Updated Oct 4, 2013 - 3:25 pm
Seattle Thunderbirds Blog
Saturday, November 23, 2013 @ 11:02pm
Branden Troock scores a big goal late in the second period during Seattle's 5-4 victory (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- Mark this game down on your calendar, or somewhere where you will remember it. Seattle played one of their strongest games of the season to beat the Portland Winterhawks 5-4 in overtime Saturday night in front of 4,622 fans at the ShoWare Center. Alex Delnov beat Brendan Burke 4:19 into the extra frame to send Seattle to the win.
Seattle got a big night from their captain Justin Hickman who scored two big goals, including a late game tying goal. After getting their teeth kicked in by their biggest rivals for three straight games, this one felt like a win that could right the T-Birds ship.
It didn't come easy though.
Portland made it look like it might lead to more grief after the Winterhawks stormed back in the third period to erase a two goal lead and pull ahead by one in the third. With six minutes left the T-Birds called timeout to regain their composure and get their game going again.
It worked as two minutes later Hickman picked up a loose puck in the slot and got it home to tie the game. It was his second of the night and gave Seattle a second life.
"I don't really remember how it got to me in the slot but I just kind of spun and fired one on net," Hickman said of the play. "I kept going to the net and found the rebound on my back hand and just put it in the open net. It felt good."
The game went into overtime and appeared to be destined for a shoot out until Delnov walked into the slot from the half-boards and beat Burke in the five-hole. The T-Birds bench erupted and flooded the ice to celebrate the type of win they seemed hard pressed to pick up just a night before.
"It was the complete opposite (to Friday's game)," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said about his team. "It was the reaction we would have hoped we would have had. We came out to win a hockey game and if they were going to beat us they were going to have to play a heck of a game."
For the second straight home game, Seattle (13-9-1-3) took on one of the league's best teams and played them toe-to-toe. They got going early as the emotion and energy led to two early scraps that seemed to fire up the T-Birds bench.
Hickman got Seattle on the board first with a goal that he banged home from the side of the Portland net -- in almost the same spot that he would score from later. Portland (18-5-2-1) got the goal back late as Taylor Leier beat Justin Myles while short-handed.
The second period saw both clubs take turns controlling the play and getting good scoring chances. Seattle pulled ahead again when Roberts Lipsbergs took a pass from Ethan Bear and fired a quick shot for his 15th goal of the year. The T-Birds got an even bigger goal just before the period ended when Branden Troock got a pass from Scott Eansor and beat Burke with 17 seconds left in the period.
"I just kind of took a little break and Eansor made the right play to chip it ahead to me," said Troock of the play. "I just got my feet moving and shot it in stride and beat the goalie far post."
It seemed like maybe Seattle would breeze to an easy win.
Instead, the defending WHL Champions almost turned the night into a disaster for Seattle. They got on the board seven minutes into the third on a Keegan Iverson goal and then tied it up when Nic Petan beat Myles. Seattle has seen Portland do this before -- they can score in bunches.
Two minutes after the game-tying goal the Winterhawks took the lead when Brenden Leipsic knocked home a back door power play goal. For a second the air seemed to exit the building.
The T-Birds called their time out and got the game tying goal a few minutes later. It was a big night for the captain, Hickman, as he played determined and was rewarded with the game saving tally.
"That's huge," Troock said of the captain's play. "He was on a mission tonight, he was a beast out there. When he's digging in like that all the guys are going to fall right in."
Fall right in they did. Seattle was able to erase the bad taste in their mouth's from Friday night loss in Vancouver and go into next weekend with a lot of confidence and momentum.
"It's a big win because we were building some momentum with our compete level and it was pretty frustrating to see what happened last night...this was a big rebound to keep building that momentum," Konowalchuk said.
Seattle now has played two consecutive home games where they went toe-to-toe with the two best teams in the WHL. They picked up three points in those two games and that should give them a boost moving forward.
"That's definitely a confidence boost, we know that we can play with anybody," Hickman said. "That's the top team in the league and they've given us a bit of grief but if we come out and compete like that there's nobody in the league that can beat us."
Seattle will next play on Friday as they host the Saskatoon Blades.
Roberts Lipsbergs has now scored a goal in four straight games.
Scott Eansor played another strong game for Seattle. He centered a line with Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie and they had the unenviable task of trying to check the Leipsic-Petan line. They held their own and Konowalchuk likes what he sees in Eansor. "Eansor just seems to be improving," he said of the Colorado native. "He's a well rounded hockey player. You're going to see him get more points...he can skate with the top players in the league. He's smart, he's tenacious and he's a pain to play against."
Seattle went 0-for-5 on the power play Saturday which snaps a streak of three straight games that they have at least one power play goal.
When Hickman scored in the first period it was the fifth straight game that Seattle has opened the scoring.
The T-Birds are now 2-3-0-0 against the Winterhawks. Last season they only managed two wins in the 13 games that they played against their I-5 rivals.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Friday, November 22, 2013 @ 11:30pm
By Andrew Eide
Just when it looked the the Thunderbirds had found their competitive path again they took a step back Friday night at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. The Vancouver Giants erupted for four goals in the second period to break open a tie game and never looked back on their way to a 6-3 laugher. Vancouver got goals from six different players and picked up 24 saves from Jared Rathjen in the win.
"It started off OK, we got the first goal," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I thought we started a little tentative and then we kind of started backing off and we didn't have the jump we needed tonight."
That first goal made it feel like perhaps Seattle would be in for a good night. The goal came two and a half minutes into the period when Jared Hauf floated a wrist shot from the blue line that beat Rathjen. The Giants did manage to came back and tied the game on a Rob Trzonkowski deflection sending the two teams to the dressing room tied at one.
The second period is where things got ugly for Seattle (12-9-1-3) as they gave up a four-spot and never recovered.
It started from the first shift when Vancouver got the puck in deep and had several close chances on Seattle goalie Danny Mumaugh. While the Giants didn't score on that first shift, it set the tone for the rest of the period -- one that would see Vancouver score four times.
"There were a few moments tha showed me that we didn't have the jump and the tenacity to get back to that compete level that we needed to win the hockey game," Konowalchuk said.
The goals came quick and furious in the second. It started with Trace Elson picking up his first WHL goal and ended in fitting fashion, with 12 seconds left, when Joel Hamilton's shot was stopped by Mumaugh but the puck deflected high into the air, landing behind the Seattle goalie and slid over the goal line. When the horn sounded the T-Birds were down three goals and were out shot 21-9 in the second.
Vancouver also got goals from Brett Kulak and Luca Leon in the period and were sandwiched around a Jaimen Yakubowski goal for Seattle.
When the third period started Mumuagh was replaced by Justin Myles but Seattle's fate would not change. Jackson Houck scored his 12th goal seven minutes into the period to put the game further out of reach. The T-Birds had extended power play opportunities in the third, including two five-on-three advantages but could only cash in once, on a Roberts Lipsbergs goal.
Coming off one of their strongest performances on Tuesday against Kelowna, Friday night seemed like a disappointing step back to the way the team was playing during their six-game losing streak.
"It is (disappointing)," Konowalchuk said. "I was surprised to see us not have that same jump we had. I thought that was a little disappointing but we have to get back at it tomorrow and get our compete level back up."
Things don't get easier for the T-Birds as they host the Portland Winterhawks Saturday night a the ShoWare Center.
Konowalchuk said that Justin Myles will start in net Saturday night against the Winterhawks. That decision had nothing to do with the results Friday night however as Konowalchuk said giving Myles the start was the plan going into the weekend.
Despite the results there were a couple of positives Friday. Seattle scored a power play goal for the third straight game and Roberts Lipsbergs scored a goal for the third straight game.
The second period was bad for Seattle as they gave up four goals and were heavily out shot. They out shot Vancouver 18-15 in the other two periods combined.
Portland comes to town Saturday after hosting, and beating, the Spokane Chiefs 6-4 Friday night.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Thursday, November 21, 2013 @ 10:06pm
Seattle's Danny Mumaugh has started three straight games for the Thunderbirds (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andy Eide
One of the biggest moments of the Thunderbirds season to date happened in Cranbrook, B.C., on Oct. 6th, and 17-year-old goalie Danny Mumaugh was right in the center of it.
Playing its third road game in as many nights, Seattle was clinging to a one-goal lead in the waning seconds of a game with the Kootenay Ice. The Ice had pulled their goalie for the extra attacker, desperately trying to get the game-tying goal. The puck found its way onto the stick of Kootenay forward Sam Rheinhart -- considered one of the best players in the WHL and a possible first overall NHL draft pick this spring. He had a seam, he took his shot, and the puck seemed destined to find the twine and tie the game.
As the crowd and Ice players began to celebrate what they thought was a dramatic goal, Mumaugh dove to his left and snagged the puck before it crossed the goal line.
"I honestly thought it was going in the net, but he fired it right into my glove," Mumaugh said of the play. "I couldn't believe it."
After the play there was a bit of chaos on the ice. The officials called 'no goal' and the Ice players all converged on the net to argue. Mumaugh, with the puck in his glove, skated away shaking his head 'no.'
He wasn't being cocky, he was being confident -- he had a swagger.
"I just knew right away that it wasn't a goal. I didn't want my teammates second guessing," he said. "I didn't want the refs to second guess and think maybe it did cross the goal line. I let them know, 'No, there's no way'."
Mumaugh grew up in Colorado, a long way away from Cranbrook, B.C., but ever since watching Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in 2001 he wanted to be a goalie. He signed with Seattle and last year got called up mid-way through the season when Justin Myles got hurt.
For Mumaugh, jumping from playing U-16 in Colorado to the WHL was quite an awakening.
"It's a pretty big jump and I think its good that I got a chance to get my feet wet," he said. "It kind of gave me a little bit of a leg up for this year. It was night and day between U-16 and the WHL; obviously the skill and the game is faster."
Appearing in 18 games for the T-Birds, he took the expected lumps for a 16-year-old goalie. However, by season's end he was asked to step in and earn the Thunderbirds some huge points as they tried to end their three-year-long playoff drought. When Brandon Glover got suspended for two games, Mumaugh was tapped to start against the Tri City Americans and secure a playoff berth.
Mumaugh played well that night, got his first career win, and Seattle made the playoffs. A few nights later he came into a game with Portland and helped Seattle secure the seventh seed. Playing in those big games were big confidence boosts for Mumaugh.
"When you get that win you know you can get more, and you just have to keep chipping away and keep getting better," Mumaugh says of the experience. "Confidence builds with those wins. When the coach has confidence in you he'll put you in big games like that."
Going into the offseason, Mumaugh knew that with Brandon Glover graduating the Seattle net was up for grabs. He worked hard and wanted to come back into camp and get noticed, hopefully for a chance to start.
"My main thing was just to go into camp, come in with a little bit of swagger," he said. "I was a returning guy so you have to carry yourself with confidence. Really the only goal I had was to go in, play confidently and keep calm."
Coming out of camp, Mumaugh and Myles were Seattle's goalies, and head coach Steve Konowalchuk alternated starts between the two. Both were playing well, pushing each other and giving the T-Birds solid goaltending -- something that was perceived to be a weakness going into the year.
Lately, Mumaugh has caught fire.
With the club in the middle of a tough six-game losing streak, Konowalchuk has given Mumaugh the net on three straight occasions. In those three games, Mumaugh has earned the team four points -- winning once and losing both an overtime and shootout game. Mumaugh has only allowed five goals over that stretch, good for a goals against average of 1.62 and a save percentage .945. His overall save percentage of .916 is seventh in the WHL.
So far Mumaugh is happy with his season, but is always looking to improve.
"Besides a few games, against Portland and that one against Everett, I feel good," the young goaltender says. "Even in those games, when they score you can't let it bother you. I think the thing about being a goalie is that you can't flinch, you can't show the opposition that you're angry or mad. That's the one thing you have to work on as a goalie. You can't show your emotions, you just have to stay calm and let the game come to you. Every night my goal out there is to focus on one thing at a time and give my team a chance to win -- that's the main goal."
One of the reasons for his success is his competitiveness. Another is, of course, his quick glove hand, something he said hasn't always been noticeable.
"You work on that in practice," Mumaugh says. "Ian (Seattle goalie coach Ian Gordon) before practice will always have a bucket of pucks and shoot 'em at your glove. I never really discovered it until this year, but I guess you could say that my glove hand has been going pretty good. A lot of it has to do with tracking the puck. I've got to look through screens. At times I can't use my body because I don't have a 6-foot-4 frame so I kind of have to react to it."
When it seems the trend is for bigger and taller goalies, Mumaugh is proving that your height really doesn't matter.
"I'm not the biggest guy in the world, but whether 5-10 or 6-4, as long as you keep the puck out of the net I don't think it really matters how big you are," he says. "A lot of that does have to do with competing. I hate to lose. I love to win and so does everybody on this team."
For the most part Mumaugh seems like an unassuming player, right down to his plain white goalie mask which he says he's always had. He also says that is about to change.
"Its being painted right now,"Mumaugh says of his first-ever painted mask. "Everything is done besides getting it to me, so you should see a painted mask soon. We're pretty fortunate here in Seattle that our equipment manager and general manger allow us to get painted masks, so I'm pretty excited."
Konowalchuk has not come out and named Mumaugh the No. 1 starter, but with the way Mumaugh has been playing it's going to be hard to take him out of the net. With the losing streak behind them Mumaugh and the rest of the team are ready to get back to winning.
"Every night we have to come out and play like our hair is on fire," Mumaugh said of the rest of the season. "We can't take anyone lightly. In this league everyone can win games. You just have to go out and be competitive and work hard. ... As a goalie you can't worry about being the No. 1 or No. 2 guy, you've just got to take your chances as they come to you, just focus on one game at a time and when you get your time in net, have to make the most of it."
So far Danny Mumaugh is making the most of it.
Seattle's next game is Friday at Vancouver before they return home to host the Portland Winterhawks.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide
Tuesday, November 19, 2013 @ 10:06pm
Seattle's Danny Mumaugh makes one of his 47 saves during the T-Birds 4-3 shoot out loss (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- It seems that the Thunderbirds and Kelowna Rockets have continued their epic playoff series from last season. Tuesday night the two teams played their sixth overtime affair in their last eight meetings as the Rockets won 4-3 in a shoot out. Tyson Baillie converted on his shoot out attempt to propel the Rockets to their ninth straight victory. Seattle got another outstanding outing by goalie Danny Mumaugh who made 47 saves in the defeat.
"Those shoot outs are fun when you win, they're sure not fun when you have to lose them that way, but the guys battled hard," coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "It was a good hockey game. I thought both teams played hard, they brought their 'A' game and we played a good game as well and its unfortunate that you have to lose in a shoot out."
Kelowna (16-2-0-2) came into the game with one of the league's best records and stingiest defenses. Seattle (12-8-1-3) always seems to play them tough, going back to last year and Tuesday was no different.
"I thought the boys played well," Branden Troock said. "We were in the game the whole time and its tough that we couldn't pull it out in the shoot out but I thought we battled hard."
Tuesday's night game was intense and had a playoff atmosphere to it. For the T-Birds, who have been struggling, they played a high energy game and generated a good deal of scoring chances. If not for a strong game by Kelowna goalie Jackson Whistle, who had to make 43 saves, the outcome could have been different.
"(It's) just getting back to basics," Justin Hickman said. "Trying to not throw pucks away when the plays aren't there. When the shot is there just taking more shots, we had a lot of shots on net which we haven't been getting much lately."
The game was an exciting back-and-forth affair that saw both teams take leads and give those leads up. Kelowna broke a 2-2 tie on the first shift of the third period as Madison Bowey fired home a shot on a scramble play. Seattle didn't let that deter them however and got the game back to even on the power play as Alex Delnov knocked home a rebound. It was Seattle's second power play tally of the night breaking a 0-for-40 drought against the Rockets that dated back to last season.
Mid-way through the period the game took an ugly turn as Kelowna's Mitchell Wheaton was seriously injured on a play behind the Rockets net. On the play Seattle's Roberts Lipsbergs collided with Wheaton sending the Kelowna player head first into the end boards. He lay motionless on the ice for a long stretch of time before being helped off the ice on a stretcher.
On the play Lipsbergs was assessed a five-minute major checking from behind penalty and a game misconduct. It was an unfortunate play but one that didn't seem dirty.
"I hope he (Wheaton) is ok, that's the most important thing," Konowalchuk said. "It looked like he turned back into Lipsbergs there, that's really what it looked like to us and I don't think 'Lippy can stop (there). You know Lipsbergs not that kind of player, he's just playing hard at the time."
It was a pivotal and emotional point in the game. For the next five minutes Seattle managed to hold off the Rockets power play thanks to good saves from Mumaugh and good efforts from Scott Eansor and Jerret Smith -- both of whom stood out.
The T-Birds were forced to kill off another minor penalty almost immediately after the five minute major and went into the home stretch still alive. Neither team could score however and the game went into overtime and eventually a shoot out. Mathew Barzal and Branden Troock scored on Seattle's first two attempts only to see to Justin Kirkland and Damon Severson strike back to tie before Baillie's winner.
Seattle opened the scoring in the first period for the third straight game as Ryan Gropp flung a wrist shot past Whistle off of a face off. He fought off a Kelowna player for the free puck after Eansor had won the draw. The T-Birds continued to push only to see Kelowna tie it up just before the first ended on a power play goal from Severson.
In the second period the Rockets went ahead on a Ryan Olsen power play goal before Seattle tied it back up with a power play goal of their own from Lipsbergs.
The game was as exciting as could be expected, had a bit of everything and as it wore on that playoff feel heated up, as neither team was willing to back down.
"That's how rivalries are really built up, when you get a team in the playoffs and have a good series," Konowalchuk said. "There's still some emotion that carries over. It was a good game."
There were a lot of positives for Seattle on Tuesday night. They put in a top effort against the best team in the WHL and hung with them. They fought back from some severe adversity, especially in the third period when they faced nearly seven straight minutes of penalty kill. A week ago, when they were scuffling they couldn't muster a response in those situations -- Tuesday they did.
"We played well tonight, it sucks that we lost," Hickman said. "We've got two big tests this weekend again and we're going to come hungry and ready for the four points this weekend."
The T-Birds have now picked up four points over their last three games and while two of those games were overtime losses, getting points in a tough Western Conference is key.
Seattle will next travel to Vancouver to take on suddenly tough Giants team before returning home Saturday to host the Portland Winterhawks at the ShoWare Center
The streak is over. Seattle went 40 straight power play chances against the Rockets without scoring. Tuesday night they converted on 2-of-4 to break though against the leagues top penalty killing team. "You're not going to get pretty plays against that (penalty kill team)," Konowalchuk said. "You've got to shoot the puck and you've got to go for rebounds. We did finally get some shots there and went to the net, got some rebounds."
The T-Birds power play has also struggled for the balance of the year but now have picked up three goals in their last two games. Perhaps they are finding their stride?
Gropp scored his second goal and played one of his strongest games to date. Konowalchuk felt that he's starting to get his confidence going and using his speed. He was flying around the ice and displayed a lightning quick release on his shot.]
Lipsbergs scored another goal Tuesday, for the second straight game. Always a streaky player the two game goal scoring streak comes on the heels of six games without a goal -- is he in line for another streak.
Seattle got good performances from two of its younger players Tuesday. Gropp and Eansor both played strong games which is a good sign moving forward.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Saturday, November 16, 2013 @ 9:27pm
By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds found their winning formula Saturday night and beat the Victoria Royals 3-1 to end their six game losing streak. Seattle got another excellent outing by goalie Danny Mumaugh who made 24 saves along with goals from Justin Hickman, Jaimen Yakubowski and Roberts Lipsbergs in the win.
Seattle broke a one-one tie in the second period when Branden Troock stole a puck in the Royals zone and fed it to Yakubowski in the slot. Yakubowski buried it for his second goal as a T-Bird giving Seattle a lead they would not relinquish.
After a couple of weeks where the team looked defeated they end up with picking up three points on the weekend.
"It was a good win, It was a really good team effort," coach Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. "I thought we took what we did well as far as the defensive game from yesterday and built off that but we also bucked up a little bit as a man. We paid the price to win puck battles and I thought that was the difference in a win or a loss."
Seattle (12-8-1-2) started the game playing physical -- something that had been missing from their game.
That physical play led to an early power play as Ryan Gropp drove the net and drew a penalty. The T-Birds power play has been struggling but on Saturday they cashed in when Hickman banged home a rebound for his sixth of the season and the T-Birds had the early lead.
"Its a power play goal, that helped," Konowalchuk said. "You want your power play to be big, but it was a shot and we had traffic and we bang it home. That's big when you're not playing as confident as you need to be, that first goal always helps."
The one goal lead was far from a sure thing as the T-Birds found out Friday night when they also led by a goal early. Saturday night was different however as the T-Birds defense, now back to full strength, played a much tighter game. The T-Birds also held their own winning battles for loose pucks against the always physical Royals.
Victoria (13-10-0-1) did manage to tie the game on a flukey play. Mumaugh was behind his net to play what he thought would be a routine dump in. Instead of the puck hitting the end boards though it caught the side of the net and rebounded back out to the slot. Trapped behind his net Mumaugh could only watch as Austin Carroll deposited it in the Seattle net to tie the game.
When you lose six straight games goals like that seem to happen.
The T-Birds didn't let that sink their compete level though. They hung tough and got the lead back five minutes later when Troock and Yakubowski teamed up. It was a nice change to see the team strengthen their backs instead of let that bad luck goal sink them.
"It's huge," Konowalchuk said of his team's response. "I didn't sense anyone get off the game plan. Everyone had poise, you know fought through it, were committed to the team first and they worked hard."
Troock and Yakubowski played on a line with Sam McKechnie Saturday night and the three played an excellent game. They forechecked, played at both ends of the ice and it's no surprise that they were the ones to combine for the go ahead goal.
"They worked hard, they worked smart, they passed the puck and they won battles," Konowalchuk said of the three. "They were committed to both ends of the ice. McKechnie, you know, he's a smart, two-way player and he can chip and charge."
With the lead the T-Birds then turned the game over to Mumaugh to take them home. Playing in his second straight game, the Colorado native stood tall once again and shut the door on the Royals. He made several key saves as Victoria was pushing, trying to find the game tying tally.
Mumaugh has come on as the season has progressed and Saturday marked the first time that Seattle has gone with the same guy in net on two consecutive games. They had previously been rotating between Mumaugh and Justin Myles but with Myles' recent struggles Konowalchuk went with the hot hand.
It paid off and when Roberts Lipsbergs scored on the empty net late in the game Seattle could breathe a sigh of relief. For Mumuagh, it was yet another strong performance.
"He's a competitor. He's a confident kid and he has high goals for himself," Konowalchuk said of Mumaugh. "You know, I give him credit. At the end of last year we needed him for some big points and he stepped up and got us big points. Right now, with hitting a little adversity for these two games, he came in and stepped up."
Seattle now can head back home with a good feeling after a solid win. They return home to take on the red hot Kelowna Rockets Tuesday at the ShoWare Center. The Rockets may be the best team in the league and have won eight straight games. It will be a tough task for Seattle, but now they go into that match up with some momentum.
"It (the win) builds momentum," Konowalchuk said. "After not too happy of a game yesterday we can come out of here with three out of four points. We can build off that for next game."
Center Mathew Barzal was a healthy scratch for the T-Birds. He had played in all of Seattle's previous 22 games.
Seattle got some guys back Saturday as Ethan Bear and Mical Holub returned to action. With Bear's return and Wardley's return the team now is at full strength on the back end. Something that is important with Kelowna coming in.
Mumaugh's weekend was pretty stellar. He gave up three goals over the two games and was a fluke away from his second shut out on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how Konowalchuk deploys his goalies moving forward as Mumaugh has separated himself with his play of late.
Lipsbergs goal in the third was his 12th of the season and broke a six game goalless streak for the Latvian.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Friday, November 15, 2013 @ 9:33pm
By Andrew Eide
Seattle saw their losing streak grow to six straight Friday night after dropping a 2-1 overtime struggle against the Victoria Royals at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena in Victoria. The Royals got the winner 52 seconds into the overtime period as Logan Nelson snapped home a shot from the slot to beat a game Danny Mumaugh.
Seattle gets a much needed point in the standings but in the end, still came up short.
"It was in some ways (a better effort)," coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "We had a better conscious effort on getting the third guy and limiting their offense but we're still soft on the puck. We've got guys that still need to be hard on the puck."
The Thunderbirds, coming off their worst effort of the season last week in Portland, did get off to a better start Friday night. For the first time during their losing streak they picked up the game's first goal as Branden Troock deflected a Kevin Wolf point shot past Coleman Vollrath.
Falling behind early is something that has been constant during the losing streak and Friday night Seattle was able to improve in that sense. Where they still struggled was to generate offense. Konowalchuk mentioned being hard on the puck and by not being hard on the puck it was hard for Seattle to generate possession and scoring chances.
Konowalchuk juggled his lines again as the combination of injuries and fitting in new players has the team searching for some consistency and chemistry.
"Trying to get some chemistry for sure, trying to get a couple different lines going," the coach said of Friday's lineup."We still aren't there where we need to be to get our lines going, we need more guys going. Still not digging in and battling for the puck so then I need to switch it up."
Seattle tried to cling to their lead and relied heavily on the shoulders, and glove, of Mumuagh. The 17-year-old goalie made 32 saves on the night and gave the T-Birds a chance to end their losing streak. Seattle was out shot 26-14 in the first two frames as Mumaugh stood tall for them.
The Royals managed to solve Mumaugh in the second period however as the hot Brandon Magee took the puck from the half boards and fired a wrist shot from the circle. Mumaugh managed to get a piece of it with his glove but could not keep it from beating him.
The third period was played tentatively by both clubs as neither seemed to want to make a mistake in a close game. Both clubs managed seven shots on goal but neither goaltender relented -- sending the game into overtime.
In overtime Ben Walker had the puck behind the Seattle net and quickly got it to Nelson who fired an equally quick snap shot to send the T-Birds back to their hotel with their sixth straight loss.
"You can tell we're don't have a high confidence level right now, that happens when you're going through something like this, " Konowalchuk said of his team's psyche. "I get that, but the only way you're going to get confidence is to dig in a little harder for the puck. That's what we've got to do tomorrow, we've got take the same approach as far as defensive hockey first but then we've got to dig in for pucks."
The theme that has been laced throughout the six losses has been the level of competitiveness up and down the roster. Konowalchuk still has the hammer of taking ice time away but he says that the players also have to take the challenge upon themselves.
"You can take some ice time away and I'll continue to do that but if you have to keep taking ice time away to try and motivate guys you're going to be in for a long year," he said. "Guys have to be self-motivated to work harder for the puck. The only time you should need to take ice time away should be one out of every 10-15 games where a guy gets a little complacent and needs a wake up call, but right now it's too much and too often, it's frustrating."
The T-Birds will get a another shot at the Royals Saturday night as they play the second of a back-to-back game on Vancouver Island.
The Thunderbirds had been giving up a ton of goals during their previous five losses - giving up 30 over that span. Friday they turned in a much better effort with only allowing two however the Royals did get a lot of good chances and Mumaugh had to make great saves.
Evan Wardley returned to the ice Friday after serving his four game suspension. Ethan Bear was out again with an injury but Konowalchuk said that he is close to returning and may be a game time decision Saturday night. The same is true for Mical Holub who has also been out with an injury.
Konowalchuk has been rotating his two goaltenders all year. Justin Myles has struggled in his last two outings, getting pulled in both, and with Mumaugh's fine play Konowalchuk said he will assess tomorrow whether or not to give Mumaugh a second straight start.
Magee's goal in the second period was his fifth in his last three games.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Thursday, November 14, 2013 @ 9:58pm
Seattle will get a look at B.C. Division teams Victoria and Kelowna this week (photo whl.ca)
By Andrew Eide
There is no beating around the bush when it comes to the current state of the Thunderbirds -- they are in a slump. They have lost five straight games and were not competitive in four of those as they have been heavily out scored of late. They have a chance to right the ship this week and get back on the winning side of the ledger as they play three games in the B.C. Division.
One good news item for Seattle is that they will get Evan Wardley back this weekend as he has served his full suspension for his hit on Portland's Adam De Champlain. He will be welcome as Seattle's defense has struggled lately -- giving up 30 goals during the losing streak.
Here's what the T-Birds have on tap this week.
Friday and Saturday: Victoria Royals
Record: 12-9-0-1 (second, B.C. Division)
T-Birds all-time record against: 16-4-0-3-1
This season: 0-1
Scouting Report: The T-Birds head to Vancouver Island to take on the Royals for two games this weekend. Seattle and Victoria played last Friday and while the Royals came away with a 5-3 win, it was a game that Seattle dominated from start to finish. Seattle ran into some great goaltending by Coleman Vollrath combined with a bit of bad puck luck as they missed some open nets and hit at least three cross bars. The Royals are a tough team to play against normally as they have a good top line and play a physical brand of hockey.
They do come into this weekend a bit banged up as reports say that Joe Hicketts, Jordan Fransoo, Keegan Kanzig, Jack Walker and Brandon Magee all missed practice time earlier this week. All of those players appear on the WHL report as injured as well. If those guys can't go this weekend Seattle should be able to wear down the Royals and pick up some wins.
Victoria's led by Logan Nelson and Austin Carroll up front but with the injuries guys like rookie Tyler Soy and Brandon Fushimi (who scored twice against Seattle last week) could be asked to log more ice time. The biggest injury hit will be on their back end where they could be missing two of their top defeneseman in Hicketts and Kanzig.
In net Seattle got a full dose of Vollrath last week and it appears that he might be wresting the number one goalie spot away from Patrik Polivka. With back-to-back games the T-Birds may see both guys in net and both are good. Vollrath followed up his 46 save night against Seattle the next night with a 43 save win at Portland -- only giving up two goals.
On paper the T-Birds should be able to come out and control the play against the banged up Royals again this weekend. The key is that Seattle has not been able to control much of anything lately. Seattle has a chance to win both of these games but the Royals are not going to hand it to them. They will need to come out of the gates breathing fire and not let up, which is something that has been glaringly missing from their game of late.
Tuesday: Kelowna Rockets
Record: 14-2-0-2 (first, B.C. Division)
T-Birds all-time record against: 56-48-2-9-10
This season: 1-0
Scouting Report: The Rockets return to the ShoWare Center for the first time since Game 6 of the playoffs last year. They won that game in overtime -- something that happens a lot when these two teams match up. They've played once this year, in Kelowna, and Seattle won in a shoot out as once again 60 minutes was not enough to settle it. The Rockets can make an argument to be the best team in the WHL but due to a scheduling quirk they have played a league-low 18 games this season. That being said they currently are sitting on a seven game win streak.
The strength of Kelowna is on their back end and in goal. They have only allowed 2.38 goals per game which is good enough for the league's best. Along with that they also can boast the WHL's best penalty kill unit. Seattle has struggled on the power play this year and failed to score on any of their power play attempts in the seven game playoff series - as well as the first meeting this year.
When you give up the fewest goals in the league you can bet that you're getting good goaltending, and that's exactly what 20-year-old Jordan Cooke is giving the Rockets. So far Cooke has a minuscule goals-against average of 2.03 and has a save percentage of .932. Those numbers are helped by a solid blue-line group led by Damon Severson and Madison Bowey, two guys who are capable of shutting you down but are also contributing on the offensive side of things.
Up front the Rockets are getting a good year out of NHL Draft Prospect Tyson Baillie who is having a strong season. Just behind Baillie is 16-year-old rookie Nick Merkley who has 19 points and is a fun player to watch. The key for Seattle will be to get pucks deep and make Kelowna's defense turn and chase. That will allow the T-Birds to get their forecheck going and be able to pin the Rockets in their own end. Again, the way the T-Birds have been playing that is easier said then done.
This will be a big test for Seattle and if they come out as flat as they did against Portland this past week they will be in for a long night.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Thursday, November 14, 2013 @ 11:10am
By Tim Pigulski
This probably isn't what Russ Farwell had in mind when he convinced Ryan Gropp to commit to Seattle and traded for 19-year-old forwards Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie.
The Thunderbirds are currently on a five-game losing streak. During that span, they've been outscored 30-10. Three games were against division rivals – two versus Portland, and a shutout loss at the hands of Everett. They haven't given up fewer than five goals in each of the five games, including surrendering an embarrassing 10 to the Winterhawks on Tuesday night. They also haven't put up more than three goals in a single game during that time.
Prior to the streak, which began with a 5-2 home loss to Portland, the Thunderbirds had put up 64 goals in 16 games, an average of four. The offense wasn't struggling, and the hope was that adding three offensively talented players would only strengthen their arsenal.
They had allowed 53 goals before Nov. 1, when the streak began, an average of 3.3 per game. Evan Wardley has been suspended for four of the five games and Ethan Bear has been injured for two games and part of a third over the past couple weeks. Both are important pieces on defense, but that doesn't explain a jump of 2.7 goals per game.
To top it all off, the team announced a surprising move during its most recent loss to Portland, waiving 20-year-old forward Erik Benoit, who had eight points in 19 games and occupied one of the team's valuable overage spots. When Mitch Elliot returned to the Thunderbirds from the Utica Comets earlier this season, Benoit was kept over defenseman Jesse Forsberg, who was sent to the Moose Jaw Warriors to keep the Thunderbirds at the maximum of three 20-year-olds.
That obviously looks like a mistake now, as the team is struggling defensively and Benoit is no longer even on the roster. The circumstances of his release are still a mystery at this point, but after being a healthy scratch last Friday night against Victoria, one must wonder if there was some trouble brewing in the locker room and if Benoit had asked to be released.
The lines have been juggled every night, as head coach Steve Konowalchuk attempts to find some combinations that will get his team back on track and works around the injuries and suspensions. One of the few consistent groupings featured center Mathew Barzal with left wing Roberts Lipsbergs, but even that group was broken up on Tuesday night.
Are the new additions to blame for the team's struggles? Of course not. All three players should have been given the benefit of an adjustment period, as Gropp was moving up to a more competitive level after just turning 17 years old, while Yakubowski and McKechnie were acquired after playing for an awful Lethbridge team and being sent home. In addition to entering a new system with new teammates and new coaches, they also hadn't skated in some time.
So who or what exactly is at fault? It's tough to pin it on exactly one player, but it was very clear on Tuesday night that people weren't on the same page. They gave their hated rivals in Portland entirely too much respect as they allowed players like Nic Petan, Brendan Leipsic, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Paul Bittner to skate circles around them. If you enter a game expecting to lose, you're going to do just that. It was clear less than a minute into the game that the result was going to be ugly.
By the end of 20 minutes, Seattle was down by five goals and the game was more than over. Starting goalie Justin Myles was pulled less than 15 minutes in for Danny Mumaugh, who, despite allowing six goals of his own, faced more than three times as many shots as the player he replaced.
The Thunderbirds play two games this weekend in Victoria against a team that they outplayed for nearly an entire 60 minutes, but somehow still managed to lose to by a final score of 5-3. After that, they host the red-hot Kelowna Rockets, who are currently on a seven-game winning streak and sit near the top of the Western Conference. If the Thunderbirds turn in performances like they have over the past two weekends, you can count that game as a loss right now.
They'll travel to Vancouver three days later to face a Giants team that could very well be the cure for their troubles. Vancouver is sitting second-to-last in the conference and has been beaten by the Thunderbirds in both matchups this season. If the Thunderbirds somehow drop that game, which looks like a very real possibility at this point, they will then begin a 12-game stretch that includes 10 games against division rivals, including three against both Spokane and Portland, two versus Everett, and two against Tri-City. The other two games against Victoria and Saskatoon won't be cakewalks either, so this five-game losing streak could easily resemble the ugly long-term episodes the team has seen in each of the past few seasons.
Is it time to hit the panic button? Maybe not yet. Five games, while certainly alarming – more so when you consider the performances put forth in those contests – is just a small portion of a long 72-game season. However, should those five games turn into 10 or 15, changes may need to be made.
It is important to remember that despite the streak, Seattle remains above .500 with an 11-8-0-2 record. The Thunderbirds fattened up their point totals on an Eastern Conference road swing against opponents much weaker than they'll usually face, then topped it off with a victory over powerhouse Kelowna. At that point, expectations shot through the roof, and were only increased by the Gropp, McKechnie, and Yakubowski additions. Had Seattle's victories and defeats been spaced out a bit, rather than included significant streaks in both directions, perspectives would be much different.
There is absolutely no reason that this team, with all of the talent and depth that it possesses, should succumb to the month-long slumps that have crippled it in the past. At this point, it's been less than two weeks and has included injuries, suspensions, and roster adjustments. If things remain ugly, questions should certainly be asked and changes will need to be made, but at this point, five games remain but a small blip in the bigger picture.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski.
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