants to make a bigger run in the playoffs and that's what we want as well. We're not really firing on all cylinders yet, we have to get going a little bit. I think there's a lot more to come yet chemistry wise."
Seattle should score more goals this year but for Farwell, the key to the season may be how many they stop.
"I think our D has to take a step and I think they're poised to do that," Farwell says. "Guys like (Shea) Theodore and (Jared) Hauf and (Jerret) Smith, they have to step up and play, along with (Jesse) Forsberg. Those guys have to step up and play like three year guys, and that's going to be key. If Theo can get a good start, get the puck out and to those two lines, that will be a real key for us. And then goaltending."
Seattle kicks off the season Saturday against the Portland Winterhawks at the ShoWare Center in Kent.
Follow Andrew on twitter @andyeide