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.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 @ 5:36am
Seattle goalie Taran Kozun celebrates the T-Birds shoot out win against Moose Jaw (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- During their current winning streak, the Seattle Thunderbirds keep finding a way to win hockey games. Tuesday night they beat the Moose Jaw Warriors 3-2 in a shootout in front of 4,594 fans at the ShoWare Center.
Goalie Taran Kozun made 29 saves, including all three shootout attempts, and defenseman Shea Theodore picked up the shootout winner to send the T-Birds to their seventh straight victory. Theodore was the only shooter to convert as he made a nice move to fool Warriors goalie Justin Paulic.
"I don't know, I've been trying it in practice a little bit," Theodore said of his move. "I think I've a terrible shooting percentage but Steve still has confidence in me and I got it done tonight."
Tuesday's game bogged down at times into a special teams battle. The two teams combined for 15 power-play attempts that robbed the game of a lot of flow. Seattle built a two-goal lead and had Moose Jaw fight back, thanks in some part to eight power-play attempts given to the Warriors.
"Its our fault, we deserved most of them," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Most of our penalties were deserved and we've got to smarten up. We came out, we want to play with emotion but we've got to keep it in line."
The T-Birds penalty kill was strong and killed off seven of the power play chances, but playing short-handed that often takes you out of your offensive rhythm. That allowed the Warriors to hang in the game and eventually tie it on the one power play Seattle could not kill off.
With less than two minutes left in the game, defenseman Evan Wardley was called for kneeing. That allowed the Warriors to pull Paulic for a 6-on-4 advantage. They flooded the T-Birds goal with shots and eventually center Brayden Point was able to bang the puck in for his second goal of the night with only 7 seconds left in the game.
"Saw a guy back door there, shot from the point, kind of went right to him," Kozun said about the goal. "I tried getting to the post but he banged it off the post and off my skate and in. I'd like to have that one back but we got the win so that's good."
Neither team would score in overtime, setting up Theodore's game-winner and more nice saves from Kozun.
"Shoot outs are always fun," the goalie said. "I always enjoy them, especially when I can make that last save to get the win."
The T-Birds got on the scoreboard early on Tuesday as center Scott Eansor spun around for a wrist shot that beat Paulic 33 seconds into the game. Three minutes later defenseman Ethan Bear scored on the power play as he made some nice moves to walk in from the point to score on a wrist shot.
Seattle dominated the first period, but the Warriors were able to get one back as Point wheeled out from behind the T-Birds net to roof a goal over Kozun. That goal came only 23 seconds left and would be the last goal in the game until the very end.
The third period is when the T-Birds got into some penalty trouble as the Warriors were given four of their eight power plays on the night. If not for a strong penalty kill the game may have turned out worse for Seattle.
"You know what, pretty good pressure," Konowalchuk said of the key to killing the penalties. "Making the other team make plays under pressure and hurried plays. If they can do that good for them and when we needed to we blocked shots, and got good saves."
Tuesday was another strong start for Kozun, who now has won his first four starts for Seattle -- after only winning five games in his first 29 games played with Kamloops. Playing for a deeper team with a solid defense can make a world of difference.
So far he is getting rave reviews from his teammates.
"He's been playing the puck great and making all the key saves that we need," Theodore said of Kozun. "Even a great celly (celebration) after the shoot out there, no real complaints from anyone."
The seven straight wins have helped Seattle separate a bit in the Western Conference standings as they now sit in fourth place, five points clear of Spokane in fifth. They are one point behind Victoria for third in the conference and only four back from Portland.
With a big three-in-three weekend looming, these points all become huge.
"We've talked about it, about how the rest of the way for us is big hockey," Konowalchuk said. "We want to get our game as polished as we can to get ready for playoffs. It has to become instinct by then, you can't change your game in the playoffs."
Seattle begins their big weekend Friday night in Kennewick to take on the Tri-City Americans.
Eansor's goal in the first period was his third of the year and the fastest goal Seattle has scored this season.
Former T-Birds defenseman Jesse Forsberg made his first appearance at the ShoWare Center since being traded early in the year. He picked up an assist on the late game-tying goal for the Warriors.
Konowalchuk said that Danny Mumaugh was going to get the call in net on Friday as he felt he needed to get his other goalie back into the swing of things. Both goalies have been hot of late as Seattle has only allowed eight goals in their last six games.
With his two goals Tuesday, Moose Jaw's Brayden Point now has 14 points in his last seven games and is one of the hottest players in the WHL.
Saturday's home game against the Everett Silvertips is Seattle's annual Teddy Bear Toss game where fans are encouraged to toss stuffed animals on the ice following the first T-Birds goal. The bears are collected and donated to local charities.
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @andyeide
Sunday, January 19, 2014 @ 5:43am
By Andrew Eide
When it comes to playing the last place Kamloops Blazers, it appears the third time is the charm for the Thunderbirds.
Seattle had struggled against the struggling Blazers, but Saturday night the T-Birds picked up a gritty 3-2 win in Kamloops at the Interior Savings Center. Seattle got a late third-period goal from forward Justin Hickman, which turned out to be the game winner, and picked up 30 saves from goaltender Taran Kozun in the win. It was the T-Birds' sixth win in a row.
The win was the first of the year for Seattle (28-14-2-3) against the Blazers, and while this one wasn't easy, the T-Birds came out in the first period ready to play.
"First period, guys came out ready to do what it takes to win the game," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Then Haufy, Wolfsy, and Mitch set the tone emotionally with hits. Everybody came ready to play."
Both teams played physically from the outset, and as Konowalchuk mentioned, defenseman Jared Hauf, defenseman Kevin Wolf and left wing Mitch Elliot were right in the center of it. All three were physical, and all three were challenged by Blazers players to fights, all in the first period.
The T-Birds scored twice in the opening frame to take what seemed like a commanding two-goal lead. Left wing Roberts Lipsbergs opened the scoring on the power play with his team leading 27th goal when he banged home a rebound from in close. Seattle would later extend their lead from a pair of unlikely sources.
Stepping on the ice out of the penalty box Elliot picked up the puck and was behind the Kamloops defense. He slid the puck to Wolf, who fired a shot past Kamloops goalie Bolton Pouliot for his first goal in the WHL. It was his third point of the season and only the fourth of his career.
From there the game bogged down into a grinding, defensive struggle. Seattle struggled to get shots through, which Konowalchuk says was partly because of what Kamloops was doing, and partly because of what his players were not.
"I think it was a good game, a good road game," he said. "Too cute with the puck in their end, give them credit. They did a good job protecting the house and we didn't get shots through but we were way too cute, and that's why we didn't score."
The Blazers did manage to score late in the second after the T-Birds could not get the puck out of their end while short-handed. That allowed Blazers center Joe Kornelsen to bang away at the puck during a scramble and get it past Kozun. It was the first goal that Kozun has allowed in his first three games with Seattle -- a span that lasted 161 minutes of play.
He played another solid game in front of his former fans, friends and teammates.
"He smiles, even at the end he's smiling," Konowalchuk said of his goalie. "I really like that he really seems to handle the game well, doesn't put pressure on himself and he's into the game. That's a good characteristic for a goalie to have for sure."
All throughout the third period, the game seemed like it was balancing on the edge. Clinging to a one-goal lead, Seattle had to withstand the Blazers push as they tried to get the score equal. Seattle was out-shot 19-9 in the third period and was able to extend their lead just after the 14-minute mark.
Hickman hacked at a rebound that bounced off the post, back off Pouliot and slid across the goal line. It was Hickman's 13th of the season and gave Seattle a late two-goal lead. The Blazers made it interesting with under a minute to go, when they were on the power play and had pulled Pouliot for a two man advantage. That made it hard to clear the puck and Kornelsen was able to pick up his second goal of the game.
The T-Birds shut the door after that and skated away with the win.
The two points pulled Seattle to within one point of Victoria for third place in the Western Conference and to within two points of Portland for second. With the standings this tight, games against a team like Kamloops are huge.
"We need to take care of business," Konowalchuk said. "We want to continue to chase down the team's ahead of us and to do that you can't afford to waste a game. You can't waste any games because the team's ahead of you aren't going to let too many slip away. I think the last three games we have taken care of business against teams we expect to."
Seattle will get a chance for two more points Tuesday as they host the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Saturday's game was the first WHL game in Kamloops for left wing Ryan Gropp, who grew up there. He had a strong game, picking up two assists.
While Kozun was facing his former team for the first time, so was defenseman Austin Douglas for the Blazers. He was sent to Kamloops as part of the deal to get Kozun. He didn't figure in the scoring but did get into a scrap with Kevin Wolf.
Defenseman Shea Theodore added another assist on Saturday and now has 11 helpers in his last seven games. He is third in the WHL in assists and continues to lead the league in scoring by a defenseman with 55 points.
Seattle's defense continues to be stingy as they have only given up six goals in their last five games.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Saturday, January 18, 2014 @ 6:10am
Seattle's Sam McKechnie had a goal Friday as Seattle won their fifth straight game (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- Newly acquired goalie Taran Kozun has only played 124 minutes of hockey with the Seattle Thunderbirds so far but its hard to imagine a more perfect beginning.
Starting in his second consecutive game, Kozun picked up his second straight shut out as the T-Birds defeated the Tri City Americans 4-0 Friday night in front of 4,677 fans at the ShoWare Center. Kozun stopped all 26 shots he faced and Seattle added goals from four different players for their fifth win in a row.
For Kozun, his time in Seattle so far has been all smiles.
"It's amazing," the goalie said. "I've got a great D corps in front of me, the forwards are all playing amazing in front of me as well. They're getting the scrums out, getting the pucks out. It's real nice coming here and posting shut outs."
Kozun stood the tallest Friday night in the second period. Seattle (27-14-2-3) had a one goal lead and the Americans had them on their heels. Seattle started taking some penalties, giving Tri City four straight power play chances and the momentum swung.
Despite Tri City (20-21-2-2) tilting the ice, Kozun and Seattle's penalty kill stood strong. Kozun made several spectacular saves to keep the puck out of the net, keeping the Americans at bay.
"We've been taking pride in our penalty kill," Sam McKechnie said. "Watching a lot of video and get that down pat, its been working."
McKechnie was a key player on the penalty kill and in the third period he added a big goal that extended the T-Birds lead and opened the flood gates for Seattle. Roberts Lipsbergs picked up his 26th goal later in the third period and then Jaimen Yakubowski added a goal with four minutes left to put away any doubt about the outcome of the game.
"Good first period, better third period," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I thought it was crunch time in that second period, the goal tender was good for us. He preserves a 1-0 lead there and we were able to get back on track and scored that second goal that deflated them a bit."
The goaltender has been good since being acquired from the Kamloops Blazers at the trade deadline last week. Kozun moved from a team that had struggled its way to only ten wins to one that is fighting for a high seed in the playoffs.
"Its fun for him," Konowalchuk said. "I know he's had a long first half of the year with his other team. He's rejuvenated probably a little here, knowing we're going to score some goals for him and help him out in front. But he earned that one today, especially in the second period."
The T-Birds got Kozun an early lead as Russell Maxwell continued his good start with Seattle. Working up ice on a nice two-man play with Shea Theodore, Maxwell got the puck in the slot and fired a wrist shot over Tri City goalie Evan Sarthou's shoulder. It was Maxwell's 11th goal of the year and first with Seattle -- it turned out to be all the offense the T-Birds would need.
The T-Birds have now won five straight games and have only allowed four goals in the last four games of this stretch. Despite that, Konowalchuk still feels there is some room for improvement.
"Anytime you get a shut out and get the win its a good thing but we have high expectations," he said. "There are still some things out there that I talked to some of the guys about that we have to clean up."
Seattle will shoot for their sixth straight win Saturday night as the travel north to take on Kozun's former club in Kamloops. The prospect of facing his former teammates had Kozun excited.
"I'm hoping (to play), it would be amazing," he said. "I had so many good friends over there and met so many great people, fans and billets and everything so it would be a real memorable experience."
After two consecutive starts though, will he get the nod Saturday?
"I'm going to talk to him," Konowalchuk said. "I talked to him the other day and he sounded pretty excited to go. I don't think that as a coach you want to over think this too much, he'll probably be in."
Saturday's game is a big one despite Kamloops' place in the standings. The Blazers have surprised the T-Birds twice this year, including a 7-1 stinker on new year's eve. It was a game that the Blazers goalie that night, Kozun, referred to as "kind of a beating", so the T-Birds should not take Kamloops lightly.
"I hope that they (Seattle's players) don't need that message after they beat us twice," Konowalchuk said. "There are some things that we need to clean up from tonight's game to be even better so hopefully that carries through for us tomorrow."
Kozun's consecutive shut outs is the first time Seattle has had back-to-back blankings since the 2009-2010 season. Calvin Pickard picked up shut outs that year against Everett and Vancouver on consecutive nights.
Saturday's opponent, the Blazers, are the WHL's second lowest scoring club coming into to Saturday's game. How long will the shut out streak last?
Kozun made his last start for Kamloops against the same Tri City club and gave up two goals in a 2-1 loss. With Seattle he has now stopped all 54 shots he has faced.
Lost in all the goalie talk was Shea Theodore's three assist night. The first assist was the 100th of his career as he now has a career high 40 on the season. It was the fifth time this year that the defenseman has notched three assists or more in a game.
Friday night marked the return of Mathew Barzal from injury. The young center had not appeared in a game for Seattle since December 13th. He spent most of Friday night on the fourth line as he gets his legs back but he still looked sharp at times. Branden Troock and Connor Honey remained out of the lineup.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Thursday, January 16, 2014 @ 6:13am
Taran Kozun picked up a shut out in his first appearance with the T-Birds (WHL)
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds are riding a four-game win streak after shutting out the Spokane Chiefs Tuesday night. The four wins has almost erased the injury-laden five game losing streak they limped through after the new year.
Along with getting back to the winning side of things the T-Birds were busy at the trade deadline. Out were Seth Swenson, Austin Douglas and Justin Myles and in were Taran Kozun and Russell Maxwell. While these moves were not block busters they look like solid moves that are already paying off.
Here is a look back at the stories and trends of the past week.
Goals against the machine
Hockey statistics are a somewhat complicated bucket of numbers. On the surface they seem to paint a certain picture, but you really have to dig into them to get some clarity. This is true if you look at Seattle's goals allowed so far this year.
After Tuesday's game the T-Birds have allowed 167 goals in their 45 games this year for an average of 3.7 goals per game. Of the 16 teams currently holding playoff positions in the WHL that is the worst. At first glance this seems alarming -- how can they win giving up that many goals?
Looking at the numbers closer it appears that perhaps the Seattle defense has been better than those numbers indicate.
Seattle has given up ten goals in three games this year and seven in four others for a total of 58 goals in seven of their 45 games. In the remaining 38 games played they have allowed 109 goals for a 2.8 goals allowed per game average --nearly a goal better than their overall average. The Kelowna Rockets have allowed the fewest goals in the league at 2.5 goals per game.
What does this tell us? It tells us that for most of the year Seattle has been closer to the best defensive club in the league then it hasn't. It also says that when the flood gates open during one particular game they open like the tidal wave in that movie about the comet that hits the earth, wiping out half the population.
The good news is that the numbers show Seattle is playing pretty good defense overall. Since struggling on their last road trip they have tightened up and only allowed five goals in their last three played -- all wins.
Speaking of numbers -- looking at 16-year-old rookie Ethan Bear's numbers you might miss how big of a contribution he has made to the T-Birds this season. In 31 games he has three goals and nine points with a modest plus-3 rating. Watching him play you see skill and poise that a player his age should not have at this point in their career.
Certainly Bear has been steady for Seattle's back end and he has been a big part of their success. How big?
In the 31 games that Bear has appeared in this season the T-Birds record is 23-5-0-3. In the 14 games he has missed either to injury or tournaments Seattle has limped along at 3-9-2-0.
Now that is not to suggest that Bear is the most important player on the team or even their best defenseman. The T-Birds have been fortunate to stick with the same three defensive pairings for the majority of the year. If you were to take out any of the top defenseman you may see similar results
Since Adam Henry joined the club Bear has played pretty much exclusively with the former Lethbridge Hurricane and the two seem to have some chemistry. In the games that Bear has missed Steve Konowalchuk has had to mix and match the defensive pairings and the results show up in those seven games we mentioned earlier -- most of which Bear was not in the lineup for.
The walking wounded
The T-Birds have had their share of injuries this year and are slowly starting to get back to full strength. In the past week they saw the return of Bear and Keegan Koelsar from the U-17 tournament, then got Scott Eansor back followed by Jaimen Yakubowski's return on Friday.
They are still missing some key offensive players in Branden Troock, Mathew Barzal and Connor Honey. The official word is that Troock and Barzal are close to coming back and Barzal skated in warm ups on Tuesday. When those players return the T-Birds should get a nice jolt and it will be as they had traded for some pretty high ended talent.
Three stars of the week
Here are our three stars of the week. We don't have a prize or medallion to give them so we will just say nice things here.
Third Star: Danny Mumaugh. After being forced to take the brunt of the road trip Mumaugh bounced back well winning two big games this last week. He outlasted Ty Edmonds in Prince George winning 2-1 in a shoot out and then was solid in the T-Birds 4-3 overtime win against Spokane last Saturday.
Second Star: Roberts Lipsbergs. With the offensive players out Lipsbergs has stepped up this week, picking up three goals and eight points over the last four games. The biggest of those goals was his late third period game-tying goal against Spokane on Saturday.
First Star: Alex Delnov. Lipsbergs' European partner has also stepped up this past week by potting four goals and eight points in the last four games. He got the overtime winner on Saturday and now has matched his goal total of 20 from last year. That has moved him past Troock into second on the club in scoring with 45 points.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 @ 3:29pm
By Tim Pigulski
Things couldn't have gone much better for 19-year-old goaltender Taran Kozun – whom the T-Birds acquired at last Friday's trade deadline – in his Seattle debut.
Playing in front of a hostile Spokane crowd of over 4,000 Tuesday night, Kozun was able to keep the Chiefs and the WHL's leading scorer, Mitch Holmberg, completely off of the scoreboard. Spokane, which currently stands fourth in the Western Conference in goals scored, peppered the Nipawin, Saskatchewan native with 28 shots, none of which found the back of the net. In fact, Tuesday night marked the first time in 55 games that the Chiefs were shut out.
Russell Maxwell has already made a positive impact since being acquired last Friday. (Brian Liesse, Thunderbirds)
Playing behind a Kamloops team that has allowed the second-most goals in the Western Conference and currently sits in last place in points, Kozun's numbers weren't all that impressive. Last season, when the Blazers advanced to the Western Conference Final and boasted a much more formidable roster, Kozun's numbers looked like that of a No. 1 goaltender. Now with Seattle, it's expected that his numbers will more closely resemble those that he established last season.
Russell Maxwell, the other 19-year-old acquired at the trade deadline, may not be as prominent on the scoresheet so far as Kozun was in his lone appearance, but he's been an important addition nonetheless.
The 5-foot-8 center has already earned high praises from head coach Steve Konowalchuk, who has commended Maxwell's constant competitive edge and how it has a positive effect on the entire bench. Almost immediately after being acquired, Maxwell was added to both the power-play and penalty-kill units, demonstrating the versatility that the coaching staff envisioned when he was acquired from Lethbridge.
Reminiscent of fan favorite Luke Lockhart, Maxwell – after losing his stick on a penalty kill and in complete disregard for his body – threw himself in front of three Chiefs shots before clearing the puck using his skate. It's exactly those types of efforts that can quickly endear you to the rest of the locker room, and the type of player that every team needs to make an impact in the playoffs.
While the T-Birds lack depth at forward right now due to injury, they still have a large number of highly-capable scorers on the roster. Trusting that Maxwell can be placed into a non-scoring role when those players return – and that he can play it very well – gives Konowalchuk even greater flexibility with his forwards as this team prepares for the playoffs.
Many expected more and different moves to be made when Friday's deadline approached. However, both players have already made positive contributions on the ice and were major factors in gaining the team at least a couple of points so far.
Follow Tim Pigulski on Twitter @tpigulski.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 @ 9:48pm
By Andrew Eide
For the third straight game the Seattle Thunderbirds worked into overtime as they beat the Spokane Chiefs 1-0 Tuesday night at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
After both teams failed to score during regulation Ryan Gropp ended the game, and opened the scoring, with 44 seconds left in the overtime period when he flung the puck at Spokane goalie Eric Williams. The shot caught Williams off guard and the puck found its way through his body and trickled over the goal line to give Seattle its fourth straight win.
"They (overtime games) keep you on your toes," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Definitely fun when you win them."
Seattle (26-14-2-3) has been winning them as they have won three such games in a row.
For newly acquired goalie Taran Kozun, you couldn't ask for a better Thunderbirds debut. He stopped all 28 shots he faced in recording his first shut out of the season and third in his WHL career. Tuesday was his first start for Seattle after being acquired from Kamloops last week.
"He played a very good game," Konowalchuk said about Kozun. "I mean you can't ask for anything more than that. He played the puck really well, tracked the puck well. Those games are tough to play sometimes when you're not seeing a ton of shots and then all of a sudden there's a chance."
Another new Thunderbird came up big when his team needed it on Tuesday. Russell Maxwell was playing in his second game for Seattle since being picked up at the trade deadline from Lethbridge. While he didn't figure in the scoring he made some huge plays to keep the game scoreless late in the third period.
Spokane (26-13-2-2) was given a power play and almost immediately Maxwell's stick broke. Playing without one he threw his body in front of three Chiefs' shots, blocking them all and managing to kick the last one out of the zone for a clear.
"That's awesome," Konowalchuk said. "I mean when we're playing well and our guys are out there to play for something its huge. He puts himself on the line and its contagious on the bench and thats competing...Crucial part of the game, not only do they get the power play but you lose your stick. Maxwell thought he was playing goalie there I think. It's good energy for our team."
Being a new comer to a team can be tough, but plays like that can cement yourself with your new teammates pretty quick.
"Any athlete at any level, they play to earn respect of their teammates," Konowalchuk said. "When you see a guy go out there like that it doesn't take long to earn respect. I'm sure his teammates know he's got their back no matter what. He's a big member of the team now."
Later on that same power play Kozun also lost his stick and made a couple of big saves with his blocker to preserve the shut out for Seattle.
With the win the T-Birds now have three straight overtime wins (one technically a shoot out) and two straight overtime wins against a division rival in Spokane. The win also gives the T-Birds a 5-0 record against the Chiefs and they have now won four straight games in Spokane going back to last year.
The two points picked up Tuesday were tough to come by.
Both clubs had ample chances on the power play to pick up a goal -- which would have been the difference.
Seattle had five power play chances to Spokane's four. In a tight game like that you have to wonder if not scoring will end up costing you.
"You definitely like to capitalize," Konowalchuk said. "There were five or six we didn't score on, definitely want to get one there...their penalty kill matched our penalty kill so it kind of washed out."
A week and a half after Seattle was struggling to stay competitive in games they now have found a way to win them, in many different fashions. Tuesday's game was one where any mistake could have cost them two huge points -- something that was a bit of a problem on Saturday night.
"Guys were sharp. When they had something going I thought we did a good job," Konowalchuk said. "When there were turnovers, which is going to happen, we were able to get guys back and protect the house and help each other out."
Seattle has now taken all ten of the points on the line with Spokane so far this season. Fighting through a bump in the road after start of the new year they now seem to be back the form they showed prior to the holiday break.
"I think that was a pretty good road game." Konowalchuk said. "It's nice to come away with the extra point because that team played really well over there. They played hard, we played a smart road game....It was one of those games that could have gone either way."
The T-Birds will return home to face the Tri City Americans this Friday at the ShoWare Center.
Seattle's perfect record against Spokane comes in large part because of how they have played Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani. The two Spokane 20-year-olds have combined for 72 goals so far this season. In five games against Seattle they have combined for only three. "You've got to make them work for everything," Konowalchuk says of defending them. "You've got to limit their odd man rushes, you've got to play defense first against that line and make them play a 200 foot game."
The shut out marked the first time in 55 regular season games that the Chiefs have not scored a goal. (thanks to @WHLFacts).
Gropp's game winner was assisted by Adam Henry and came after another shift where a Seattle player had lost a stick in his own end.
The win jumped Seattle over Spokane into fourth place in the Western Conference with 57 points. Having already surpassed last year's win total of 24 they are now one point off of last years point total for the season.
The Chiefs have lost 13 regulation games and two in overtime. Both their overtime losses have come at the hands of the T-Birds as have three of their regulation losses. If they end up on the road in the first round of the playoffs they may look to how they have fared against Seattle as a big reason why.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Sunday, January 12, 2014 @ 7:02am
Seattle's Roberts Lipsbergs celebrates a late goal that allowed the T-Birds to win in overtime (Thunderbirds photo)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- There's an old adage in hockey that good things happen when you shoot the puck. Sometimes the game is really that simple.
Seattle picked up a dramatic 4-3 overtime win over the Spokane Chiefs Saturday night in front of 4,625 fans at the ShoWare Center. After coming back to tie the game late, Seattle got the game winner from Alex Delnov with just over two minutes played in the overtime. It was Delnov's second goal of the game and secured the T-Birds' third straight win.
"Shoot the puck, that's it," Delnov said with a smile afterwards.
Delnov's heroics would not have been possible if not for a big goal from his fellow European import, Roberts Lipsbergs. Lipsbergs also had two goals on the night and his second one brought the T-Birds back from the brink of what would have been a frustrating loss. With goalie Danny Mumaugh on the bench, Lipsbergs fired a shot over Spokane's Eric Williams shoulder with just over two minutes left in the game.
Once in overtime, Delnov took his shot just inside the blue line to give the T-Birds a big win against a team that was a point ahead of them in the standings.
"Its huge, we know they have two games in hand going into these two against them," defenseman Shea Theodore said. "Coming back with that late goal and winning in overtime, there's nothing better."
While they ended up getting the win, the T-Birds managed to make this one harder than perhaps it should have. They controlled the tempo of the play for most of the night but the Chiefs managed to take advantage of a few T-Birds mistakes.
"We played, I thought, a pretty solid game," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "That first part of the third period, casual moments that almost cost us the game. Good resilience to get the win, give them credit, they found a way to get the win, that's the bottom line."
Seattle (25-14-2-3) started the game strong. They had the better of the territorial play and out shot the Chiefs 10-4 in the first 20 minutes. They did everything but get the puck past Williams and Spokane (26-13-1-2) would score late when Mike Aviani knocked in a rebound on a power play goal.
It was Aviani's 30th goal of the year and went against the flow of the play.
The T-Birds got the equalizer in the second period after Theodore drew a penalty with an explosive rush up ice. With the man advantage Delnov struck for the first time of the night after potting a rebound of a Lipsbergs shot.
With the score tied one of those casual moments that Konowalchuk mentioned allowed the Chiefs to go back in front. After some sloppy play in their own end the T-Birds gave up the puck which went to the point. Cole Wedmen took a shot that was deflected in by Connor Chartier in front of Mumaugh.
Seattle, showing some resiliency, got that back however later in the period on the power play. After a pretty passing play between Adam Henry and Ryan Gropp the puck ended up on Lipsbergs stick at the side of the goal. He roofed a shot over a helpless Williams to even up the game.
Seattle's power play struck twice on the night and despite struggling in the first period, looked good for most of the night.
"I didn't like the first couple where we didn't take advantage of them, that could have come back to haunt us," Konowalchuk said of the power play. "We weren't shooting early but later we started getting pucks down low to the net. All we want to do is out number people at the net and we found a way to do that."
With the game tied and with some momentum the T-Birds shot themselves in the foot again. Just under seven minutes into the final frame a bad turnover in the Seattle end allowed the Chiefs to steal the puck and get it to Chartier who beat Mumaugh for his second goal of the night. More importantly, it gave Spokane the lead.
"It's upsetting," Konowalchuk said about the turnovers. "When the guys see that on the bench, when we see it as coaches, for the most part you're playing well, its upsetting."
The T-Birds kept plugging though and got the late game-tying goal from Lipsbergs to keep this one from slipping away. While they still have some fine-tuning to do, Seattle seems to have righted the ship a bit from last week. They finished their road trip with two wins earlier in the week and now have won three straight and are recapturing some of the momentum they had earlier in the season.
"Yeah, we're catching our feet," Shea Theodore said. "We're slowly starting to get some of our injured guys back, filling out our line up and all the guys are playing their roles and we're feeling good right now."
The T-Birds next game will be a rematch with Spokane, on the road Tuesday night.
Saturday was a big night for Delnov and Lipsbergs. The two European imports combined to score all four of Seattle's goals and chipped in three assists. With Seattle still short-handed it was a much needed offensive showing. " Its huge, they're offensive talents. They need to step up their game with guys out and they did that. Good for them," Konowalchuk said after.
Newly acquired Russell Maxwell made his T-Birds debut Saturday and played well. Konowalchuk liked how hard he competed and praised his 200 foot game.
The T-Birds got Jaimen Yakubowski back from injury. He played limited minutes due to a lack of practice time but was a welcome sight as the team is slowly starting to get guys back. Konowalchuk felt that the other injured players were close to getting back but he wasn't sure if they were "next game close".
Seattle is now 4-0 against Spokane on the year. A key part to that is how they have played against the league's leading scorer, Mitch Holmberg. Holmberg, who has 42 goals on the year, picked up an assist Saturday night but was kept quiet for the most part. In the four games with Seattle he has only scored once.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide