Julius Honka and the Swift Current Broncos will be in town Saturday night (photo whl.ca)
By Andrew Eide
After playing eight of their first eleven games on the road the Seattle Thunderbirds return home this weekend for two games. Despite dropping Wednesday's night game in Kamloops there is a great deal of intrigue surrounding the two games this weekend as the T-Birds try to get back in the win column.
Going into this weekends games the big question will be whether or not Ryan Gropp will make his T-Birds debut. He is eligible to play but is just recovering from a lower body injury and if he is ready, he will play. There has been about two years of anticipation of seeing Gropp in a T-Birds sweater and hopefully the wait will be over this weekend.
The T-Birds come into the weekend with an 8-3-0-0 record which is good for second place in the U.S. Division, trailing only the scorching hot Spokane Chiefs. The T-Birds will have to play better this weekend than they did on Wednesday against the Blazers as they play tougher opponents.
Here's the scoop on Seattle's opponents this week.
Friday: Prince George Cougars (5-6-0-1), 3rd Place B.C. Division
T-Birds all time record against: 125-117-11-3-3
Last season: 2-1-0-1
Scouting Report: After getting blown out in their first two games of the year it looked like it was going to be another dreary year for the Cougars. Since then they have found better form and are playing tough hockey. They are not push-overs and Seattle will need to bring maximum effort and make them earn space on the ice. Prince George is getting balanced scoring up and down their line up and are currently led by Chase Witala with ten points. A player to watch is former T-Birds defenseman Jesse Forsberg's younger brother Alex. The younger Forsberg is back in Prince George after a tumultuous season that saw the former Bantam top pick leave the team half way through the season. He has talent but has yet to transfer it into consistent production.
In net the Cougars are getting outstanding goaltending out of Ty Edmonds who has a goals against of 1.93 and a save percentage of .929. The 17 year-old has given the Cougars a chance in every game of late and Seattle will have their hands full with him. As we said last week with Eric Comrie - pucks and traffic will be key on Friday night.
Saturday: Swift Current Broncos (6-4-0-1), 2nd Place East Division
T-Birds all time record against: 25-27-4-3-1
Last season: 0-1
Scouting Report: The Broncos make a rare visit to the ShoWare Center on Saturday and have been one of the early surprises in the WHL so far. Are they for real? They are currently on a road swing through the U.S. Division that may give us more of an answer - they didn't start well as they were blasted by Spokane on Wednesday. Swift Current have a couple of familiar faces as Connor Sanvido and Andrew Johnson make their return after being traded this summer. Sanvido is off to a good start with nine points and Johnson has three.
The breakout star for Swift Current is import defenseman Julius Honka. The Finnish product leads the Broncos in scoring from the back end with 15 points and is plus six on the year. With a player of that caliber kick-starting your offense and quarter backing the power play it should come as no surprise that Swift Current features the WHL's top power play, clicking at 29.5%. Needless to say the T-Birds will need to stay disciplined in this one - something that has been an issue in certain games this year.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide