Seattle has big division match ups with Spokane and Tri City this week (photo WHL)
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds will begin this weekend of hockey action in the same place they left off last weekend, in Spokane. The T-Birds will play the Chiefs twice this coming week and are in a stretch that will see their next eight games all be within the U.S. Division.
Needless to say, this is an important stretch.
There was some T-Birds news this week as Wednesday it was announced that 17-year-old forward Michal Holub had left the team to return home to await a trade. Holub had appeared in 16 games for Seattle this season while registering one goal and two assists. In total he played 66 games over the past two seasons with the T-Birds but was finding that his ice time was hard to come by this year.
With the addition of Calvin Spencer last week the T-Birds forward group became even more crowded so it makes sense that Holub would want to be somewhere that he could play more frequently. It will be interesting to see what Seattle can get for him in a trade.
Here's what's on tap for the T-Birds this week.
Friday and Saturday: Spokane Chiefs (Friday in Spokane, Saturday at ShoWare Center)
Record: 18-10-0-2 (third, U.S. Division)
T-Birds all time record against: 119-130-11-3-2
This season: 1-0 (5-1 Victory on December 1st)
Scouting Report: The WHL schedule maker, which was a computer this year, has given the T-Birds a three game 'series' against the Chiefs this week. Seattle beat Spokane on the road Sunday and returns Friday to start a home-and-home stint with the Chiefs. Getting that first win was big and without a doubt the Chiefs will come out hard as they will not want to lose two straight at home to Seattle.
The story remains the same with Spokane - you have to stop Mitch Holmberg. Seattle did an excellent job of containing Holmberg and fellow line mate Mike Aviani Sunday and will have to again if they expect to win. The Chiefs simply go depending on how those two play. That was in evidence on Wednesday night as Spokane beat Saskatoon 2-1 on two Holmberg short handed goals.
Putting Holmberg's start in perspective, he has 32 goals so far this season, which equals the total points T-Birds leading scorer Shea Theodore has. His 66 total points is more than Seattle's top two scorers combined have. The difference? Depth. Despite those gaudy totals at the top of their stat sheet Spokane has only scored three more goals than the T-Birds have.
Seattle can't dictate the match ups on the road Friday but expect for Steve Konowalchuk to try and get the Scott Eansor line out against Holmberg and Aviani as much as possible. Saturday night at home, with last change, it will be surprising if those two see anyone other than the Eansor line on the ice.
Sunday the T-Birds beat goalie Garret Hughson, Spokane's back up. With a couple of days off between their last game Seattle will most likely see the Chiefs number one guy, Eric Williams, in net. Williams, a 20-year-old, is off to a career start with a goals against average of 2.43 and a save percentage at .914. After giving up a five-spot to Portland on November 29th Williams has rebounded to only allow two goals in his last two starts.
The T-Birds will need to deploy the same game plan that worked so well for them on Sunday. They will have to battle hard, play physical, get their forecheck going and get screened shots on Williams. Oh yeah, and shut down Holmberg.
Tuesday: at Tri City Americans
Record: 16-12-1-2 (fourth, U.S. Division)
T-Birds all time record against: 110-92-13-7-6
This Season: 2-1-1 (last game, 3-2 SO loss at Tri City)
Scouting report: The strange schedule continues for Seattle on Tuesday as they return to Kennewick for their fifth meeting with the Americans. Seattle has not fared too well at the Toyota Center so far this season, losing both times they have played there. The story with the Americans continues to be their outstanding goaltender Eric Comrie. Comrie carries the Americans and the Winnipeg Jets prospect is considered one of the top goalies in junior hockey.
Comrie boasts a great save percentage of .926 and is tough to beat. Seattle has had some success against him and when they have its because they've generated traffic in front of him. To beat an elite goaltender like Comrie you have to make it tough for him to see the puck, because if he can see it, he'll eat it up. Look for the T-Birds to crash the net and get bodies in front of Comrie all night.
Tri City's weakness has been getting consistent scoring. Brian Williams leads them and has hit the 20 goal mark already and has had some success against the T-Birds already this year. The Americans got a boost when they saw the return of Parker Bowles who raced out to a 19 points in 11 games start for them. He has not played in the Americans last three games but is not listed as hurt on the WHL report so could be available to play on Tuesday.
While Tri City is behind Seattle in the standings this is not a game that will come easy for the T-Birds. Again, they will have to come out playing tough, physical hockey to grind out a win. Seattle has been generating scoring chances and has solved top goalies of late as they scored six times against the Victoria Royals top pair last weekend. They will need that kind of effort to best Comrie and the Americans.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide