Updated Oct 4, 2013 - 3:25 pm
Seattle Thunderbirds Blog
Wednesday, February 5, 2014 @ 6:41am
Danny Mumaugh and Evan Wardley fight to secure a loose puck during Seattle's 5-3 win Tuesday (Thunderbirds photo)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- For the second time in three games the Thunderbirds took the ice against the Everett Silvertips Tuesday, and once again came away with a win.
Behind two goals from Justin Hickman the T-Birds beat their rivals to the north 5-3 in front of 4,642 fans at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Seattle broke open a tie game with two third period goals and held off the Silvertips to win their third straight game against Everett.
Hickman's two goals were part of a big night for his line as he, Mathew Barzal and Ryan Gropp combined for three goals, eight points and a plus-9 rating on the night.
"All credit to those guys," Hickman said about his linemates. "I mean, Barzy, when he's got the puck something happens. On my part, I just try to get open and he got a couple of really nice dishes to me for easy tap ins."
Barzal was spectacular at times on Tuesday night. He helped get Seattle (33-16-2-3) on the board first when he picked the pocket of an Everett defenseman headed up ice. Barzal got the puck, then fought off a player to feed Hickman with a pin point pass at the door step to give the T-Birds the lead.
Everett (26-20-7-1) fought back however and took the lead after Ivan Nikolishin and Brayden Low were able to get pucks past Seattle goalie Danny Mumaugh. The T-Birds defense was shaky in the first period as they surrendered 21 shots and let Everett get too much room in front of the net.
"Way too loose," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I didn't like our first period. I liked our energy in some ways, we were finishing checks and playing well in the other end. We were not good in our own end, we were getting beat on the outside while they were jumping into the net the whole first period. It wasn't a good defensive first period."
Down two goals, Barzal and company struck again. Working the puck along the boards, Hickman was able to feed it to Barzal who was all alone in front of the goal. He made one nice deke and was able to slide the puck past Everett goalie Daniel Cotton. It was Barzal's 9th goal of the year as the play maker is starting to find the net more consistently.
"Groppy made a nice play coming up the wall there," Barzal said of the play. "I think they pulled a switch whim him and 'Hicks so he fed one over to me and I just pulled it across and scored."
The T-Birds took a lead early in the second period when Branden Troock set up Roberts Lipsbergs for his 31st goal of the year.
It was at that point in the game that the T-Birds started taking penalties. Much as they did Saturday night in Portland, the parade to the penalty box allowed Everett to tie the game, and sap some momentum away. Playing short handed, Seattle was only able to muster five shots on goal in the second.
The Silvertips took advantage and Josh Winquist potted a power play goal six minutes into the second to tie the game up. It was Winquist's 34th goal of the year.
"Penalty kill was good," Konowalchuk said. "We're getting plenty of work at it, too much work at it. That's not good enough. We have got to straighten this up in a hurry. I've got to find a way to hold guys accountable, hold the team accountable, its not getting corrected by itself and it could have cost us here tonight."
The T-Birds tightened up their defense in the third and blew the game open. They got going when Troock made another nice pass, this time to Alex Delnov, who scored to give Seattle the lead back. Then the Barzal line struck for the insurance goal.
Taking the puck away in the neutral zone, Barzal flew into the Everett end with Hickman on his left. He sent a back-handed saucer pass over a defender's stick, right to Hickman for the easy tap in goal.
"Only elite players make that pass," Hickman said. "Back-hand saucer over a body, I mean, two of the easier goals I've scored in my career."
Coming off a loss and in a tight race for playoff positioning, Tuesday's win was a big one for the T-Birds. The win pulled them closer to Portland for the U.S. Division lead and put four points between them and Spokane for fourth in the Western Conference.
"Very important (win)," Konowalchuk said. "We talked to the guys, our goal is home ice advantage in that first round and maybe higher. We want that home ice advantage and to do that, with the teams we're competing against, if you loose two or three in a row you can find yourself out of that race in a hurry."
Seattle now moves on to play a huge home-and-home series with the Chiefs -- starting with Wednesday night in Spokane. Seattle has had their way with Spokane so far, going 6-0, but that doesn't mean they're taking these games lightly.
"I think we're a confident team in general," Konowalchuk said. "Spokane is a good hockey team, they're right with us there in points, they're good at home...we're not confident that they aren't a good opponent, that's for sure."
Penalty disparity has been a problem in the last two games. Everett had five power play chances to Seattle's one on Tuesday night and after the game Saturday in Portland the T-Birds have allowed 12 power plays against. In that same two-game span Seattle has only earned three.
Barzal's three points were the 12th time this year that he has had a multi-point game. He now has five points in his last three games.
Scott Eansor was a scratch Tuesday night as he was suffering from an illness.
The Silvertips have been struggling of late and have slipped into seventh place in the Western Conference. You may recall that they made a guarantee to their season ticket holders that they would finish sixth or better. After a hot start they now have some work to do to fulfill that promise.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Sunday, February 2, 2014 @ 5:56am
By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds were in Portland Saturday night and were shut out 3-0 by the Winterhawks in a game that can only be described as frustrating for Seattle.
Portland goalie Brendan Burke picked up his second straight shut out by making 16 saves as Portland has now won 11 out of their last 12 games. The Winterhawks scored two power play goals as well as a short handed goal as the T-Birds wasted a strong performance by goalie Taran Kozun who made 46 saves to keep the game close.
The story Saturday night was penalties. Seattle gave Portland eight power play chances on the night which kept the T-Birds offense on their heels and if not for Kozun and a strong penalty kill the game could have been much uglier.
"The penalties in the first two periods were a big part of the game," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "That being said, disappointing third period. We're down a goal, the penalty killers did a great job, goalie does a great job and our skill guys don't come out and work hard enough."
Seattle did manage to only be down a goal heading into the third despite being out shot 33-10 through the first forty minutes of play. That shot disparity was mostly due to the fact that Portland had six straight power play opportunities, including a five-minute power play and a two-minute 5-on-3 chance.
The penalties began late in the first period after the T-Birds had a decent start to the game. Heading into the second period scoreless the T-Birds made things worse for themselves.
Keegan Kolesar was given a five-minute fighting major penalty for going after Portland's Brendan Leipsic. The two players have a history as Leipsic was suspended seven games for an illegal hit on Kolesar in the last match up between these two teams. While Kolesar may have been looking for some payback, the altercation ended up putting his team down.
Leipsic was not given a penalty on the play as he did not drop his gloves. The Seattle bench was upset as they felt that Leipsic should have been called for something as he got his stick up into the face of Kolesar during the scrum. Konowalchuk said that the referee indicated to him that the stick infraction was not called because Kolesar had instigated the altercation.
The end result was that Portland's power play, which is the best in the WHL, would be on the ice for five minutes. Seattle made things even tougher on themselves after Jerret Smith was called for roughing, giving the Winterhawks two full minutes of a two-man advantage.
Despite hard work by the penalty kill, and some spectacular saves from Kozun, the Winterhawks were finally able to capitalize. Portland threw the puck around and found Nic Petan on the back door for an easy tap in goal.
Portland had the lead and would get more power play opportunities but could still not crack Kozun. Going into the final period the T-Birds were somehow only down one goal, despite having no offense. Konowalchuk reminded his guys that they were still in the game.
"We're in good position, now we just have to come out and play your best period," Konowalchuk said of his message to the team. "Power play get ready, you're going to get your chance, the game is on the line...and we just didn't seem to be able to find it."
In the third Seattle was finally given a power play chance of their own, only to give up a back-breaking short handed goal. Seattle turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Portland's Adam Rossignol took the puck in alone on Kozun and was able to beat him.
It was a big goal in a game that was still up for grabs and deflated Seattle. The T-Birds skill players never seemed to get going, whether it was Portland's defense or the fact that they had not seen the ice much because of the penalties, they just couldn't generate chances.
"Doesn't matter the reason," Konowalchuk said. "You've got to be able to work hard....that's disappointing when we battled that hard and we should have come out with more energy in the third period...that's a frustrating part of the game."
The Winterhawks would add another power play goal, this time from Oliver Bjorkstrand, later in the third to seal their 36th victory of the year.
Lost in the result was another outstanding performance by Kozun. His 46 saves were not of the easy variety as the high-flying Winterhawks had several good chances. The loss was his first as a member of the Thunderbirds and came in a game that might just have been his best.
"He was really good," Konowalchuk said. "That's why this game was really frustrating, we should have been able to come out in that third period and muster more energy than we did."
The loss put Seattle eight points back of the division leading Winterhawks and the T-Birds will now have to regroup and continue to try to reel them in. Seattle's next game will be back at home on Tuesday as they host the Everett Silvertips.
Portland continued to be a frustrating venue for the T-Birds. They have beaten the Winterhawks three times at home but have not fared well down South. They are now 0-4 in Portland and have been outscored 28-9 on Winterhawks' ice.
The shut out was the fourth time this year that Seattle has been blanked in a game. Previously they were shut out by Everett, Tri City and Edmonton.
Burke's shut out was his second straight as he made 32 saves Friday night against the Spokane Chiefs. Saturday's shut out was much easier as Seattle only mustered 16 shots on goal.
Branden Troock returned to the T-Birds lineup Saturday after being out since January 4th when he suffered an upper body injury against Edmonton.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Saturday, February 1, 2014 @ 6:25am
By Andrew Eide
EVERETT -- The Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips continued their tight checking, hard hitting season series Friday night as Seattle skated away with a gritty 2-1 win at the Comcast Center.
Seattle (32-15-2-3) got goals from Mathew Barzal and Ryan Gropp while relying on another strong performance by goalie Taran Kozun, who made 24 tough saves. The win gives the T-Birds 10 wins in their last 11 games as they continue to push for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"Since I've been coaching here I think we've been neck and neck with that team, as far as games, hard checking games," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I thought the last game in our building was as good a junior game as I've seen as far as both teams executing. I thought today, here again, our guys were ready to play and it was a fun game to be part of."
For Kozun, it was another strong start for the former Kamloops Blazers goalie who was acquired by Seattle at the trade deadline. With the T-Birds he is now 7-0 with a minuscule 1.25 goals against average and .956 save percentage. He is playing with confidence as is the team in front of him.
"It's brings confidence," Konowalchuk said about his goalie's play. "But also knowing that there is going to be some mistakes and he's got your back. So you can loosen up a little bit, not grip the stick so tight and play hockey."
Perhaps the game's biggest moment started on the one mistake that Kozun may have made. With the score tied late in the first period Kozun tried to clear the puck. His clearing attempt rattled around the glass, hit a stanchion and rebounded into the slot, right to the stick of Everett's Ivan Nikolishin. With Kozun out of position, Nikolishin had the entire net to shoot at.
Kozun desperately dove back in front of his net and somehow was able to get in front of the would be goal to preserve the tie game.
"I tried rimming it off the glass, trying to get the puck out," the goalie said. "There weren't too many seconds left on the clock and it hit a stanchion and went right to the guy. I was trying to do something to get back and I ended up sliding into it and making a save on it. I was honestly terrified I was going to give up a goal there."
He didn't give up a goal and the play kept the T-Birds from falling behind and giving the Silvertips some momentum.
In the second period the T-Birds got the only goal as Ryan Gropp scored on a power play with a pretty backhanded roof shot over Silvertips' goalie Daniel Cotton. It was Gropp's 13th goal of the year as he has been playing strong of late. The goal turned out to be the game winner as Kozun and the T-Birds defense clamped down on Everett the remainder of the game.
Seattle held Everett (25-19-7-1) to only four shots in the second period and only 12 in the final 40 minutes. Tight defense is something the T-Birds have been excelling at in their last eight games -- only allowing an average of 1.5 goals per game.
"We're just trying to make teams work for it," Konowalchuk said. "It's a 200-foot game and make them work for everything they have. If they out work us they'll get a chance but we just try to protect the middle. If we have a breakdown, try to get guys in the shot lanes."
The offensive stars of Friday's game were Gropp and Barzal. They played with Justin Hickman, as they have been the past three or four games, and the three were Seattle's best line all night. The Silvertips threw their top line out against the three most of the night but Barzal and company were able to keep the puck away from Everett and spent nearly every shift in the offensive zone.
Barzal played especially well and got the game's opening goal after Evan Wardley made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone. Barzal found himself with the puck on the goal line, at the side of the Silvertips net. He paused for a second and fired the puck at Cotton, who stood in disbelief as the puck hit him and found its way into the net.
It was Barzal's eighth goal of the year and it got Seattle going.
"I needed one of those," Barzal said of the play. "I kind of threw it on net and it went in so maybe I'll start shooting a little more. I heard 'Hicks calling for it, and Groppy, there were three guys calling for it so I kind of panicked a little and it went in."
That line been productive lately and with the young age of Gropp and Barzal, it bodes well for Seattle's future.
"That's a line that's got quite a bit of potential," Konowalchuk said. "I thought Barzal played a really strong hockey game today. He was on the puck,strong on the puck, competed hard. If he brings that game the rest of the way for us, he's going to have quite the finish."
Despite the goal, the Silvertips managed to even the score later in the first. On the power play they worked the puck around the outside until it got to leading scorer Josh Winquist at the point. He fired a shot through a screen that Kozun could not handle. It was Winquist's 32nd goal of the year.
The win brought Seattle even with the Victoria Royals for third place in the Western Conference and allowed them to keep pace with the U.S. Division leading Portland Winterhawks. With 20 games left in the season, the T-Birds know they still have some work to do.
"I know the guys are excited and we're putting ourselves in position," Konowalchuk said. "I mean we definitely want to battle for that home ice in the first round and Portland is not out of our sights. Guys are excited, we have a goal and we believe we can do it."
Seattle now will travel South to play that Portland team in what has become a big game. The Winterhawks are six points ahead of the T-Birds and are just as hot -- both clubs having won 10-out-of-11 coming in.
"We have to put a circle on that game, we can only enjoy this for a little bit," Konowalchuk said of Saturday's game. "They're six up on us so you don't want to get too far behind them so its a big, big game to try and reel them in a bit."
Face off Saturday in Portland is at 7 P.M.
Friday was a tough loss for the Silvertips. They have now lost six games in a row and have sunk to seventh place in the conference with only three points separating them with Tri City for the last playoff spot in the West.
Seattle's penalty kill was strong once again on Friday. They gave up the one goal but killed off four others late in the game while clinging to a one-goal lead. They have climbed to 10th in the WHL overall on the kill which will be key moving forward.
Barzal now has five goals in his last 13 games after only scoring three in his previous 26 games. He has 35 points on the year but seems to be looking to shoot the puck more -- look for his goal totals to continue to climb.
Ethan Bear was kept off the score sheet Friday which ends his five-game point streak.
Saturday's game in Portland will be the first game between the two rivals since Winterhawks forward Brendan Leipsic hit Keegan Kolesar, knocking him out of the game. Leipsic was suspended seven games for the play. While there may be a desire for some pay back, the game is too important for Seattle to worry about exacting a pound of flesh. Winning is the best revenge.
Kozun's seven wins have surpassed the five he picked up while playing for a struggling Kamloops squad. The goalie is all smiles these days and had the night's best quote. When asked how much fun he was having he simply replied, "It's a lot more fun, winning is a blast, you can't complain about that."
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Friday, January 31, 2014 @ 10:44am
By Tim Pigulski
In his fifth and final season as a Seattle Thunderbird, Prince George, British Columbia, native Mitch Elliot is enjoying a level of success unknown to him and most of his teammates.
Although Elliot's individual numbers -- three goals and three assists in 45 games -- aren't particularly noteworthy, he's become an important member of a team that has won 31 games and sits just one point out of third place in the WHL's Western Conference.
Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing in at over 220 pounds, Elliot is one of the league's true heavyweights. With an abundance of young talent throughout the T-Birds roster, having an enforcer of Elliot's caliber has become even more important this year than it has in the past.
As a 20-year-old, Elliot isn't playing the traditional role of an overage veteran. Last season, the two 20-year-old skaters that the Thunderbirds finished the season with -- captain Luke Lockhart and Adam Kambeitz -- combined for 63 points, and the third 20-year-old, goalie Brandon Glover, played in 59 of the team's 72 regular season games.
"It's not the most glamorous role on the team," says the big forward. "You don't get to score goals and you don't get to celebrate a ton, but you get a lot of respect from your teammates for being there to protect them. It was a tough thing to embrace at first, but having done it for this many years it's started to get much easier."
This season the Thunderbirds have an unprecedented level of rookie talent filling out the forward ranks. Guys like Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp, Keegan Kolesar, Scott Eansor, and Ethan Bear are often the targets for opposing team's tough guys. Despite rarely being on the ice with many of these players, Elliot ensures that he makes his presence felt when he gets the opportunity.
"Everyone was talking about Barzal and Gropp when they came in, and Bear came in and worked hard to become an important part of the team," remembers Elliot. "I'm not always on the ice with them, but if I'm out there with one of the other so-called tough guys that might take a liberty with one of those guys, I have to let them know that I'll be there to back my teammate up."
When Elliot made the team as a 16-year-old, he certainly didn't have the hype of a Barzal or Gropp, but he did show an impressive combination of size and speed that led some to think he would develop into an effective scoring power forward in the league. While the points have eluded him, Elliot's still made enough of an impact to have the NHL's Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals take notice.
That season, his first in the WHL, Elliot spent most of the season on a line with Colin Jacobs and Tyler Alos, two other 16-year-old rookies. The line produced, combining for 47 points in limited playing time. In what ended up being a tough year for the T-Birds, the young line provided a glimmer of hope for the future.
In 2014, Elliot is the only of the three still skating for the team. Jacobs eventually decided that a change of scenery would be beneficial to his career and was traded to the Prince George Cougars. Alos' career was derailed by injury, and in a turn of events that no one could have predicted, he is now coaching his former linemate as an assistant with the Thunderbirds.
"It's a little different and not something I've experienced before," says Elliot when asked about now having to take direction from his former peer. "Alos is a great guy and a great leader. I always admired his work ethic and how he tried to get the most out of practice every day. That's why he'll be a good coach in the WHL -- he's willing to put the time in and talk about his time in the league. My relationship is different now than it was when we were 16, but it's a really cool situation we're in."
Not making the playoffs in his first three seasons in the league was admittedly tough for Elliot, and getting eliminated in the first round last year, while better than past years, was still not the result he had hoped for.
This season, as one of the top teams in the league and with the ability to compete with any opponent, the stakes are much higher.
"I'd be foolish not to say I want to go all the way," acknowledges Elliot. "I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch, but hopefully we can get home-ice advantage in the playoffs and go far."
Before the season began, it appeared that Elliot may make the Utica Comets' roster in the AHL. When he eventually returned to the Thunderbirds, many suspected he might be the odd man out, as his homecoming put the Thunderbirds over the maximum number of overage players and he didn't bring the typical contributions of a 20-year-old.
In another unpredictable turn of events, Elliot remains as the lone overage player on the T-Birds roster, a rarity amongst teams hoping to contend.
"I've always thought of myself as a leader," says the T-Birds' alternate captain. "I think being the only 20-year-old, it really makes me have to live up to that and lead by example."
Prior to the 2012-2013 season, Elliot was invited to the Washington Capitals' training camp. In his two professional opportunities, he received valuable tips from a few players in what he described as an unforgettable and incredibly valuable experience.
"You're so happy because you stick around in camp and might make the AHL, but there's apprehension that you may have played your last game in Juniors," reflects Elliot. "There was a guy by the name of Joel Rechlicz. He was Washington's tough guy -- he fought Milan Lucic in the preseason -- and he put in some extra time in showing me how to fight and avoid getting hurt.
"Another guy was Jason Chimera. When I got sent home from Washington, he spent some time talking to me about where I was from and what I was doing. ... I also have to tell the story of Alexander Ovechkin walking down the hall and saying 'Hello.' I had to look behind me to see if he was talking to someone else."
It would be unfair to profile the big left wing without bringing attention to the numerous contributions he's made in the classroom and the community.
Last season, Elliot won the team's Scholastic Player Honor for academic excellence for the fourth season in a row. When I spoke with him, he had just finished helping host a dinner at the Seattle Ronald McDonald House. Three years ago, when he began participating in the T-Birds' mentoring program, he was one of only two players to take part. Since then, he's encouraged his teammates to join and now there are over 10 members of the team working with students from around the area. You can find videos of Elliot performing Beethoven's "Für Elise" on the piano for local elementary school students on the Thunderbirds' website.
"The off-ice part is just as special to me as the on-ice part," says Elliot. "Those are the memories that will stick with you for a long time and make you feel like you're making a difference. At the end of the day, to say I've been able to make a difference in some people's lives, that's what it's all about."
Elliot was recently celebrated by the team for playing in his 300th game in a Thunderbirds uniform. The accomplishments the big forward has achieved both academically and athletically are the types of things make him a role model for younger generations of student-athletes, and are sure to firmly establish Elliot as a fan favorite, even after his time in the WHL has concluded.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski.
Sunday, January 26, 2014 @ 8:06pm
The Thunderbirds continued to play the first place Kelowna Rockets tough, beating them 4-1 at the ShoWare Center on Sunday evening (T-Birds photo)
By Tim Pigulski
KENT -- The Seattle Thunderbirds won their ninth game out of their last ten, defeating the first-place Kelowna Rockets by a final score of 4-1.
It was the two teams' third meeting of the season. They split the first two matchups, each grabbing a shootout win.
Since their historic seven-game playoff series last year, the two teams have begun to develop a rivalry which always provides for an entertaining contest.
"There's still energy built up from the playoffs last year," said Konowalchuk when asked why the Thunderbirds seem to play the Rockets so well. "I think our team has more confidence against them than most other teams since we played them in the playoffs and became a bit more familiar with them. They're a team built with depth through their lines and a good back end, and we feel we have good depth that creates a tough matchup."
The first period saw a good amount of back-and-forth action, as each team was able to create a couple of scoring chances. Unlike last night when the T-Birds converted on four of their five power play opportunities, they were held off the score sheet on their first three man advantages by the league's best penalty killing team.
It wasn't until late in the first, after the Rockets' Colton Heffley had been sent to the penalty box for tripping, that the scoreless tie was broken.
After Ryan Gropp had difficulty controlling the puck in the neutral zone, Kelowna forward Tyrell Goulbourne was able to grab the loose puck and skate in on T-Birds goalie Taran Kozun uninhibited before firing a low shot that gave the Rockets a 1-0 lead.
The second frame took a very different tone than the first as the T-Birds outscored their counterparts 2-0 during the period and outshot the Rockets 11-6. They also converted on their lone full power play opportunity during the period.
At 8:42 of the second, with Kelowna's Carter Rigby in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Justin Hickman gained control of the puck at the left point. He made a quick move to his forehand to get around a Rockets player, then fired a shot from top of the left circle. The shot was initially deflected by a Rockets player before bouncing towards the Kelowna net. Roberts Lipsbergs, despite being blanketed by a Rockets defender, managed to get a stick on the puck and put it to Cooke's left, after the Kelowna netminder had been sliding to his right in reaction to Hickman's initial attempt.
Adam Henry got the second assist on Lipsbergs' tying goal, his 30th of the season.
A few short minutes later it looked like momentum may shift back in the Rockets' favor after Seattle forward Jaimen Yakubowski took two penalties - one for checking to the head and one for unsportsmanlike conduct after pushing Goulbourne to the ice following the whistle - which resulted in a four-minute advantage for the Rockets. However, the T-Birds penalty kill held fast and kept Kelowna off the scoreboard, swinging the momentum back in their favor.
Just 27 seconds after the long penalty kill ended, Ryan Gropp forced a turnover in the offensive zone on an impressive forecheck that caused Kelowna's 19-year-old defenseman Damon Severson to lose control of the puck. Gropp, 17, took control and made a couple of moves to protect the puck before floating a saucer pass right onto the tape of a streaking Jerret Smith at the top of the right circle. Smith fired a slap shot that Cooke kicked out with his right pad right to Mitch Elliot, who went high blocker-side for his third goal of the season.
The assist gave Gropp three points in his last two games after he had a goal and a helper last night versus Everett.
"[The penalty kill] was huge," said Konowalchuk about the effort displayed by his team in killing off the four-minute disadvantage. "It was huge last game and it was big this game too."
The T-Birds held the Rockets scoreless on four power plays tonight after allowing one goal in four chances last night against Everett.
"It was a big play," said Gropp of the effort that gave his team the lead. "Barzal got in on the forecheck and hammered Bowey pretty good, then I stripped the puck from Severson and found Smith coming in. It was a big play."
The third period saw the two teams tie in shots with 14 apiece, but only the T-Birds were able to convert as Shea Theodore notched his 16th goal of the season to make it 3-1 before Yakubowski added an empty-netter with just six seconds remaining.
Theodore's goal, a hard slap shot that rang off the crossbar and into the net, came during a 5-on-3 advantage and gave him his fourth point in his past two games, further extending his point lead among WHL defensemen. The 18-year-old defenseman has 61 points in 50 games played.
Kozun has now won his first six starts with the T-Birds, eclipsing the win total he had accumulated in Kamloops. During his time with Seattle, the 19-year-old has a 1.29 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage.
"It's great being here and I love playing with these guys," said Kozun of his success. "We've been waiting for this one all week and I'm happy for all the guys that we were able to get two points."
This type of adversity is something that Kelowna clearly isn't used to, as they accumulated 32 penalty minutes, capped off by a 10-minute misconduct given to Ryan Olsen with 6:17 remaining in the game.
"We don't really like them over there and they don't like us," said Gropp of the developing rivalry between the two teams. "We try to get in their heads a bit and it worked out for us in the end."
The Rockets also took some liberties with Kozun, taking one goaltender interference penalty and getting away with a couple more calls that could have been made.
"I've been getting hit [by the other team] the past few games a little bit but maybe that's just them trying to get me off my game," said Kozun when asked if there's bad blood between the two teams. "I'll take the hits and we'll take the power plays."
The T-Birds head up to Everett Friday night to face the Silvertips and then down south to Portland on Saturday. Their next home game is Tuesday, February 4 when they will host the Silvertips at 7:05 p.m.
Lipsbergs' 30th goal of the season matches his total from last year in 17 fewer games. No other T-Bird scored more than 25 goals last season, and the last player to score 30 before Lipsbergs was Burke Gallimore during the 2010-11 season when he had 34.
T-Birds 16-year-old rookie defenseman Ethan Bear is now on a five-game point streak. During the streak he has one goal and four assists.
The formidable checking line of Scott Eansor, Jaimen Yakubowski, and Sam McKechnie continues to keep opposing scorers quiet. Tonight they were matched up at even strength against Kelowna's line of Myles Bell, Tyson Baillie, and Tyrell Goulbourne. Only Goulbourne's name made the scoresheet, and it came on a shorthanded goal when none of those three were on the ice.
The T-Birds have shifted their power play, having Gropp and Barzal rotate on the point along with Theodore. Depending on what side of the ice the puck is on, one of the two young forwards will play the point on the opposite side. It seems to be working, as the team is 6-for-13 on the power play in their last two games. "We work it off both sides now," said Konowalchuk. "You want to get your talented players on the ice, and when Gropp is back there he makes nice plays."
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski
Sunday, January 26, 2014 @ 6:09am
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- The WHL playoffs are still a ways away, but it feels like lately every game for the Seattle Thunderbirds has that playoff feel to it.
Saturday night the T-Birds struck for four power play goals to beat the Everett Silvertips 4-3 in front of a loud sold out ShoWare Center crowd. Roberts Lipsbergs' overtime power play goal was the difference, and defenseman Shea Theodore was the star for Seattle as he was in on each score with a goal and three assists.
"We've had some tight games against that team this year, and I guess they should be," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "There's a rivalry with two competitive hockey teams."
A night after missing on some big power play opportunities in Tri City, the T-Birds corrected some things and were firing on all cylinders Saturday night. They were 4 for 5 on the power play, and it turned out to be a big factor in the game.
"That was the difference for us," Konowalchuk said. "Its been a sore subject for us for a lot of the season. We capitalized today. It was huge for the power play to get us some goals."
Ryan Gropp's power play goal with just over five minutes left in the third tied the game up as Seattle (30-15-2-3) had watched the Silvertips score three unanswered goals to take a late lead. On the play, the T-Birds crashed the net and fired the puck on Everett goalie Daniel Cotton. A rebound came to Gropp, whose quick hands allowed him to settle it down and find the back of the net.
With every point crucial in the Western Conference, both teams went into overtime desperate to pick up the second point. Just before the end of the third period, Everett (25-16-7-1) was called for a penalty as Dawson Leedahl hooked a Seattle player.
That power play became a four-on-three chance in overtime, and the T-Birds worked the puck around, closing in on the Everett net before it got to Lipsbergs at the side of the net. Lipsbergs' quick and hard shot was no match for Cotton and he potted his 29th goal of the year to send the big crowd home.
"We had lots of time in that overtime period," Theodore said. "We were just really patient and waiting for an opening. I guess we finally got one with four seconds left in the power play."
Theodore, who picked up an assist on the game winner, opened the scoring on the night in the second period. On the power play, a Silvertips clearing attempt hit awkwardly off the glass and flew out to Theodore at the point. He had time and space, and fired a wrist shot through a screen for his 15th goal of the year.
That goal brought down the teddy bears as it was Seattle's teddy bear toss night. The ice was littered by stuffed animals and caused an 11 minute delay as the players and team staff cleared the ice.
"It's pretty cool," Theodore said about the teddy bear goal. "It's the first time I've done it. ... Some of the guys said I jinxed myself, I said I was going to get it earlier."
The T-Birds would extend their lead later in the second when Gropp fired a shot that was deflected by Mathew Barzal right in front of the net. Originally the goal was awarded to Justin Hickman, who was also in front, but after review it was determined that it was actually Barzal's stick that got the puck.
Again, Seattle had struck on the power play.
"It was huge," Gropp said about the power play. "We had a lot of meetings yesterday about the power play. We obviously struggled last game. We were just working harder and it paid off tonight."
Down two goals, the Silvertips used a power play of their own to get back into the game. Still in the second, Joshua Winquist got Everett on the board when he fired a shot that Seattle goalie Taran Kozun got a piece of but could not keep it from deflecting in the net. It was Winquist's 30th goal of the season as the 20-year-old continues his strong year.
Everett tied the game later in the period as Jujhar Khaira got around the Seattle defense and beat Kozun with a point-blank shot. The Silvertips would take the lead in the third period when Manraj Hayer was left alone in the slot and banged home a nice centering pass for Everett's third straight score.
In the end, though, the T-Birds showed some resiliency as Gropp was able to get the equalizer that set up the win in overtime.
Theodore's night was another in what is turning out to be a somewhat spectacular season for the Anaheim Ducks draft prospect. His four points pushed him to a team-best 60 on the year as he leads all WHL defensemen in scoring.
"It was the best game he's played in a long time," Konowalchuk said. "He still has been fine but you can see when he wants to raise it another level defensively to compete in the corners and the power play. He needs to be a big reason why we're going."
The win gives Seattle eight wins in their last nine games and sets up a big showdown Sunday afternoon with the league-leading Kelowna Rockets. Seattle and Kelowna have a recent history of playing exciting games that usually end up in overtime or coming down to the wire. Happy to go into that game with a win, Konowalchuk and the T-Birds are looking forward to the challenge.
"Another big game," Konowalchuk said of Sunday. "Fun game and it's going to be an exciting game there. They usually are against Kelowna."
Sunday's game will face off at 5 p.m.
• A night after suffering what looked like a serious knee injury, winger Jaimen Yakubowski was back in the lineup Saturday. The high energy Yakubowski showed no signs of strain, played hard and even got into a scrap.
• Mathew Barzal, who recently returned from injury, appears to be back in form after a couple of games where he was still getting his legs back. His goal Saturday was his second point in as many nights. He was matched up on a line with Gropp and Hickman and the three were Seattle's best line on the night.
• Theodore's four-point night was the second such night of his year, and he now has 15 multi-point nights on the season.
• Saturday was the 300th game with the T-Birds for rugged forward Mitch Elliot. The 20-year-old joined the T-Birds in 2009 and has spent his entire junior career with Seattle.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Saturday, January 25, 2014 @ 8:24am
By Andrew Eide
KENNEWICK -- Just as all good things must eventually come to an end, so has the Seattle Thunderbirds seven game winning streak.
The T-Birds were in chilly Kennewick Friday night and were taken down by the Tri City Americans 3-1 in front of 5,199 Toyota Center fans. The Americans scored a goal in each period and were backed by 37 stellar saves from goalie Eric Comrie.
The biggest key to this game may have come during a five-minute stretch in the first period.
Half-way through the opening stanza, Tri City's Riley Hillis caught the knee of Jaimen Yakubowski. Yakubowski went down and was in serious pain as he writhed on the ice -- he would not return to the game after heading to the dressing room. Hillis was assessed a five-minute major kneeing penalty along with a game misconduct. Seattle (29-15-2-3) had a golden opportunity to score at will and take control of the game.
In the end, the five minutes may have allowed Tri City (24-21-2-2) to grab control.
Seattle had trouble getting set up in the Americans' zone and spent the majority of the five minutes chasing the puck back in their own end. Parker Wotherspoon pressured the Seattle players, stole the puck and sent it up ahead to Beau McCue, who was all alone. McCue raced down the ice and beat Danny Mumaugh with a nice back-handed shot.
The short-handed goal gave Tri City the early lead and was a big blow to the T-Birds' momentum.
"Our power play was a factor in this game," Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "We get that five minutes, we know that team pressures the points. They got a goal there and that was the difference in the game."
Throughout the first half of the game the T-Birds struggled to get any real sustained pressure. With about seven minutes left in the second period, however, things began to click. They started generating shots and forcing Comrie to make saves. It appeared that maybe they were going to take the game over.
Tri City doused those flames, though, when Devon McAndrews raced down into the Seattle zone and fired a wrist shot that beat Mumaugh with only 36 seconds left in the period. The goal went against the flow of play and seemed to indicate that it was not going to be Seattle's night.
"You can't control those things," Konowalchuk said of the goal. "You can control the power play and that's where I'm most upset, that the power play wasn't there. We need to make them pay there and get that first goal. This team is a good team when they get the first goal and that really turned out to be a factor in the game."
Seattle would get two more power play chances in the third period and again failed to capitalize. They did keep the pressure on, however, and ended up outshooting the Americans 33-15 over the final two periods. Still, they could not beat Comrie.
"Weren't sharp, weren't working hard enough, casual," Konowalchuk said to summarize the power play and the night in general.
Tri City added a goal in the third from Braden Purtill to build a three-goal lead that felt insurmountable with the way Comrie was playing in net. The T-Birds did not give up, though, and spent the majority of the third period in the Tri City zone. They finally got on the board with just over eight minutes left when Roberts Lipsbergs tipped in an Ethan Bear shot for his 28th goal of the year.
After that the T-Birds had some life and some chances but again were stymied by Comrie.
"Some guys competed, it just wasn't there for everybody," Konowalchuk said. "It wasn't everybody all night, every shift. There were some guys that definitely competed, but in the first period, especially in the second half, some of our skill guys weren't hard on pucks like we need to be.
"It's hard to create momentum and you can see when we started to be hard on pucks and play the way we needed to we could get something going...that's not good enough."
The T-Birds will now head home for two more games this weekend. Saturday they will try to get back on the winning track as they host the Everett Silvertips and then will take on the WHL's top team in the Kelowna Rockets on Sunday.
• The win snapped a three game losing streak for the Americans against Seattle. Tri City has now won four games in a row overall as they try to hold onto the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
• Konowalchuk was not sure of Yakubowski's status after the game but did say that it didn't sound good. He added they would not know his status for sure until they assessed him Saturday. Yakubowski had recently returned from a previous injury.
• Mathew Barzal moved up to take Yakubowski's spot on a line with Alex Delnov and Roberts Lipsbergs. The three generated a number of scoring chances and Barzal picked up an assist on Lipsbergs' goal. It was his first point since returning from injury four games ago.
• The win was the 21st for Comrie. The Americans' workhorse goalie has now played in 41 of their 49 games.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Friday, January 24, 2014 @ 6:15am
By Andrew Eide
Early in Tuesday's win against Moose Jaw, Seattle defenseman Ethan Bear picked up the puck on the point during a T-Birds power play. He took a couple of strides, skating into the faceoff circle and fired a wrist shot that found its way through traffic and into the Moose Jaw net.
The goal was Bear's fourth goal of the year as the 16-year-old rookie continues his strong year on Seattle's blue line.
Bear hails from Ochapowace, Saskatchewan and while the T-Birds feature a couple of higher profile rookies in center Matthew Barzal and right wing Keegan Kolesar, Bear has quietly been having an impressive first year in the WHL. Playing a position that is tough and taxing for young players, Bear has excelled and seems to be gaining confidence with each game.
"I think things have smoothed out for me as a 16-year-old coming in," he says. "I have a few mistakes but (Matt) Odette takes me under his wing, gives me knowledge. I really like it, it's a lot of fun. It's a big challenge but I'm really enjoying it."
Seattle selected Bear in the second round of the 2012 Bantam Draft, and he spent last year playing midget hockey for the Yorktown Harvest in Saskatchewan. He scored seven goals and 35 points for the Harvest, and says that jumping from midget hockey to the WHL has been an eye opener for him as he's had to adjust to another level of opponent.
"Mostly speed and skills-wise," Bear says of the difference. "A lot of these players are really good and they're good with the puck. As a defenseman you want to be like those smart players, play your zone. There's a few systems you want to run so you can shut those players down."
Bear has been shutting those players down for the most part and has a plus-4 rating so far on the year. Last season, Bear was coached in Yorktown by former NHL player Jeff Odgers. When asked about the defenseman, Odgers praised Bear saying "He's a 15-year-old, but he plays with the poise of a veteran."
A year later and in a tougher league, Bear continues to play with that poise. He plays a calm game and never seems rattled when he has the puck in his own end, with forecheckers bearing down on him. Its at those moments that young players often panic, turn the puck over and watch it end up in their own net.
Bear says that poise comes naturally to him.
"It's kind of my personality," he says. "I'm calm when it comes to games. Before games I like to get hyped up but then during the game I'm really calm. I just look at the positive through everything I do, sometimes there can be some negative but I don't let that get to me. Make sure I'm staying positive, calm and relaxed on the bench. It's just a big part of me, I like to be calm and relaxed."
Being calm and relaxed has helped Bear log some important ice time this year.
Steve Konowalchuk has faith in his rookie as Bear routinely plays minutes on the power play and penalty kill. The T-Birds defensive pairings have been working consistently all year, and Bear has been matched up with veteran Adam Henry ever since Henry was acquired from Lethbridge. The two have developed some chemistry and Bear has learned a lot from his partner.
"He helps me out a lot," Bear says. "He's a smart player, he's very offensive and I'm more of a two-way player. We help each other out and we find each other on the ice. He's a really good guy, I like playing with him. He's a lot of fun, makes little jokes on the bench."
The T-Birds have had 16-year-old defensemen play a big role in seasons past. Shea Theodore and Jared Hauf were both thrown to the wolves their rookie years due to the lack of depth the club had then. They took some lumps but have come out the other end.
Bear says having those guys on the team is great, but they don't talk too much about their rookie experiences.They do, however, help him out quite a bit.
"They mostly just talk to me about how I can improve my game," he says. "They're good guys, I think they had it a little bit rougher than I do, I've had an easier way because they're really good."
During the holidays the T-Birds had to play without their rookie in the lineup as he was selected to play for Team West in the U-17 tournament. That tournament features some of the best 16-year-old players from all over the world. It's an experience Bear says he won't soon forget.
"It was probably the most fun I've had in hockey," he said. "It's a great bunch of guys, they're all your age, you know them and you're familiar with them. You get to see what the skills are like in other countries, like Sweden and Czech Republic. Those guys play a different type of game. It was really nice to play against those guys and see how you match up with other players."
Watching Bear play you get the feeling that he has more international play in his future with Team Canada. Not only did he play well, but he was selected to be the captain for his squad in the tournament.
"It was nice, the coaches were looking at me in a leadership role," he said. "I really took advantage of that role and made sure we stayed composed during games, made sure we were focused. I really liked it, there were a lot of guys they could have given the 'C' to, I'm very honored I got to wear it."
With the start to his junior career that Bear has had the potential he has shown is exciting. As he grows stronger, older and more experienced, it appears he will develop into one of the top defensemen in the WHL. His play will surely garner some attention from NHL scouts next year, his draft year, and don't be surprised to see him ranked pretty highly.
But for now, none of that matters. For now, Bear is focused on this year and improving his game as much as he can. He's had success, but Bear says there are still things he can work on.
"Mostly my defensive zone and my speed," he says. "I've got to be a little bit faster, quicker feet. I have to take care of my own end, that's my job as a defenseman that has to be my strong point."
When you talk to Ethan Bear you can't help but walk away impressed. He is humble, thankful to his teammates and coaches and does have that veteran poise his former coach spoke of. His play on the ice is equally impressive, and he is one of the reasons that the future of the Seattle club looks very strong.
Bear and the T-Birds will next be in action Friday night as they head to Kennewick to play the Tri City Americans.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
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