Updated Mar 22, 2012 - 10:28 pm
Thunderbirds Final Report Card
By Mike Caccioppoli
The Thunderbirds missed the playoffs for the third straight season with a record of 25-45-1-1. They were four games under.500 at the Holiday break and 16 games under.500 in the second half of the season. The 52 points they ended with were 12 less than the total from last season and only two points better than their total from one of their worst seasons ever in 2009-2010.
Now the final report card:
#1 Calvin Pickard.. Grade: B
It was a tough season for the 19 year old goalie even though he broke two WHL records, for most saves and most minutes played. The reason he broke the first record is because he's a great goalie that played on some bad teams. He saw over 2,000 shots again this season while playing in 64 of the 72 games. At times he was visibly upset with the play of his teammates in front of him and for good reason. All of those shots and lopsided losses may have taken a toll and there were times where he may have been mentally unprepared. Still he ended with five shutouts, tied for the league lead with Ty Rimmer of the first place Tri-City Americans. That stat alone is incredible. His save percentage was once again over 90 percent, another mind blowing stat considering all the shots he faced. I believe he thought he would be dealt at the trade deadline and he should have been. As we saw once again one player alone is not enough to get you to the post season and he would have brought a very solid return for the future. For those who think he will be back next season as a 20 year old there is about as much chance of that happening as there is of an NHL team playing in Seattle next season. Forget it.
#3 Jared Hauf..Grade: B-
Hauf really matured as the season progressed. He was a bit shaky early in the season but he's only 16. If you watched him closely you wouldn't see Hauf making too many mistakes later in the season. In fact it could be argued that for long stretches Hauf and Theodore was the teams best defensive pairing. Which would also be a reason why the Birds struggled defensively all season long since both are 16 years old.
#4 Brad Deagle...Grade: B
Deagle is a solid D man and one of the few older players that showed up in the second half of the season. Strong on the puck and a guy that can skate, Deagle proved to be the best of the patchwork D core that Russ Farwell put together. It would be hard to see him not coming back at 20 especially since the Birds defense will be young next season.
# 5 Braeden Laroque.. Grade: C-
I know Laroque was seen as a good teammate and a guy that gave effort but if you watched him close enough you would see him turnover the puck way too often. He is also too slow and got beat often because of it. On a team with good defense he would never play. You won't see him back next season.
# 6 Evan Wardley.. Grade: C+
Wardley missed a lot of games due to injury which hurt his growth a bit. However when he started to play regularly down the stretch you could see how skilled he could be. Positioned well and not afraid to use his big body, he looks like a player with a huge upside that could factor into the Birds defensive core for the next two to three seasons. The effort is always there as well.
#7 Mitch Elliot...Grade: D+
What a weird season for Elliot. He was moved to defense kind of late in the season and went back and forth for a while. He was also a healthy scratch for several games, never a good sign for an 18 year old. One of the reasons he was moved is because he only had five points all season. Maybe his big body is better suited for defense but I don't think the Birds are going to be able to go with a 19 year old work in progress D man next season. Not sure Elliot will be back.
# 9 Justin Hickman..Grade: C+
Hickman had 12 goals and 22 points this season. Those numbers aren't good enough for a second year player with his skill. Hickman works hard and is a grinder for sure. Most love the way he plays but he needs to get those numbers up quite a bit next season. He was just one of many forwards on the team that under performed this season.
# 11 Branden Troock.. Grade: B-
Troock's season started the way the last one ended..out of the lineup. That would finally end when they discovered his problem with a neck issue that could be helped with acupuncture. So in his first season and playing 56 games he ended with 14 goals and 26 points. Not bad numbers but they can be a whole lot better especially if he learns to use his teammates. At times Troock thinks he can do it all by himself and while that might work here and there it is seen as selfish by many and not a way to win hockey games. If he learns that he will be a great player, if not.....
# 12 Tyler Alos..Grade: C-
Alos plays hard, and he cares. He wants the team to win and is a total team player. He also just isn't scoring. In his third season he had just three goals and 17 points in 59 games. He is one of those guys that could be a third line guy on a good team that can score goals. On this team he was expected to be so much more than that and it really isn't fair to expect him to be a first or second line guy. One issue is that he is small and loses too many battles because of it. I think because of his heart he will be back next season but it would be great if he could put on some size.
# 14 Connor Honey..Grade: B+
In just 46 games and in his first season in the WHL Honey scored 10 goals and had 21 points. Down the stretch he was a madman, literally carrying the team on his back as they made a playoff push. Honey is a play maker, he creates plays out of nothing and he goes hard to the net to score most of his goals. As far as the young forwards go he looks like the guy with the most potential. He played more like a 19 year old than a 17 year old. One wonders where the Birds may have ended up had he been here all season. Even his post-game interviews got better as the season went along!
# 16 Brendan Rouse..Grade: C+
Rouse is another guy that doesn't put pucks in the net. However he does a lot of other things well including playing smart hockey in the defensive zone, something several Birds had issues with this season. He is also a leader on the team and he really helped both Troock and Honey after he returned from an extended injury. That reason alone is enough to bring him back as a 20 year old. That line could be very effective next season.
#17 Shea Theodore..Grade: B+
What can you say about Shea? At 16 years old he played in 69 games, a tremendous number. On a team with more defensive depth he would not have seen that much ice time. There were some points later in the season where he may have looked tired but who could blame him? Mostly though he was a real force at the blue line and he got better at quarter backing the power play as the season wore on. His 35 points was the highest of the D men. Could be one of the best D men in the WHL by the time he turns 19.
# 18 Dave Sutter..Grade: C+
Sutter takes a lot of heat from fans and it's really not warranted. Is he a great D man? No, and he won't be back as a 20 being an import player but he's also rarely a detriment on the ice. He is good at using his long reach to break up plays and has good speed as well. He could be more physical but that's not really his game. One of the negatives as with so many of the Birds this season was his plus/minus rating which was a -36.
# 19 Colin Jacobs..Grade: C-
Even with the off season shoulder surgery that set him back a bit, Jacobs did not have the season so many expected of the 18 year old third season player. He ended with just nine goals and 19 points in 44 games. He never was an offensive force or threat in most games and he took too many dumb penalties especially late games that would end up hurting his team. Less mouth and more stick next season would be a good recipe for success if he returns.
# 20 Luke Lockhart..Grade: D+
Lockhart had a disappointing season. I know Konowalchuk likes his hustle but for a 19 year old team captain in his fourth season with the team, 16 goals and 37 points with a -37 rating just doesn't cut it. His goals were down from 21 last season, and points from 48 last season. His plus minus was only a -14 last season as well. I think it was a mistake to make Luke the captain as he has been known to be more of a follower than a leader. He had a few good games in desperation time over the last week of the season but we should have seen that all year long from a guy wearing the "C". It could be down to between him and Lund when it comes to which 19 year old doesn't return as a 20.
#22 Burke Gallimore.. Grade: D
It doesn't matter that Gallimore had the most goals on the team with 22 because last season he ended up with 34. He also dropped from 70 points to 40 points. He was a -30 as well. So many were expecting a 40 goal season from the 20 year old and he didn't come close. He was too often lazy especially in the defensive zone. One of those players that never lived up to their potential because they either didn't give their best effort or never took things seriously enough.
#23 Chance Lund..Grade: C-
One of the few forwards that actually improved on their numbers from last season yet still it wasn't good enough from a 19 year old fourth year player. He ended with 15 goals and 32 points in 67 games. Amongst all the big minus numbers on the team Lund wasn't all that bad with a -11. After a pretty solid first half of the season Lund's numbers fell off quite a bit and he was pretty much a non factor over the final month. Like I just said I think either Lind or Lockhart don't return next season.
#24 Cason Machacek...Grade: C
The two Cason's. The first is a leader who really helped the young defensemen on the team. The second is the hot headed dude who got suspended too much and took too many penalties. He certainly played with heart...when he played. You want your 20 year old D man on the ice not in the stands. Cason was really here for next season..to teach the young guys a thing or two about the game.
# 25 Seth Swenson..Grade: B
In just 34 games with the Birds, Swenson had 10 goals and 17 points. That would be the same amount of goals Marcel Noebels had as a member of the Winterhawks. Down the stretch he really played his best hockey as he went hard to the net for those greasy goals players love to talk about. His offensive numbers were the best in his career because he's finally getting playing time. Look for him to get even more playing time next season.
#28 Jacob Doty..Grade: D+
Doty is a fan favorite because he fights and fights well. However he doesn't score. He had two goals and seven points in 55 games. He was a healthy scratch often in the last month or so of the season. With fighting becoming less and less of a factor in the game Doty needs to reinvent himself. I'm not sure he will get that chance in Seattle next season.
#29 Dillon Wagner..Grade: C-
Wagner was acquired after the trade deadline when Kyle Verdino decided he could no longer play. Wagner, 20 looked like a good guy off the ice but as a forward he didn't have much offense to his game. In 32 games with Seattle he had two goals and six points. A necessary pick up for Farwell but it didn't have much positive impact on the team.
#30 Daniel Cotton..Grade: C-
I'm tired of giving the Birds backup goalies an incomplete so I'm awarding a grade here. Cotton only played in 17 games and his numbers aren't good especially the 0-8 record. However he had just eight starts and they were all against very good teams and often on the road. He needs to work on his rebound control but he never seemed nervous or not ready to go. Is the coaching staff sold on him as the goalie for next season? No, but I'm sure he will be in the mix.
#34 Connor Sanvido..Grade: D
The # 8 Sanvido would have gotten an F but the #34 Sanvido was closer to a C so we will just average it out. Hey, it's no small feat to go from an F to a C in just a few weeks but that's what Sanvido did. After being sent home for not taking his role seriously enough Sanvido returned and seemed to be a different player. When he got back into the lineup he hustled more and began to put some pucks in the back of the net. What happened while he was home? Who knows, but I'm thinking it will get him an invite to camp next season and maybe he will have the chance to improve on his numbers from this season (58...8-9-17).
Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk..Grade: C
I'm not sure Konowalchuk knew what he was getting into this season. I think he expected more from his older players than he got. For some reason they just didn't play for him especially in the second half. Does the coach have to take some responsibility for that? Sure. The players do as well as does the person who is responsible for those guys being on the team to begin with. Steve did get the younger guys to play and they got better as the season wore on, you just can't count on those guys to carry you to the playoffs, that's the responsibility of the vets. The media isn't allowed in the locker room (something that needs to change) so I don't know how he dealt with players off the ice but my guess is that he isn't hot headed yet he also doesn't baby guys. Maybe the older guys wanted to be treated with kid gloves but I think Konowalchuk knows the game and has been through it all. He will hopefully get players that want to be on the team and give it their best effort every night. I think Steve also suffered from not knowing the league very well but now with a season under his belt he will be better prepared next season.
General Manager Russ Farwell..Grade: D
Russ is responsible for those guys that didn't give their best effort and lead the way. He's also responsible for the shoddy defense and all of the forwards that just didn't score. At the trade deadline he made one very good move in getting Swenson and two first round picks from Portland for Noebels. He also made one very bad non move by not trading Pickard to Brandon. He would have gotten a decent return if not the best return he could have hoped for. As so many knew at the time, Pickard himself couldn't get the Birds into the playoffs and even if he did it would have been one round and out. Not worth sacrificing the future for but more importantly it was kind of selfish because Pickard deserved better in his final season in the WHL. The fault also lies with Farwell for not building a winner around the best goalie in the league. Yes it's all about drafting (Fleming, first round..traded, Sanvido, first round..sent home for a stretch, etc, etc.) The big question remaining is will Farwell give Konowalchuk and Assistant Coach Darren Rumble enough say in who is drafted this year and who comes to play for this team next season and beyond. To find guys that fit into their system. That alone could decide whether or not the Birds are ever a success.
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