Seattle's Keegan Kolesar fires a wrist shot for a goal during the T-Birds 4-3 win Friday (Thunderbirds photo)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- Winning hockey games is not always as easy and clean as one might think. The Thunderbirds proved that Friday night by blowing a third period, three goal lead before coming back to win the game.
Russell Maxwell scored the game winner for the T-Birds with 26 seconds left in the game after he banged home a rebound to beat Americans' goalie Eric Comrie. Seattle also got three assists from Shea Theodore along with 37 saves from Taran Kozun in the win.
After allowing Tri City to score three times in the period Maxwell raced down the ice with Branden Troock. Troock took a shot that Comrie stopped but Maxwell was there for the rebound to score his 12th goal of the year.
"Hank (Adam Henry) made a good pass out to Troock," Maxwell said. "He's got quite a bit of speed so I saw him driving, I was just going on the opposite side looking for a rebound or a shot or something. He made a great shot, far pad and it was right on my tape for a tap in."
The goal capped off a crazy third period that saw the two teams combine for four fights and 116 minutes in penalties. With Seattle leading by three goals the game got out of control just after the eight minute mark when Evan Wardley was knocked down after a whistle at the side of the Seattle goal.
From there his teammates jumped in to help him and three separate fights broke out on the ice. When the dust settled Wardley and his defensive partner, Jared Hauf, had received game misconducts, meaning they were lost for the night.
"The biggest mistake we probably made, the thing we can't have happen is, we can't have those second and third fights," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "So we're down to four D, and you're short handed after that a couple of times you're really playing the heck out of a couple of your D."
Seattle actually came out of the fracas with a power play but it was Tri City that would score. Lucas Nickles forced a turnover in the Seattle end and raced down the ice, beating Kozun to give Tri City some life. Four minutes later they would pull to within one goal when Parker Bowles banged home a loose puck on the power play.
After Tri City's Josh Thrower hit Keegan Kolesar along the boards he was challenged to another fight by Justin Hickman. Hickman was assessed an extra two-minute penalty for being the instigator and was also lost for the remainder of the game. That gave the Americans a chance and as the resulting power play ended they pulled Comrie, with still three minutes remaining in the game for the extra attacker.
Beau McCue tied the game as he fired a puck through traffic. Just like that, Seattle saw their seemingly insurmountable lead evaporate.
"I didn't like the call against Hickman," Konowalchuk said. "It was a line change, looked like two willing combatants. The one ref told me that's a new rule they have a month and a half ago where they got a memo. I guess I'd like get the memo next time."
Despite the momentum change the T-Birds didn't relent and were able to work to get Maxwell's game winner.
"We have good character guys, guys that compete," Konowalchuk said. "It's still a tie game and we might get it there, we might get it overtime. Its frustrating that we let them back in, you'd like to close it and put it to rest but you know, they created momentum."
The T-Birds built their lead by playing a tight checking game and taking advantage of the chances they were given by a stingy Tri City club.
Hickman got them on the board first with a power play goal as he took two or three whacks at a loose puck before getting it to trickle through Comrie's pads. Near the end of the period Mathew Barzal sent a pass to Kolesar on a rush and he fired a wrist shot that beat Comrie on his glove side.
The T-Birds looked like they were going to walk away with the game after Ethan Bear fired a slap shot through traffic for his 6th goal of the year. But that's when all the craziness kicked in.
"Crazy game," Konowalchuk said. "I liked a lot of our game. Played smart, played a pretty tight checking game. The first two periods we took the chances they gave us, we had a good grind game, we put ourselves in position, up 3-0, because we played a good game."
After a flat loss at Kelowna on Monday, Friday's win was a nice rebound win as the WHL heads into its stretch run. Seattle is still locked into fourth place in the West but would still like to catch Victoria for third. Avoiding losing streaks is key this time of the year.
"Huge," Shea Theodore said of the win. "Good teams, they don't lose two in a row. We're trying to prove that we're a top team in the league and that's what we're doing."
Seattle continues their three-in-three weekend Saturday as the travel up the road to face an Everett Silvertips club that has their own playoff positioning battle going on. Face off is at 7 P.M.
Friday's game was the 200th for Seattle's Shea Theodore. The Anaheim Ducks prospect picked up three assists on the night for his 12th multiple assist game of the year. He continues to lead the club in scoring with 65 points through 56 games.
Konowalchuk shuffled his lines a bit on Friday and went back to the combinations that he used before the Christmas break. He said that he liked the chemistry those lines had and wanted to get some of the veteran players going alongside rookies Barzal and Ryan Gropp.
Taran Kozun continues to be a nice story for the T-Birds. He put in another strong game Friday night and is now 10-2 since joining Seattle at the trade deadline. With last place Kamloops he was only 5-19-2-1.
Barzal picked up two assists Friday and again was one of the T-Birds best players on the ice. He now has nine points in his last five games.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.