Updated Oct 4, 2013 - 3:25 pm
Seattle Thunderbirds Blog
Saturday, February 22, 2014 @ 7:17am
By Andrew Eide
Everett -- The Seattle Thunderbirds were back in Everett Friday night and fell to the Silvertips 2-1 in front of 7,867 fans at the Comcast Arena.
Everett picked up goals from Dawson Leedahl and Mirco Mueller and relied on a suffocating neutral zone game to keep the T-Birds from generating much offensively. The loss snapped Seattle's four game winning streak against their I-5 rivals.
"We played right into their hands," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Give them credit, they played a good hockey game. They played a better hockey game than us and they deserved it. There's a certain way you have to play against this team...we didn't play that well to a man and we couldn't create a lot of momentum."
Everett's game plan is to hang back in the neutral zone and force the opposition into turnovers. To combat that, you must get the puck deep into their end and then work to get shots on net. Seattle wasn't able to do that for most of the night and as a consequence could not get going offensively -- only generating 18 shots on the night.
"We wanted to make a play first and by the time we realized someone's in our face it's back in our end," Konowalchuk said. "They get to grind you down. They're a good hockey team, they've got a good defense. But if your mindset is not right, it's not right, you're going to turn the puck over."
The Silvertips struck early in the game Friday night as they caught Seattle in a line change. The T-Birds forwards coughed the puck up as their defenseman where making a change. That allowed the Silvertips to get the puck to Leedahl who had room and fired a wrist shot past goalie Taran Kozun.
"It started with a turnover," Konowalchuk said of the play. "We do need to change our D, if we get it deep its fine. At some point our D need to change it's such a quick bang-bang play for our D."
Despite that early goal, on Everett's second shot, Kozun turned in another fine performance in net for Seattle. He kept the game from being much worse than it was and gave the T-Birds a chance to come back and win it.
The problem is that they couldn't solve the Silvertips neutral zone trap.
The second period was much of the same for the T-Birds as they only mustered six shots and were kept off the scoreboard. Everett is nearly unbeatable when they have the lead heading into the third period, and despite the fact that Seattle managed the one comeback against them last week, they had their hands full.
Going into the third period Konowalchuk juggled his lines a bit, trying to find a spark, any spark. While they generated a few more chances they weren't able to beat Austin Lotz. When they did get the puck in the Everett zone they found it tough to get shots through.
"They always block shots, we know that," Konowalchuk said. "I thought we passed up some shots. You have to spend time in their end by putting pucks deep and then forecheck and then you'll get shots through...they had everybody on board and we didn't."
Half way through the final frame, Meuller scored for Everett to give them a two-goal lead which seemed insurmountable at the time.
Seattle got a glimmer of hope when Justin Hickman tipped home his 20th goal of the year with just over a minute left and the Seattle net empty. That was as close as they came however as Lotz and the Everett defense shut the door.
The loss is the second in a row for the T-Birds, which is a trend that Konowalchuk says must change quickly.
"Still don't have everybody going right now," he said. "When you don't have one guy going on your line, your line's not going to do anything, especially against good hockey teams. That's been the case a little too much as of late."
The T-Birds will now return home to take on the last place Kamloops Blazers. With only five points seperating Seattle from fifth place Spokane, points against a struggling Kamloops squad loom large.
"They're huge, we've got to respond," Konowalchuk said.
Seattle had not lost back-to-back games since January 4th and 5th on their Alberta road swing -- a span of 19 games.
Branden Troock did not see the ice the remainder of the game after he took a double minor penalty in the second period. He was called for tripping and then, out of frustration, flipped the puck into the crowd.
Saturday's game has an early start time of 6 P.M. due to the Ronald McDonald House Hockey Challenge at the ShoWare Center. The Hockey Challenge is the team's annual fund raiser for the Ronald McDonald House and features an alumni/celebrity game after the T-Birds game is complete. The notable T-Birds alumni in the game include Brendan Witt and Chris Wells.
The win moved the seventh place Silvertips to six points clear of eighth place Tri City. Everett trails the Vancouver Giants by two points for sixth place.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Friday, February 21, 2014 @ 9:28am
By Tim Pigulski
With just 12 games remaining in the regular season, the playoff picture is becoming clear for the Thunderbirds.
Seattle currently sits in fourth place in the Western Conference, comfortably nestled in between third-place Victoria and fifth-place Spokane.
With 88 points, Victoria is nine points ahead of Seattle and playing its best hockey of the season. In their past 10 games, the Royals are 9-0-1-0 and have earned points in 14 consecutive contests. Even though Seattle has two games in hand on its B.C. Division foe, the likelihood that the Thunderbirds can catch Victoria is a reach at this point.
In the Thunderbirds' rearview mirror is the Spokane Chiefs, a team that they've utterly dominated this season en route to a 7-0-0-0 record in head-to-head matchups. In those contests, the Thunderbirds have outscored their I-90 rival 29-9, including two straight 4-0 shutouts. Spokane currently sits six points behind the Thunderbirds with both teams having played 60 games.
If the playoffs were to begin today, Victoria would host the Vancouver Giants, and Seattle would have home-ice advantage in the first round against Spokane.
With the success the Thunderbirds have had against the Chiefs this season, they may prefer their current first-round matchup. If the Thunderbirds were to make an improbable jump past Victoria in the standings, they'd host Vancouver or Everett, which sits four points behind the Giants with three games in hand.
The Thunderbirds' record against Vancouver is 2-1-0-0 with one game remaining, and they are 5-1-1-0 against Everett with three matchups remaining in the regular season. However, the Thunderbirds haven't dominated either team as consistently as they have Spokane, especially lately.
Last season saw the Chiefs enter the playoffs as the Western Conference's fourth seed, where they played the Tri-City Americans and beat them handily, winning the best-of-seven series 4-1.
The Thunderbirds' 79 points are already the most they've had since the 2007-08 season, when they had 91 points at the end of the year. With 12 games remaining, Seattle could certainly eclipse that total and reach its highest point total since 2002-03, when the Thunderbirds finished with 94 points. Seattle's single-season record is 107 points, set during the 1989-90 season.
Follow Tim Pigulski on Twitter @tpigulski.
Monday, February 17, 2014 @ 7:39am
Jaimen Yakubowski's two goals were not enough as Seattle lost 6-4 Sunday (Thunderbirds photo)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- The Seattle Thunderbirds probably would like to throw Sunday's game into the dust bin.
After jumping out to an early three goal lead the T-Birds sat back and watched the Prince George Cougars score six unanswered goals and win 6-4. The Cougars were led by Zach Pochiro's two goals and 39 saves in relief from goalie Ty Edmonds to secure the win and keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
"That team there (Prince George), they're playing for their playoff lives," Justin Hickman said. "We just took them too lightly and didn't play our game and they got the two points and we didn't."
It looked like Seattle was going to skate to an easy two points early in Sunday's game. They erupted for three goals, all scored within a minute and a half of each other as they chased the Cougars starting goalie Adam Beukeboom after only nine shots -- he was replaced by Edmonds after the third goal. It was then that the T-Birds let their foot off the gas, started turning the puck over and gave the momentum back to Prince George.
"We let off the gas and a little too casual obviously," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Started worrying about points, guys thought it was an easy night to get points when we were up 3-0. Started turning pucks over, started playing for themselves and not the team, it caught up to us...our game has got to get cleaned up here."
After the Seattle goals by Jaimen Yakubowski, Alex Delnov and Calvin Spencer in the first, the Cougars struck back.
Still in the first, Seattle turned the puck over behind their own net and Prince George took the puck and fed it to Troy Bourke in front of the net where he beat Danny Mumaugh. Later in the first another Seattle turnover led to a break away for Todd Fiddler, who walked in alone and scored his 39th goal of the year.
Despite the hot start, the T-Birds only had a one goal lead after the first twenty minutes of play.
"We just started getting over confident, trying to do too much individually," Hickman said. "I take responsibility, I had a couple turnovers there in the first. Just kind of snowballed from there, we got off our game and it cost us."
Prince George tied the game early in the second after another turnover, this time about ten feet in front of the Seattle net. Pochiro scooped the loose puck up and scored his first goal of the night to even the score.
From there it got out of hand quickly for the T-Birds.
Jansen Harkins gave the Cougars the lead shortly after Pochiro's goal when he flew into the Seattle zone and ripped a wrist shot that Mumaugh couldn't handle. Trying to change the momentum and give his team a spark, Konowalchuk made a goalie change and inserted Taran Kozun into the game.
The change didn't alter the way the game was going however as Prince George scored twice more, on goals by Klarc Wilson and Pochiro, in the period to build a 6-3 lead heading into the third.
"The first ten minutes we were the better hockey club," Konowalchuk said. "We had everybody on board, everybody playing the way they needed to, that's why we got the lead. Then some bad habits, guys started to do their own thing. It's got to be corrected and has to be corrected long term here if we want to be successful for a long time."
Edmonds was big for Prince George as well. Seattle, desperately trying to get their game back again, started generating offense. They were getting shots and ended up out-shooting the Cougars 49-28 on the night. They could not however, solve Edmonds.
"They did a good job protecting the house so it was hard to get clean shots a lot of the times," Konowalchuk said. "Their goalie did make some big saves, no doubt about it, if we score one there maybe we get more pressure. But, when you give up six straight goals, that's tough to overcome."
Seattle got another goal in the third period from Yakubowski to give them a glimmer of hope, but in the end it wasn't enough.
"We have to clean up how we're playing for 60 minutes," Konowalchuk said. "Are we playing for the team for 60 minutes or are we playing for ourselves? There's some things with penalties, there's things with puck management, there's things on the power play where guys want to put themselves ahead of the team at times, and that's not part of a winning hockey team."
With a playoff spot secured for Seattle, they still have work to do in order to secure home ice for the first round. The loss, combined with Spokane's victory over Everett, drops the T-Birds to six points ahead of the Chiefs. Seattle also lost an opportunity to pick up ground on third place Victoria, and trails the Royals by five points.
Seattle now has the rest of the week to recover from this loss before heading back up to Everett Friday night to take on the Silvertips.
The T-Birds had some chances Sunday on the power play but could not score. For the night they were 0-for-5 and had many close calls. Prince George was 1-for-6 with the man advantage.
Prince George's Wil Tomchuk had an interesting evening. When the teams were skating on the ice to start the game he fell as he was having some sort of skate issue. He left the ice and tried to return about ten minutes later, only to suffer from the same skate issue. By the time he was able to join the team and play in the game the Cougars were down 3-0. He ended up picking up an assist on the Cougars second goal and ended the night plus-4.
The T-Birds have now dropped two home games to the Cougars after blowing leads. On October 18th they allowed two late third period goals to Prince George to tie and would go on to lose 5-4 in overtime. In a tight Western Conference race, those three points lost could turn out to be costly.
The line of Yakubowski-Sam McKechnie-and Russell Maxwell was one of the lone bright spots for the T-Birds Sunday. They accounted for two of the T-Birds goals and continue to play with some good chemistry.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Saturday, February 15, 2014 @ 10:39pm
Seattle's Adam Henry celebrates his game winning goal in the third period of the T-Birds 3-2 win Saturday night. (Christopher Mast photo)
By Andrew Eide
EVERETT -- For the second straight year, the Seattle Thunderbirds are playoff bound.
The T-Birds clinched a playoff spot after scoring two third period goals to come from behind and beat the Everett Silvertips 3-2 in front of 7,579 fans at the Comcast Arena Saturday night. Seattle got the game winning goal in the third from Adam Henry and leaned on goalie Taran Kozun to steer home their 37th victory of the season.
"Another exciting game against these guys," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Everyone of them have been exciting and tight checking, good win for us."
The T-Birds found themselves down a goal headed into the final twenty minutes of play against an Everett team that was 22-0 when ahead after two. Seattle (37-17-2-3) didn't let that daunting stat stop them from grabbing the lead and winning the game.
They got the game tied 1:39 into the third period when Russell Maxwell flew into the Silvertips zone and bombed a wrist shot past a screened Austin Lotz. It was Maxwell's second big third period goal in as many nights and gave the T-Birds the momentum.
Just under eight minutes later Henry picked the puck up, flew into the Everett zone and through defenders before back-handing a top shelf shot that Lotz had no chance at. It was Henry's seventh goal of the season and gave Seattle the lead.
"I don't know, I blacked out," a smiling Henry said about the goal. "It was four on four, there's a little bit extra room. Bear made the play to me, a guy over-committed up top. I walked around him, saw that there was a two-on-one to the net and then just turned the head and fired and it went in the net."
With a one goal lead the T-Birds still had plenty of work to do.
The Silvertips kept pushing, out shooting Seattle 11-4 in the third period and putting Kozun to the test. As he's done since joining Seattle, he stood tall and matched the challenge. With the extra skater on the ice the Silvertips buzzed the net, getting chances before Shea Theodore flipped the puck high in the air and down the ice to secure the win.
Everett (28-22-7-1) is fighting for their own playoff position and came out of the gates pushing Seattle. They out shot the T-Birds 12-6 to start the game and controlled the flow of the play. They got on the board first when Joshua Winquist blasted a power play point shot through traffic and behind Kozun. It was Winquist's 37th goal of the year and 200th career point with Everett.
"It wasn't so much our team started out slowly, we had some individuals start slow," Konowalchuk said about the first period. "I thought three quarters of our guys were ready to go but when a team has depth like that one, if one line isn't ready to go they can hem you in and take some momentum back...there were a few passengers in the first and then we got going in the second and third."
Seattle got going right away in the second as they had strong shifts to start the period and started to build some momentum of their own. That seemed to be derailed a bit when Mitch Elliot took a hooking penalty to give the Silvertips a power play. It was a power play that turned out to be quite eventful.
Sam McKechnie stole the puck and sent it ahead while short handed. He out raced an Everett player to regain the puck and managed to get a shot on Lotz who made the initial save before it trickled over the goal line.
Thirty seconds later, and still on the power play, Everett got that goal back as Patrick Bajkov knocked a puck out of the air and in. Despite playing better the T-Birds still found themselves down a goal headed into the final period.
"I liked the way our second was coming," Konowalchuk said about his between period message. "Keep going north-south, keep skating, keep up the tempo and see where it goes, finishing checks. Just keep going."
Just keep going they did and it ended up getting them a big win and securing a spot in the playoffs. Last season Seattle had to battle hard down the stretch and didn't secure a playoff berth until the 70th game of the year.
"I wasn't aware we clinched today but its much better than waiting to the last game like we've done the last few years," Konowalchuk said. "It's nice to be worrying about playoff position than fighting for your life."
Seattle will return home Sunday to play the Prince George Cougars at 5 P.M.
The T-Birds came into Saturday's game with a magic number of two. With their win and Prince George's overtime loss in Kamloops the T-Birds are in the playoffs.
Seattle is pretty entrenched in fourth place of the Western Conference standings and still has designs on moving up. The problem is that the teams ahead of them are not cooperating. Third place Victoria is five points ahead of the T-Birds and has won 10 out of their last 12 games. Portland is ten points ahead of Seattle and has won 16 games in a row.
If the playoff standings remain the way they are now the T-Birds would have home ice advantage against the Spokane Chiefs in the first round. Seattle is 7-0 against Spokane this season.
Everett is tied with Vancouver for sixth place with two games in hand. Sixth place is important as the club guaranteed their season ticket holders they would finish no lower than sixth in the conference. If they slip, they will offer discounts for next year's season tickets.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Saturday, February 15, 2014 @ 6:36am
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.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 @ 6:25am
By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds were in Kelowna Monday afternoon for a rare weekday matinee with the Rockets on Family Day in British Columbia. Kelowna were not generous hosts as they beat Seattle 7-3.
Kelowna got two goals from Tryell Goulbourne and built a five-goal lead that Seattle was not able to recover from. Seattle goalie Taran Kozun got the start but was pulled after allowing four goals in the first two periods. It was the most goals Kozun has allowed since joining the Thunderbirds.
The Rockets scored twice in the first period as Gouldbourne and Ryan Olsen both found the back of the Seattle net. Down two goals, the T-Birds were unable to get back into the game as they surrendered three more goals in the second period.
Trailing by five goals the T-Birds managed to pick up goals from Jerret Smith, Ethan Bear and Alex Delnov in the third period but the tallies were too little too late.
Seattle came into the game playing stout on defense. The seven goals allowed was the most since they beat Prince George 9-7 on January 7th. Since then they had not allowed more than three goals in any game. The loss was only Kozun's second as a member of the T-Birds as his record falls to 9-2.
The T-Birds have the remainder of the week to lick their wounds and get ready for a big three-in-three weekend. They kick it off with a home game against Tri City on Friday, then travel to Everett on Saturday before returning home to take on Prince George Sunday afternoon.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Sunday, February 9, 2014 @ 12:59pm
Mathew Barzal, 16, has 10 points in his previous seven contests (Thunderbirds photo)
By Tim Pigulski
With Friday evening's second consecutive 4-0 blanking of the division rival Spokane Chiefs, the Thunderbirds continue their mastery of their I-90 rivals, moving their record to a flawless 7-0-0-0 on the season.
In their most recent contest, the newly formed forward line featuring Mathew Barzal in the middle flanked by Ryan Gropp and Justin Hickman finished with six of the team's 12 points on three goals and three assists, including a goal and two helpers by Barzal and two goals by Gropp.
The chemistry between the three is undeniable, constantly manifesting itself in the form of tape-to-tape saucer passes, open-net setups, and defensive zone coverages.
On Friday night, the 16-year-old Barzal set up Gropp beautifully on two different occasions, the first a cross-ice pass in the offensive zone that led to an easy conversion for the 6-feet-2 left wing. The second was a pass into the slot that Gropp finished with an impressive backhand shot that beat Spokane goalie Eric Williams high.
What may have been even more indicative of the chemistry that this line is currently developing, however, may have been a situation that occurred nine minutes and eight seconds into the second period.
On a tic-tac-toe play in the Spokane zone, Gropp saucered a pass to Barzal, who then dropped it back to an open Hickman in the slot. The Thunderbirds appeared poised to take a 2-0 lead if not for an impressive right pad save by Williams. What followed were the three players surrounding the Spokane goaltender, and the Spokane defense responding as expected.
However, during the ensuing tussle, the 17-year-old Gropp was engaged by Spokane's 19-year-old Reid Gow. Barzal, 16, in a manner we haven't had the opportunity to witness this season, confronted the Spokane captain, a task usually reserved for the much bigger Hickman, which ultimately resulted in the Thunderbirds' young phenom on the ice under three Chiefs players.
"Usually it's Hicks on our line doing it, but I was the first one there tonight," said Barzal about the confrontation. "I thought Groppy got speared a little bit and I had to jump in there."
Head coach Steve Konowalchuk acknowledged the lift that an act such as Barzal's can give both his line and the bench as a whole.
"It's big," said the third-year head coach. "When it's time, if you happen to be at the spot where you need to stand up for somebody, then you have to stand up for somebody. I know the bench gets a lift from it and it's good to see Matty stand up for his teammate and to get some confidence he can stand up for himself."
Over the past seven games, during which the Thunderbirds hold a 6-1-0-0 record, the line has combined for 13 of the team's 23 goals. Highlighted by Hickman's hat trick on Wednesday night versus the same Spokane club, the line is firing on all cylinders and has become the team's most formidable group of scorers.
Overall, Gropp, Hickman, and Barzal have 31 points in just the past seven games, led by Gropp's 11 on four goals and seven assists.
"We're getting better and better each game and getting to know each other out on the ice," said Gropp, whose late birthday means he won't be eligible for the NHL draft until 2015. "It's really clicking right now…our line was working well down low."
With the two elite young offensive talents playing together, it was almost a necessity that Konowalchuk send out a veteran power forward who could provide leadership and stand up for the other guys when things got chippy. Enter Hickman, the 19-year-old captain in his fourth season in the WHL.
"All credit to those guys," said Hickman, a native of Kelowna. "When Barzal's got the puck something happens, so I just have to get open. Gropp's flying by with speed and always in the right places. I've got to get in the corners and muck it up for them. It's a simple gameplan for me and exactly what I'm going for."
While enough can't be said about the trio's offensive heroics, the way they've handled their defensive zone responsibilities gives Konowalchuk the ability to play them in any situation. Though their talents are best put to use scoring goals, Seattle's head coach doesn't have to shy away from letting them take a faceoff in the defensive zone, which they did five times on Friday night, four of which were won by Barzal.
The three are playing loosely and enjoying their time together, which has the potential to lead to great things for the rest of the regular season and beyond. While the spotlight is sure to remain on Barzal and Gropp for the remainder of their hockey careers, pairing them with a teammate like Hickman, who may often find himself as the unsung hero playing alongside the two, is the type of move that makes all three more complete players.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski.
Saturday, February 8, 2014 @ 8:07am
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- Dominance. There is no other way to describe the season series between the Seattle Thunderbirds and Spokane Chiefs.
Seattle shutout the Chiefs Friday night 4-0 to bring their record against Spokane to 7-0. Goalie Taran Kozun made 35 saves for his second shutout this week, both against Spokane, and the T-Birds had big nights from Mathew Barzal and Ryan Gropp who combined for three goals and five points.
For Kozun, it was his fourth shutout since joining the T-Birds in January and his third consecutive shutout against Spokane. It's the second time this season he has had back-to-back shutouts -- he previously blanked Spokane and Tri City on consecutive games.
In 184 minutes of hockey against Spokane, Kozun has stopped 92 shots, allowed zero goals and Friday even picked up an assist. That means that Kouzn has more points against Spokane than their entire roster has against him this year. How is it that he can dominate one club so much?
"I have no idea," the goalie said with a smile. "Just get to play them three times, three shutouts. It's pretty amazing actually. I just try to do the same thing for every game and it seems to work really well for them, I don't know what else to say about that."
Offensively Seattle (35-16-2-3) got big nights from their two high-profile rookies. Barzal and Gropp were put on the same line with Justin Hickman about two weeks ago and the three have gelled. Barzal picked up three points Friday for the second time in three games and has seven points over that stretch.
"I guess 'Hicks and Groppy have been really good, its easy to play with both of them," he said Friday. "I feel like we pump each other's tires every time we do one of these interviews. But, they were good again tonight...we had another good night."
Early on in this game it looked like the Chiefs might finally break through Kozun and the T-Birds. Spokane (31-18-3-2) came out of the gates strong and had an early 11-1 shot lead. The T-Birds leaned on Kozun early and the goalie kept them in it.
"The first period there a couple went through the five-hole and ended up not going in," Kozun said. "I was pretty shocked but I guess the hockey gods were with me."
The T-Birds started to turn the tide around the ten minute mark after a couple of good shifts from the Barzal line and the Chiefs were never able to generate any sustained pressure the rest of the way.
"Spokane came out pretty strong in the first ten minutes...I didn't like the first ten minutes," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "We were sloppy with the puck, we had guys miss the net, let them get a little bit of momentum. I thought we got going after that to get the lead and specialty teams were huge, pretty good solid win."
The teams were scoreless after the first period but Seattle would take the game over in the second.
Barzal got the first goal on a power play after he wheeled down the ice, beat the Chiefs defense and found a seam on goalie Eric Williams short side. It was his 10th goal of the year as the 16-year-old is looking to shoot the puck more often.
"Off the break out Theo (Shea Theodore) just gave me a pass and I walked around the d-man," he said of the play. "I need to start shooting more I thought so I just let one go and just found a crack up top."
With a one-goal lead the frustration started to take hold for the Chiefs and they began to show it by taking some liberties. The T-Birds had some unlikely players step up to stand for their teammates. Barzal jumped into a scrum after a whistle and goal scorer Roberts Lipsbergs got into his first WHL fight. Seeing guys like that not afraid to mix it up can have a resounding affect on the rest of the team.
"It's big," Konowalchuk said. "They're all a team in there and we want everybody to to do everything. When you happen to be in the spot where you have to stand up for somebody you have to stand up for somebody. I know the bench gets a lift from it, its good to see."
Barzal got a cut on his nose for his efforts -- what he referred to as his first 'battle scar'.
"Usually it's 'Hicks on our line doing it," Barzal said about standing up. "I was the first there tonight. I thought Groppy got kind of speared a little bit so I had to jump in."
Barzal and Lipsbergs' willingness to jump in was noticed by the bench and the players on the ice.
"It really fires the guys up and gets guys in the game," Gropp said. "It's pretty awesome to see those guys standing up for teammates."
After the altercations the T-Birds got back to scoring goals.
Branden Troock picked up his 21st goal of the year on the power play as he weaved his way through the Spokane defense before knocking the puck off of one of their players and in. Spokane picked up another penalty on the play and Seattle immediately went back to the power play.
With the puck along the boards, Barzal surveyed the ice and found a seam in the Chiefs' penalty kill. He fired a seeing-eye pass through the defense to Gropp who wasted no time in burying it for his 14th goal of the year.
Gropp would finish off the scoring in the third as he crossed the Spokane zone and rifled a pretty back-handed roof shot past the Spokane goalie.
The win leaves Spokane eight points in the T-Birds rear view mirror as they continue to push for home ice advantage in the playoffs. Seattle was also able to keep pace with Victoria and Portland -- the two teams directly ahead of them in the Western Conference standings.
The T-Birds will next take on Kelowna on Monday afternoon at 2 P.M.
Taran Kozun's brief time with Seattle has been nothing short of spectacular. In his ten starts with the club he is now 9-1 with a goals against average of 1.18, a save percentage of .962 and has four shut outs.
Kozun is the first T-Birds goalie with three consecutive shutouts against the same opponent. In the 2008-2009 season Riku Heleniun shutout Portland in two consecutive games but couldn't get the third. Calvin Pickard shutout Kelowna three times in 2007-2008 but they were not in consecutive games. Bryan Bridges shutout Spokane twice in a row in 2004-2005 along with shutting out the Vancouver Giants three times.
How good has the Gropp-Barzal-Hickman line been? Since being put together seven games ago the three have combined for 13 goals, 31 points and are plus-24.
Kozun's second period assist on Barzal's goal was his fourth of the year. With four points Kozun is now the WHL's leading scorer among goalies. After the game he mentioned that he was aware of where he was in goalie scoring, coming into the game tied with Spokane's Eric Williams at three.
Friday was a good night for Seattle's power play as they went 3-for-4 on the night. Spokane was 0-for-5.
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