Updated Oct 4, 2013 - 3:25 pm
Seattle Thunderbirds Blog
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 @ 1:35pm
By Tim Pigulski
The regular season couldn't have gone much better for the Kelowna Rockets, who finished with the WHL's best record and found themselves ranked atop most polls as not only the best team in the Western Hockey League, but the entire Canadian Hockey League.
For Seattle, there were some definite high and low points, but overall it was a very good season. The T-Birds recorded 30 more points during the regular season than they did last year, including 17 more wins. With that improvement, they finished fourth in the Western Conference, giving them home-ice advantage in the first round, which Seattle made the most of in defeating rival Everett four games to one.
However, none of that matters now, as the T-Birds and Rockets are set for a rematch of last year's historic first-round series. As the conference's top seed, Kelowna will have home-ice advantage, but if the T-Birds are able to do a few things they have a chance to upset one of the top teams in major junior hockey.
Play with an edge, but smart. For the T-Birds to be successful against a very good Kelowna team, they're going to need to assert themselves physically. If they can play like they did in Game 5 versus Everett, when they set the tone with a few big open-ice hits but were penalized only once, they'll put the Rockets back on their heels and control the tempo of the game.
Players like Evan Wardley, Jared Hauf, Mitch Elliot, Jaimen Yakubowski, Justin Hickman, Branden Troock, and Keegan Kolesar will be important in this series. Each is capable of changing the momentum of a game when they throw their weight around. However, it's also important that these players (and everyone else) stay out of the penalty box. In Seattle's only loss in the opening round, the Silvertips went 2-for-5 on the power play while Jaimen Yakubowski served a one-game suspension for a hit on Everett's Noah Juulsen. The penalties, combined with the absence of a key player, opened the way for an offensive explosion by the 'Tips.
The Rockets, led by gritty wing Tyrell Goulbourne, won't back down easily. In the same way that Seattle will hope to pressure Kelowna's defensemen on the forecheck, Seattle's own blueliners will need to be able to stare down the Rockets' pressure and make good, quick decisions with the puck on the breakout.
Win the special teams battle. When these two teams faced each other in the playoffs last year, Seattle's power play was dismal en route to an 0-for-27 performance. Considering that Kelowna's final three victories of the series were all by one goal, just one or two timely power-play goals over the course of the series could have changed everything for Seattle.
During the regular season, Seattle and Kelowna played four times, each finishing with a 2-1-0-1 record against the other. In the T-Birds' two losses combined, Kelowna was 4-for-11 with the man advantage. In Seattle's wins, the Rockets were just 1-for-11.
In the first round this season, the T-Birds had only 17 power-play opportunities in five games against the rarely-penalized Silvertips, three of which they converted. They're sure to have more opportunities against a Kelowna team that was shorthanded 98 more times than Everett during the regular season.
Make no mistake – the Rockets are a very, very good hockey team. The T-Birds will need to take advantage of their power-play opportunities while ensuring that they limit their opposition's.
Taran Kozun needs to steal a game (or two). Kelowna was the WHL's second-highest scoring team during the regular season, averaging 4.3 goals per game. If T-Birds goalie Taran Kozun can steal a game or two – which he has shown he is perfectly capable of – and be solid during the remainder of the series, Seattle can win.
In their first-round matchup with Tri-City, the Rockets lost only one game. That contest, a 4-3 defeat at the Toyota Center, saw the Americans' Eric Comrie turn away 52 of 55 shots. That total ended up being Kelowna's highest in the series, yet it turned into their lone loss.
Against Everett, we saw the T-Birds win a couple of close games that they perhaps should have lost due to outstanding performances by Kozun in net. The Nipawin, Saskatchewan native had four shutouts in just 24 regular-season games with Seattle. If he can put together one or two of those performances against an offensively-potent Rockets team, Seattle will be in a very good position to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
One thing that makes this Kelowna team so tough is its defense's ability to jump into the play, essentially giving the team four forwards. The Rockets are led by Damon Severson, a New Jersey Devils selection two years ago who has a cannon of slapshot, and team captain Madison Bowey, a Washington Capitals draftee who had 60 points during the regular season. Both are great two-way players.
Three of the Rockets' top 11 scorers were defensemen, and Mitchell Wheaton would also factor into that number had he not missed a month of time after being taken off the ice on a stretcher following a hit from Seattle's Roberts Lipsbergs. Seattle's forwards will need to ensure that they play a sound positional game to avoid odd-man rushes and give Kozun as much help as they can.
Play with urgency the entire series. Ask T-Birds coach Steve Konowalchuk and just about every loss this season can likely be attributed to a lack of consistent effort. If the T-Birds give a 99 percent effort in this series, they will lose.
Both Konowalchuk and alternate captain Adam Henry agreed that the main reason for Seattle's only first-round loss to Everett was due to a lack of urgency. The Silvertips, with their backs against the wall and in a must-win situation, played like a team that had to win to keep playing, while the T-Birds' effort reflected that of a team that could afford to lose a few games.
Seattle rebounded in a big way, turning in an impressive 60-minute effort just 24 hours later to clinch the series. While Game 4 was ugly, it may have served the purpose of proving to the T-Birds that anything less than their best wouldn't cut it. Against a team like Kelowna, which is far superior to Everett in every aspect, rebounding may not be so easy. Look no further than last season, when the T-Birds made history by squandering a three-games-to-zero lead. No game, and certainly not the series, will be over until the final whistle blows.
Match Kelowna's depth. The Rockets feature four lines that can score, which isn't something that many teams in the WHL can match. Its roster featured 11 players that had over 30 points during the regular season.
The T-Birds, however, do have the talent up and down their depth chart to keep up with Kelowna. During their first-round series, just two skaters who played didn't register a point – Wardley, who made a huge impact with his aforementioned physical play; and Calvin Spencer, who played in only one game while Yakubowski was suspended.
Even if you look at the players who had just one point during that series, you can see that they still made a huge impact on the outcome. Captain Justin Hickman's only point was an overtime game-winning goal. Henry had just one assist, but was also a plus-five, which tied for best on the team. Sam McKechnie was an essential penalty killer, and Hauf was a menacing presence on the blue line.
One player who will need to step up in this series is forward Alex Delnov. Despite being one of the most offensively-talented players on the roster, the Russian forward finds himself playing on the fourth line between bruisers Elliot and Kolesar. He's struggled defensively, but if he can work out his kinks at both ends of the ice before the series starts, Seattle will be able to feature four lines that can score, intimidate, and keep the Rockets off the score sheet.
Additionally, if someone can step up offensively in the second round the way that Scott Eansor did in the first, it will give Seattle one more important weapon. Whether it's Eansor again or someone new like Kolesar, Elliot, McKechnie or Yakubowski, having those extra couple of goals from an unexpected source will force Kelowna coach Ryan Huska to modify his game plan.
If the T-Birds can outmuscle their counterparts in a smart way, play better in both special-teams situations, get a couple of huge games from Kozun, play each game as though it could be their last, and skate four lines consistently, they could find themselves advancing to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-2003 season.
Follow Tim Pigulski on Twitter @tpigulski.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 @ 5:35am
Damon Severson and the Kelowna Rockets have a lot to celebrate this year (WHL Photo)
By Andrew Eide
After 72 regular season games and one playoff round we are right back where we left off last year.
The Kelowna Rockets and the Seattle Thunderbirds are preparing for another playoff battle with even more on the line this year. The winner of the series will get a chance to play for the Western Conference title and as intense as last year's series was, this one could be even greater.
Last year's series between these two clubs was one for the ages. It featured the heavily favored Rockets watching as Seattle stunned them early with three straight overtime victories. Kelowna took those punches however, got their legs back, and won the next four to finally advance. As exciting as that was, Rockets head coach Ryan Huska doesn't believe it has much of an influence on this year's rematch.
"There's a lot of different players on each team," he says. "I think if anything, probably both groups used it as a learning experience for the regular season this year and starting the playoffs but other than that I don't think its got any bearing."
Huska has a talented and experience roster and one of the team leaders is big defenseman, Damon Severson. The New Jersey Devils prospect acknowledges some of those lessons learned from last year.
"We played Seattle last year in the first round and they put us to the test early," Severson said. "So we can't take anything for granted, they're a good team and they're going to throw everything at us. We've just got to be prepared and we're excited to move on and play these guys."
Seattle makes no secret about how they want to play the game, and there is no reason to think they will change now. As they did against Everett, they will try to get the puck deep and use their size to hit the Kelwona defenseman on the forecheck.
"We've seen that from them over the last couple of years," Huska said. "They have some bigger players up front playing very well and who like to play a physical brand of hockey. Its a matter of us doing a real good job in our own zone. If we can find a way to solve them down low and hopefully not spend as much time in our own end, we'll have an opportunity to keep that strength of theirs away a little bit."
As a defenseman, Severson knows what's in store for him this series. He will be tasked with retrieving the puck and taking some hits. Sometimes in hockey, you have to take a hit to make a play for your team.
"It's going to happen during games," the defenseman says. "Someone might get a good hit on you but you can't get frustrated. As long as we're not playing in our own zone, you're getting pucks out and playing in the offensive zone it's pretty tough for them to hit you. Hopefully we can do a good job as defenseman and our forwards can do a good job down low."
Last year this series was a major mis-match on paper. The Rockets rolled four lines and would throw skilled players at you in waves. They have not lost that ability and depth so the T-Birds will have to match that again. Huska sees the gap a lot closer this year and doesn't think they can just key on one line or player for Seattle.
"All of them," he chuckles when asked about which Seattle player is key. "Of course, on their back end we all know how well (Shea) Theodore's played for them this year, their goaltender, and they have great depth up front. We always talk about the one advantage we have is our depth in regards to being able to play four lines but Seattle's in that position now as well. There isn't just one or two guys to focus on, you have to play a real solid team game."
On defense, Severson knows that he and his mates will have their hands full with Seattle's forwards as well.
"They've got a good couple of solid offensive lines," Severson said of Seattle. "Both their European players are skilled offensively. I know personally, I played with (Branden) Troock and he's really a smooth skater and when he's got the puck on his stick he's able to make things happen so I think he's a good player...it's tough for a defenseman to play him."
The Rockets will certainly cause as many match up problems for Seattle to deal with. They scored 310 goals during the regular season, which was the second most of any team in the WHL -- trailing only Portland's 338. They have a number of guys up front who can score. That list includes Myles Bell (42 goals), Ryan Olsen (30 goals), Nick Merkley (25 goals), Rourke Chartier (24 goals) and Tyson Baillie (22 goals). As potent as their forward lines are, the key to Kelowna's game is their back end.
They allowed the third fewest goals in the league during the regular season by getting good goaltending from Jordon Cooke and great play by an experienced defensive core. Everything starts for Kelowna by protecting their own end.
"We try to create our opportunities from the back end," Severson says. "We've got a couple of guys on our team here, like myself, who like to join that rush to create some offense from the back end so as long as we keep the puck out of our net and are able to break the puck out quickly, get it up to the forwards hand...that's a key to us for sure."
They also have a lot of confidence in net with Cooke. The 20-year-old goalie turned in his finest WHL season this past year, winning 39 games with a save percentage of .922. That breeds a lot of confidence amongst your teammates.
"We've had belief in him for the last number of years," Huska says of his goaltender. "There were occasions where he was our best player in the Tri City series that we had. You win and lose with your 20-year-olds and a lot of your 19-year-olds at this time of year. We're expecting him to reach his level and give us a chance to win."
Despite having a roster loaded with high end talent, Huska says that he will need to get contributions from everyone on the roster.
"At this time of the year you often see different players stepping up," he said. "Players that you really maybe don't expect to.We have some older 19-year-olds that are not known for their offensive ability, we're going to need them to be guys who can chip in here and there."
Home ice will be key in this series. The Rockets only lost four regulation games at Prospera Place during the season and Seattle only lost nine at home. Having home ice advantage is a big plus for Kelowna but Huska knows they have to be ready for playing at the ShoWare Center.
"That's what you play all year for, the chance to play four of the seven at home," he said. "We want to make sure we're performing well here for sure. Having said that, you have to play on the road as well. It's not easy to run the table at home, especially when your competition is going to be as good as it is from this point forward. I think the challenge is that you're prepared every night, whether that's in Seattle or that's in Kelowna."
Last year in Seattle, the Rockets got a good taste of how loud the T-Birds building can get. Huska says that they know what they're going to face in Seattle and hopes his players embrace the challenge.
"It's a noisy building," Huska says of the ShoWare Center. "I think its something that's exciting for everybody and I think for a young player, junior age player, to get an opportunity to play in a building like that, when its full and loud is pretty special. Its something the player should enjoy."
Game 1 of this series is Thursday night in Kelowna, faceoff is at 7 P.M.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.
Monday, March 31, 2014 @ 3:28pm
By Tim Pigulski
For the first time since the 2008 playoffs, the Seattle Thunderbirds are moving on.
In finishing off the Everett Silvertips in convincing fashion by shutting them out 5-0 on Saturday night, the Thunderbirds proved they were the better team, winning their first-round series four games to one.
For players like Taran Kozun, Branden Troock and Roberts Lipsbergs, accolades and recognition were rightfully heaped on.
The series served as a coming-out party for some players, especially Scott Eansor, who had three goals in five games while admirably performing his primary role of frustrating the Silvertips' top scorers.
But for alternate captain Mitch Elliot, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his five-year WHL career held an extra special meaning.
"It's awesome," said the 20-year-old, still inflated with pride immediately following the series-clinching Game 5. "My first three years here we didn't make the playoffs and were going home in the middle of March. Now we have a chance to extend our season even more. It was a pretty incredible experience going through the first round last year, but getting to round two this year is just going to be that much more special."
In last season's postseason matchup against Kelowna, Elliot was held pointless in seven games, so when he registered a goal and an assist on Saturday night, his coaches and teammates were elated to finally see him rewarded.
"It's good to see," said head coach Steve Konowalchuk. "He chips away, grinds away, battles. He does a lot of the things you don't get rewarded for and it's good to see him get a goal."
Thunderbirds captain Justin Hickman echoed his coach's sentiments, happy to see his teammate of four years finally receive the recognition that he deserves.
"Mitch has battled hard for five years. Tonight he battled hard and got a goal and an assist and I know he's happy about that and we're all happy for him," Hickman said. "It's an exciting time in the room for everybody."
Elliot wasn't shy in expressing his own happiness about finally getting his name on the score sheet.
"(The goal) felt awesome. I work hard and you always hope for points and goals," said the Prince George native. "But with my role I don't necessarily get as many points and goals as other people, so it feels great to get rewarded like that."
When the Thunderbirds entered the playoffs, they were scuffling with a 4-6-0-0 record in their final 10 regular-season contests. Their opponent, on the other hand, was the hottest team in the entire league, winning nine of its last 10. The contrasting finish to the season left many with the belief that Seattle was destined for another early postseason exit.
Instead, the T-Birds won four of five games in close but convincing fashion. The fact that they beat one of their biggest rivals was just the cherry on top of an exciting opening-round series.
"We play those guys 10 times a year and they're always tight games," Elliot said of the satisfaction in eliminating a rival. "We always have to grind it out. They're a good team and they battled hard in the series. They didn't give us any easy games and it's great that we were able to beat them the way that we did."
Now the T-Birds move on to face the same Kelowna team that sent them home in record-breaking fashion last spring. The Rockets are an even better team than they were last year, establishing themselves as a powerhouse by taking the Western Conference's top seed.
"Kelowna was a good team last year and they're an even better team this year," Elliot said. "But we've gotten better as well. It's going to be a hell of a series and both teams are going to come out firing. Both teams did well in the first round. It will be a tough series and hopefully we can keep our success going."
One of the things that has stood out most about Kelowna this season is its outstanding depth. The Rockets had 11 players with at least 30 points, led by 20-year-old wing Myles Bell, who had 77 points in 69 games.
Against Everett, the Thunderbirds knew that they only needed to worry about one major scoring line. That won't be the case against Kelowna, which means players like Elliot are going to be vital if Seattle is to move on.
"They're a high-powered offensive team, so we've got to worry about our defensive game first," said the 6-foot-6 wing on his team's game plan heading into round two. "We have to be constantly focused and ready to go every night.
"I'm going to have to get in hard on the forecheck. Try and be physical, try and be a presence down low, and try and create space for myself and everyone else."
When Seattle fell in a big way in Game 4 to the Silvertips, it caused some to wonder if the Thunderbirds were poised for another historic collapse. Instead, the game served as a wake-up call, as the T-Birds put together what may have been their best 60-minute performance in the past month.
It's exactly that mindset and mentality that the T-Birds brought into Game 5 against Everett – one of urgency and desperation – that they will need to bring into the Kelowna series this year.
Follow Tim Pigulski on Twitter @tpigulski.
Monday, March 31, 2014 @ 4:54am
By Andrew Eide
While the Seattle Thunderbirds were skating on the ice at Everett's Comcast Arena Friday night, a potential big part of their future was watching from the stands. 2013 first round draft pick Dante Fabbro had made the trek down from Vancouver to see some WHL playoff action.
Fabbro has yet to sign with Seattle as he and his family are exploring all of the high-flying defenseman's options for next year and beyond. He skated with the T-Birds during last fall's training camp and was impressive in showing off his skill set.
He recently completed a stellar season in the British Columbia Major Midget Hockey League where his Vancouver NW Giants came up just short, falling in the championship series. Individually, Fabbro had a spectacular season. He posted 22 goals and 61 points in only 38 games played. He was far and away the top BCMMHL scoring defenseman and only five forwards managed to top him in points.
Fabbro was nice enough to spend a few minutes chatting during Friday's Game 4.
Andrew Eide: Looking at your season, I know your team lost in the finals, but how did you think your season went overall?
Dante Fabbro: I think overall it was a pretty good year for the whole group of guys. I had a good break out year for points, but's lots of credit to the team. It didn't go as long as we wanted it to but it was a good year.
AE: You still got to the finals so it must have been a fun run?
DF: Yeah, it was definitely a fun run. With a good group of guys, it makes everything a lot easier on yourself if you have a bad game, we had good leadership.
AE: You also got to play in the MACS tournament this year, what was that experience like?
DF: It was awesome. You get to play against the top players from all across Western Canada there. You can really showcase where you are now and where you want to get to. It was a good experience, good to see all the other players.
AE: You were with Seattle during training camp, how did you enjoy that?
DF: It was good, it was a little bit scary out there sometimes with [Mitch] Elliot and those guys. I think I took that into the season, wanted to prepare myself for the next level.
AE: Have you been following the T-Birds during the season?
DF: I have off and on, I'm good friends with [Mathew] Barzal, we were childhood friends. We talk a lot and he tells me how the season is going, he's loved it.
AE: Growing up in Vancouver I'm assuming you've seen a lot of WHL hockey. What's your impression of the league?
DF: I have and I think like every kid, I think the league's great. It's the top big league and it's definitely in the dreams of kids to want to play there someday. That's definitely what mine was but looking now at all the other options we have, I'm still deciding with my family.
AE: Do you have a timeframe for when you'd like to make that decision?
DF: I'd like to make it maybe in the summer. Maybe after the playoffs are done, just sit down with my family and decide from there.
AE: What kind of factors are going into that decision?
DF: I don't really know about factors, I just wanted to see the best fit for me. I just have to talk to my family but I've got to go with my heart.
AE: For fans who didn't get to see you in training camp, how would you describe your game?
DF: I like to be as offensive as I can. I like to contribute a lot in the offensive zone but I think my defensive game is there. I think of myself as more of an offensive defenseman, which I like to be.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide
Saturday, March 29, 2014 @ 11:43pm
Adam Henry and Branden Troock celebrate with their teammates during Seattle's 5-0 win (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- For the first time in six years the Seattle Thunderbirds have advanced into the second round of the WHL playoffs.
A night after getting blown out, the T-Birds erupted for four third period goals Saturday night at the ShoWare Center to bury the Everett Silvertips 5-0 and win their first round playoff series 4 games to 1. The T-Birds got two scores from Branden Troock, another gritty game from Scott Eansor and added 24 saves from Taran Kozun to get the shut out.
"It was nice," Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "It was nice because it wasn't over. They're a really good hockey team...sometimes its unfortunate that two teams get matched up like that and lose. That's a really good hockey team over there and I'm really proud of our guys to beat them."
In contrast to Friday's game, Seattle came out hard and strong Saturday night. They managed the puck better, took the body to the Silvertips and eventually wore them down. The game was almost the exact opposite of Game 4 where Everett blew the doors open in the third period.
"We weren't happy with our game last night," Troock said. "They came out and played a really good game. We wanted to respond and we play really well at home so we came out and we were physical in taking the body and kind of wore them out through out the game."
On Friday night the T-Birds did not get their physical game going at all. Saturday night, with Everett missing two of their defenseman to injury, hitting them was going to be key. In the end it set a tone and wore down the Silvertips.
"I think that was a major factor tonight," Justin Hickman said. "We came on the body, it's their fifth game against us. That's the way we play, we play physically, to get on their [defense]. You know Mueller plays a lot, Betker plays a ton, Pufahl, to get on those guys was definitely a big key to wear them out."
Despite getting hit a lot early, the Silvertips did not go away easily. For the first 27 minutes of the game Everett was hanging with the T-Birds as neither team could score.
Easnor broke the tie when he potted a back handed, top shelf shot after Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie got shots on Austin Lotz. It was Eansor's third goal of the playoff series, after only scoring three during the regular season.
As big as the goals have been, his play on Seattle's shut down line has been even bigger. Tasked with stopping Jujhar Khaira and Ivan Nikolishin Saturday night, Eansor and his linemates dominated a line that combined for six points in Game 4.
That match up was an adjustment that Konowalchuk made for Game 5 as he took Eansor's line away from Josh Winquist. Not only did Eansor's line score the goal but they controlled the play. Through two periods, when the game was still close, Seattle out shot Everett 8-2 when Eansor was on the ice.
"They split those two guys [Winquist and Khaira] up the last two games," Konwalchuk said of the adjustment. "I thought that was a tougher match up for us a little bit. Khaira, he's a line himself, he's a beast. I thought Eansor, with his quickness would work there."
Eansor, who has been excellent all series, said there was somewhat of an adjustment to taking on Khaira, as opposed to Winquist.
"Khaira's really strong," Eansor said. "He plays the body really well, he uses the body really well. In order to beat him in the corners you've got to play safe and space him out more."
It worked as Khaira was held off the score sheet and excluding his Game 4 out burst, was pretty silent in the series.
A big moment in the game came with two minutes left in the second period. The T-Birds were called for the game's first penalty, giving Everett a power play, and a chance to tie. Seattle's penalty kill, which had been struggling in the last two games, was solid and held the Silvertips at bay.
"I really wanted to get into that intermission there with that one goal lead," Konowalchuk said of the big penalty kill. "It could have been a tough third if they tie that up there. You get in there and now they can start gripping their sticks a little bit, knowing that time might be running out. Big kill."
Seattle carried the momentum of that kill into the third period where Branden Troock scored the first of his two goals just over a minute into the final frame. It was a big goal as it extended Seattle's lead and seemed to take some steam out of the Everett sails.
Three minutes later Alex Delnov got his first goal in the series as he beat a screened Lotz. Russell Maxwell and Troock then teamed up for a two-on-one that led to a second Troock goal and Seattle could start planning for the next round. The party really started when 20-year-old Mitch Elliot crashed the net and beat Lotz for his first WHL playoff goal.
For Troock, it was his fourth goal of the series -- the first playoff experience of his career.
"I just kind of had a couple lucky goals," Troock said of his two-goal night. "There was one down low, won the battle down low and squeezed a shot through the five-hole. And then Maxwell made a really nice pass, right to the stick so I had an easy tap in."
The T-Birds will now move on for a rematch with the Kelowna Rockets in the second round. The two teams played a classic seven-game series last year, one that saw Kelowna erase a three game Seattle lead to survive. The two teams played close games during the season and it should be another fun match up.
"It's going to be exciting," Hickman, a Kelowna native, said. "It's going to be a great series again against the Rockets. They were the best team in the WHL and one of the best teams in the CHL this year. So, we've got a big test as a group but we're all excited for it."
Seattle can worry about the Rockets on Sunday. On this night, they were happy with their accomplishment and that they were able to get past a good Everett squad.
"I know that our guys have high goals," Konowalchuk said. "There wouldn't be one person in our locker room, from the coaches to any player that would have been satisfied if we didn't win this series. We knew it was going to be tough but that was our goal."
Saturday's game was the first one of the series that Seattle out shot Everett.
The game was relatively penalty free as the officials only whistled down three plays on the night.
Taran Kozun had a nice bounce back game after Friday's Game 4. He made all the stops he needed to and got some solid play from his mates in front of him clearing pucks.
There was a scary moment in the first period when Troock lost and edge and hit the end boards hard. He lay on the ice for a long time and needed assistance getting off to the dressing room. He came back ten minutes later and seemed to be fine. After the game he referred to the injury as a 'stinger' and said it was 'no big deal'.
The top four seeds in the Western Conference have now all advanced and went a combined 16-2 in the first round. Out East, Kootenay completed their upset of the third seeded Calgary Hitmen in six games. That means that the sixth seed (Kootenay) and seventh (Brandon) both will advance to the second round.
Game 1 of the second round series with Kelowna will be Thursday, April 3rd at the Prospera Place. Seattle will next be home for Games 3 and 4 on April 8th and 9th.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.
Saturday, March 29, 2014 @ 6:52am
Everett's Jujhar Khaira's hat trick led the Silvertips to a blow out win against Seattle Friday (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
EVERETT -- Friday night the Everett Silvertips proved that in hockey, the team that plays with more desperation usually comes out on top.
With their backs to the wall the Silvertips controlled the game from start to finish and won 6-1 in a blow out at the Comcast Arena. Everett picked up a hat trick from Jujhar Khaira and cut the Seattle Thunderbirds lead in their opening round playoff series to 3-1. The series will now return to the ShoWare Center Saturday night for Game 5 as the T-Birds will try again to close out the Silvertips.
Friday's game was never really in doubt. As well as Seattle had played in the previous three games, they started just as poorly in this one. The Silvertips fought hard, won every battle, forced Seattle into to turnovers and took control of the game from the opening face off.
"They jumped on us," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "We weren't ready to play and they were. They had a good start, we had a bad start and that was the game."
Seattle had done a good job to start the series managing the puck, always a key when playing Everett. Friday night they struggled with turnovers all night which stymied their offense and allowed Everett to generate chances.
Less than two minutes into the game Seattle's poor puck management led to the game's first score. After failing to clear their zone the Silvertips got the puck behind the Seattle net where Khaira was able to walk out in front and beat goalie Taran Kozun on a back hand.
A minute later the T-Birds went to the power play after Dawson Leedahl was called for tripping. What could have been a chance for Seattle to get back in the game turned into further disaster. A turnover in the Everett zone led to Manraj Hayer taking the puck the other way. While he was covered by Shea Theodore, no Seattle forward came back to pick up Josh Winquist who was alone in the slot. Hayer fed him the puck for an easy short handed goal.
From there the T-Birds game fell apart.
"They scored a couple goals there and then all of a sudden we wanted to try and do more and more," Konowalchuk said. "That plays right into their hands and that's what we get. We had as many turnovers in that first period as we've had in the first two games."
Everett would add another goal in the first as Brayden Low somehow managed to get a puck past Kozun on the short side. It was a goal that the goalie probably wants back and a sign that this was not going to be Seattle's night.
"We came out with a chance to wrap up the series tonight and they scored a couple of quick ones at the start," defenseman Adam Henry said. "We just lost a little bit of composure there and started getting frustrated, gripping sticks to tight."
The second period was Seattle's best chance to get into the game. They were awarded consecutive power plays early on but could not convert and ended the night 0-for-4 with the man advantage. While they still struggled managing the puck they were able to cut the lead to one goal late as a Jared Hauf shot got past a screened Austin Lotz.
That was as close as the T-Birds would get.
The Silvertips opened up the flood gates in the third period, scoring three more times on two more Khaira goals and a final nail in the coffin by Carson Stadnyk.
All series long the T-Birds had done a great job shutting down the Silvertips top scorers. Khaira, Winquist and Ivan Nikolishin had been held to just three assists in the first three games. Friday night the Everett top guns got off the mat. While those three played on separate lines they combined to score four goals and add four more assists. Do they now have some confidence?
"They're good players," Konowalchuk said of the trio. "They're good players but I don't think that I'm any more worried about them now than I was the whole series. They're good players and they played a good game tonight."
Part of the problem for Seattle was that they were without Jaimen Yakubowski who was serving a one game suspension for his hit on Noah Juulsen in Game 3. Yakubowski is key to Seattle's shut down line, brings energy and his absence caused a shuffling of lines that perhaps threw the T-Birds off their game a bit.
In the end the Sivlertips needed the win more, played better and are now able to stay alive and take back some momentum. For Seattle, they have to wipe away this blow out loss and get focused quickly to try and end the series on Saturday night.
"It's good to get back at it," Konowalchuk said about the quick turn around. "We've got to get back to our game and back on it. As bad as that game was...it's only one loss. It's the same as an overtime loss or victory. We just to get back and play our game better than we did tonight. They played a good game."
Seattle's last game at home, Game 3, was probably their best full effort in the series so far. They came out strong, managed the puck and had Everett on their heels often. To keep the series from getting tighter and to avoid the inevitable comparisons to last year's playoffs, Seattle will need to find that energy again.
"We're going to think about this game but at the same time forget about this game," Henry said. "We don't to dwell on it, we don't want to take the wind out of our sails. We want to come out tomorrow with a positive attitude and take care of the series."
Face off on Saturday is at 7 P.M. at the ShoWare Center and tickets are still available.
With Yakubowski out of the line up the T-Birds moved Mitch Elliot up to the shut down line. Without being able to dictate the match ups Seattle was still able to contain the Winquist line somewhat. Winquist's goal was on special teams and Seattle's lines were jumbled late when the wheels fell off. How they handle Everett's top players on Saturday will be a big key to victory.
After starting off killing 10 of the first 11 Everett power plays, the T-Birds have now surrendered four power play goals in the last two games. They continue to take more penalties than they would probably like, going short handed six more times on Friday. They now have been short handed 24 times in the series.
Conversely the T-Birds power play has failed on it's last eight attempts after scoring three times in the first two games.
The winner of this series will go on to play the Kelowna Rockets who wrapped up their first round series with Tri City on Friday. The Rockets beat the Americans 4 games to 1 and will now get a chance to rest up a bit longer before starting round two.
Seattle's 2013 first round draft pick Dante Fabbro was in attendance Friday night. We were able to speak with him about his season and where he is on his decision for next year. Look for that story later this weekend.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.
Thursday, March 27, 2014 @ 10:46am
By Tim Pigulski
"Just play simple hockey."
That's been the game plan for Seattle's Scott Eansor, who despite being matched up against rival Everett's most formidable offensive line has been able to take his first playoff experience in stride.
Through three playoff games, Josh Winquist – Everett's leading scorer during the regular season – has just two assists in three games while being hounded by Eansor and his linemates. Jujhar Khaira and Ivan Nikolishin, who spent the majority of their regular season playing on a line with Winquist, have just zero and one point, an assist, respectively.
Eansor has made a living this season playing the checking role against the opposition's top line, but Tuesday night he was also rewarded with two goals – just one fewer than he totaled in 59 regular-season games – including the one that tied the game before the Thunderbirds eventually went on to win in overtime, giving them a 3-0 stranglehold on the series.
The young center isn't the only Thunderbirds rookie making an impact so far this postseason.
16-year-old phenom Mathew Barzal actually managed to take home the first star in Tuesday night's game as he appeared to register the game-winning overtime goal. After league review, the goal was credited to Justin Hickman, with Barzal getting the primary assist.
In an impressive display of skill and patience, Barzal gained control of the puck along the boards to the left of Silvertips goalie Austin Lotz. He skated around the net, and rather than force a pass to a well-covered Hickman in front, continued around to Lotz's right and into the slot. After making a move to get past an oncoming Everett defender, he let go of the wrist shot that was deflected by Hickman before finding its way into the back of the net.
The game-winning goal clinched the victory for Seattle and prevented Everett from picking up a win that would have made the series a much more manageable 2-1 deficit for the 'Tips heading back to their familiar home at Comcast Arena on Friday.
When the teams met last Sunday in Everett, Barzal set up Branden Troock with a beauty of a backhanded cross-ice saucer pass that comfortably found its way on to the tape of Troock's stick before eventually being deposited into the back of the net.
Barzal and Troock have become head coach Steve Konowalchuk's top forward line when the game goes to 4 on 4. In the playoffs – where nearly every stoppage involves some sort of post-whistle dustup and therefore a number of penalties for both teams – having two players who excel in open ice the way that Barzal and Troock do is an invaluable asset and one that Everett has a difficult time matching.
Now, with just one more victory, the Thunderbirds have the chance to advance to the second round of the postseason for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.
Fellow rookies Keegan Kolesar, Ethan Bear, and Ryan Gropp have also been instrumental to the T-Birds' postseason success.
Kolesar, who suited up for two games in last year's playoff series versus Kelowna, has continued the strong play he demonstrated to finish the regular season. Now, with the added confidence in both himself and from Konowalchuk, the big forward from Winnipeg has established himself as a regular on the second penalty-kill unit in addition to his usual fourth-line duties.
Bear has been a revelation on the blue line all season as a 16-year-old paired with veteran Adam Henry and has maintained his high level of play in the playoffs' opening series. He has one assist in the low-scoring best-of-seven series and has been a mainstay on the T-Birds' second power-play unit. Considering the difficult adjustment period that most rookie defensemen face, Bear's play has exceeded the expectations placed on him at the beginning of the year.
Gropp, a 17-year-old with a late-1996 birthday, has two important points in the series' three games. In Game 1, he scored what eventually ended up being the game-winning goal. Tuesday night he assisted on the overtime game winner, chipping the puck into the offensive zone before allowing Barzal to work his magic. Gropp's speed has been helpful in neutralizing Everett's trap, which was a key coming into the first-round series.
Kolesar was the only one of the rookies with any playoff experience after his brief appearance in last year's first-round matchup with Kelowna. However, Barzal attended Game 3 of that same series as a spectator, which, oddly enough, was a Thunderbirds overtime victory on a Tuesday night that gave them a 3-0 lead in the series.
As with Game 3 last season, the energy at the ShoWare Center was palpable in their Tuesday night overtime victory. After the historic collapse last year, the Thunderbirds' five rookies are hoping to be a part of something greater in their inaugural campaign.
Follow Tim Pigulski on Twitter @tpigulski.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 @ 6:31am
By Andrew Eide
KENT – There is just something magical about Tuesday night Game 3s for Seattle.
For the second straight year the Thunderbirds won an exciting Game 3 in overtime, this time against their closest rivals. Seattle beat the Everett Silvertips 4-3 on a Mathew Barzal trickler that somehow got past Austin Lotz early in the overtime period.
The T-Birds also picked up two big goals from Scott Eansor. The win gives Seattle a commanding 3-0 lead in its opening round best-of-seven series with Everett.
As the puck slowly crossed the goal line, the T-Birds bench rushed on the ice and the 5,176 fans went into delirium. There was a lot to like in this game.
"I liked the outcome," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Those overtimes are exciting. I don't know if there's anything more exciting than overtime hockey in the playoffs."
Tuesday's game was playoff hockey at its finest as both teams played well.
"In front of a huge crowd, an OT win in the playoffs, that's something you dream about," Justin Hickman said. "It was a really hard fought game. They came with everything, we came with everything ... it was a hell of a game."
Seattle got the winner 3:47 into the overtime when Barzal circled the ice with the puck, carrying it from behind the Everett net and out to the slot. He turned and fired an innocent looking shot through traffic. The puck was dribbling along the ice and found its way past a fooled Lotz.
The goal was given to Barzal, but it's possible that Hickman tipped it on its way past the goalie.
"You know, yeah, I got a little piece of that," Hickman said with a smile. "It's a team effort."
Barzal says the goal was about throwing the puck on net.
"Hicks was just doing what he does down there," Barzal said. "He won a battle and I picked it up and wheeled around a little bit. We've been stressing throwing pucks at the net all game, so I threw one on the net."
And did Hickman touch it?
"He did," Barzal said, laughing. "I think he touched it. I feel bad, I kind of stole the [celebration] a little bit when all the guys jumped on me, but that's all right as long as we got the goal."
The T-Birds knew the Silvertips were going to come out desperate Tuesday, with their backs to the wall. Seattle matched that intensity, came out strong on the forecheck and gave the Silvertips fits trying to get out of their own end.
"I liked our forecheck," Konowalchuk said. "That was the kind of forecheck we need. Going out and skating. They were skating the puck ... and it was good to see."
Despite Seattle's early dominance, the Silvertips managed to score first. On the power play, Patrick Bajkov potted a goal from the face off circle. It was his second power play of the series and broke a string of 10 failed Everett power-play chances.
As they did all night, the T-Birds had an answer. Just after the 13-minute mark, Branden Troock tied the game up with his second playoff goal. The ebb and flow of the game continued as Bajkov notched a second power-play goal with 1 minute left in the period.
The second period saw the T-Birds take their first lead on a play where Scott Eansor deflected a pass from Jerret Smith. The puck fluttered up in the air and found its way over Lotz's shoulder. Again, however, with under 3 minutes left in the period, Everett took the lead back on a Mirco Mueller goal.
The Silvertips are tough when they have a lead of any kind. They are even tougher when they lead after two periods. During the regular season they were 32-1 in those situations.
Seattle was about to make it 32-2 and got the game even on another Eansor goal as he fired a shot from the slot that beat Lotz. Later in the period Eansor had a chance for the hat trick as he broke in alone shorthanded but could not finish.
After the game, he didn't mind missing out.
"I'll take the win," Eansor said. "That was a big win ... it was pretty special."
Eansor was again part of the shutdown line that was tasked with slowing down Everett's top line, centered by Josh Winquist. Winquist had an assist but once again did not find the net.
"Two goals, almost had a shorthanded goal," Konowalchuk said of his scrappy center. "He played a really good game for us."
Playoff hockey is often about the adjustments teams make. On Tuesday, Everett head coach Kevin Constantine made the first major change. Trying to find some production out of his top line he moved Winquist to a line with Manraj Hayer and Bajkov to start the second period.
That line was able to produce one goal, the Mueller tally, but was held in check for the most part by Eansor and his linemates, Sam McKechnie and Jaimen Yakubowski. It's always big when a team's shutdown line also manages to score.
"It is nice to score once and a while," Eansor said. "Obviously, my line mates helped me out ... I don't know, it's just fun, it's a fun win."
For the second straight year the T-Birds have built a 3-0 lead in a playoff series. Last year they watched Kelowna rip off four straight to come back and take the series. When the T-Birds heads to Everett for Game 4, they hope to avoid the same fate.
"We're not even worried about what the series is," Konowalchuk said. "We're just worried about getting one win. We need one more win, that's it. You need four to close out a series."
Seattle has had some success at the Comcast Arean this year, including this past Sunday's 3-1 win.
"Friday night's going to be crazy in their barn," Hickman said. "It's a really tough team to beat anywhere, especially in their barn. We're going to really have to come focused and come prepared for a hard fought game. We haven't won anything yet."
• Everett blinked first and broke up its top scoring line of Winquist, Jujhar Khaira and Ivan Nikolishin to start the second period. Coming into the game that trio had only two points, both coming on a 5-on-3 power play in Game 1. In the first period Tuesday they were on the ice for six even-strength shifts and the Easnor line held them to zero shots on goal, hence the change. It will be interesting to see how Constantine deploys them on Friday.
• Lost in the celebration was goalie Taran Kozun. He has only given up two even strength-goals in the three games so far and made a huge save in overtime just prior to the game winner.
• Seattle's penalty kill had killed off 10 straight Everett power plays, but gave up two goals on seven chances Tuesday night. They have been shorthanded 18 times so far in the three games, which is something they may want to clean up.
• Bajkov has turned into a power-play machine for Everett in this series, and may be the Silvertips' best player so far. He now has three goals in the series and all came on the power play.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.
Please login below with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disqus account. Existing MyNorthwest account holders will need to create a new Disqus account or use one of the social logins provided below. Thank you.