Updated Oct 4, 2013 - 3:25 pm
Seattle Thunderbirds Blog
Monday, March 17, 2014 @ 5:14am
By Andrew Eide
It took 72 games but the Seattle Thunderbirds have finally clinched home ice advantage in the first round.
Needing a win, Seattle got two goals from Shea Theodore and walked away from the Tri City Americans in a 6-1 rout. The two goals for Theodore set a new franchise mark for career goals by a defenseman. More importantly, the win allowed the T-Birds to edge out Everett for fourth place in the Western Conference standings.
"It was a good win," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I thought our guys went out and just played the way we needed to play. We were more desperate than the other team."
Seattle took any drama out of this one early as they built a two-goal lead in the first period. The T-Birds got on the board first when Theodore notched his first goal of the night with a power play point shot that beat Tri City goalie Evan Sarthau.
They would score another power play goal in the first as Alex Delnov beat Sarthau with a wrist shot.
The game's only real moment of drama came early in the second period when the Americans scored a goal by 15-year-old rookie Morgan Geekis - his first WHL goal. That goal came less than two minutes into the second period and seemed to give the home standing Americans some life.
The T-Birds didn't let that goal get them down and built their two-goal lead back shortly after when Keegan Kolesar made a nice centering pass that Mitch Elliot banged home for his fourth goal of the year.
"That was a really big goal," Konowalchuk said. "When you're not winning, you're not quite as confident but they came right back. I thought that line was really good, Delnov was really good defensively. Mitch was good, moving his feet on the forecheck. Keegan played his best game of the year."
For Elliot, who also picked up an assist in the game, scoring a goal in his last regular season game for Seattle was a nice touch to the end of the year.
"It's good to see those kind of guys get rewarded," Konowalchuk said about his big winger. "He does a lot of tough work that goes unnoticed."
Up 3-1 the rout was on for Seattle. They would score three more goals as Justin Hickman, Theodore and Branden Troock all found the back of the net. Theodore's second goal moved him past former T-Birds defenseman Deron Quint with 45 career goals -- a team record.
"It was nice to see Theodore get the milestone he was looking for there," Konowalchuk said about his defenseman, who also added an assist. "All our guys got a little bit of success to finish the season strong by working, its good to see."
While the T-Birds had Sunday's game wrapped up without any question, there was still plenty of drama on the night. Seattle needed Portland to beat Everett Sunday to secure the fourth seed and have home ice advantage. Those two teams played a back-and-forth affair that was tied at four and headed into overtime.
Overtime didn't solve the matter so the two teams had to go to a shoot out that Portland won, sending Everett home with fifth place and giving the T-Birds their home ice advantage.
Seattle now will move on and prepare for what will be a grueling series against the stingy Silvertips. The best-of-seven series will kick off at the ShoWare Center this coming Saturday. The two teams will play an unusual schedule as the venue will change with each game -- Game 2 will be Sunday at Everett.
After a couple weeks of scuffling the T-Birds managed to come up big when they needed it the most, with their backs to the wall. In the end, they achieved one of their goals from the beginning of the season. They have home ice and will try to build off of a big win on the season's final afternoon.
"It was a good win to end on a good note," Konowalchuk said. "Overall it was a pretty good regular season and we'll get back to work and have some fun here in the playoffs."
• Theodore's two goals give him 22 on the season and that represents the third highest single-season total in T-Birds history. Quint had 29 in 1994-95 and Jason McKeee potted 23 in 1999-2000. Theodore ended up leading the T-Birds in scoring with 79 points which was also good enough to lead all WHL defenseman in scoring.
• Mathew Barzal picked up an assist Sunday to end his rookie campaign with 54 points on the season.
• The series with Everett will be the first between the two teams in the eleven years that the Silvertips have been in the WHL. The teams played ten times this year and Seattle was 5-4-1-0 in those match ups.
• Seattle will have their work cut out for them in this playoff series. Everett is the hottest team in the league going into the playoffs and won the last three match ups between the two clubs.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.
Sunday, March 16, 2014 @ 9:28am
By Tim Pigulski
The Thunderbirds fell to rival Portland in ugly fashion for the second night in a row, as the Winterhawks defeated Seattle by a final score of 7-0.
As Everett defeated Victoria for the second night in a row, their ninth consecutive win, and Spokane lost to Tri City, the Thunderbirds now know they will be playing the Silvertips in the first round of the playoffs. The outcomes of tomorrow night's games will determine who is the fourth seed and therefore has home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
In ten games this season, the Thunderbirds are 5-4-1-0 against Everett but have come up short in their last three meetings.
The Thunderbirds were fortunate to finish the first period of Saturday night's game knotted in a scoreless tie, as they were out shot 15-4 by the Winterhawks and gave Portland two power plays.
Seattle started Danny Mumaugh, who backed up Taran Kozun in each of the T-Birds' two previous losses, was the biggest reason the game was close through 20 minutes. The young goalie had a very impressive first period, letting nothing by him and making a highlight reel glove save on Portland's Alex Schoenborn, who had received a centering pass from Mathew Dumba and was alone in front before being robbed.
The second period didn't fare nearly as well for Seattle, as they found themselves down 4-0 after the game's second frame. Goals from Oliver Bjorkstrand, Adam Rossignol, Taylor Leier and Dumba gave Portland a lead that Seattle didn't really have much of a chance of overcoming.
"We've got to do a better job containing and knocking some of their guys off the puck and winning more battles," said head coach Steve Konowalchuk about his team's struggles in the defensive zone. "We needed to get the puck more and come out cleanly."
At 8:57 of the second, with Seattle trailing 2-0 and still with a glimmer of hope, Adam Henry dropped the gloves with Rossignol in an attempt to spark his team. The alternate captain did his job, winning a fight in a situation he rarely finds himself in, but the team wasn't able to capitalize on any spark he might have created.
As is often the case when these two teams play each other, the game became chippy in the second period, with no whistle ending calmly. In the second period alone, the two teams combined for 66 penalty minutes, including two fights and a misconduct for one player from each team.
The game's final period followed the same pattern as the second, as Portland outscored Seattle 3-0 during the last frame. Two more goals from Bjorkstrand and one from Paul Bittner crushed any hopes Seattle had for a comeback, and Brendan Burke finished with the shutout for the Winterhawks.
"It was a tough loss," said Konowalchuk. "I think it's a game we just want to put behind us and move on tomorrow."
Seattle concludes the regular season tomorrow night as they head to the Toyota Center to play the Tri City Americans, who defeated the Spokane Chiefs 3-0 on Sunday night to ensure the T-Birds finished no lower than fifth place.
T-Birds wing Branden Troock served his one-game suspension, handed down by the WHL, after colliding with Portland goalie Brendan Burke during the third period of Friday night's T-Birds loss.
Seattle finished the regular season winless in Portland, losing all six of their matchups.
Saturday night saw a couple of milestones for Portland stars: defenseman Mathew Dumba had his first career four-point game and was dominant at both ends of the ice; Danish wing Oliver Bjorkstrand had a hat trick, giving him 50 goals on the season. The last Winterhawk to accomplish the feat was Ty Rattie two years ago.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski
Saturday, March 15, 2014 @ 7:03am
Shea Theodore's shot attempt is stopped by Portland's Brendan Burke during Friday's game (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- Playing in their last regular season home game of the year, the Seattle Thunderbirds continued their late season swoon Friday night.
Needing a win to keep pace with Spokane and Everett the T-Birds were beaten 5-2 by the Portland Winterhawks. Portland got two goals from Oliver Bjorkstrand, built a lead and never looked back against the struggling T-Birds.
"It was one of those nights you know," Adam Henry said. "We just couldn't seem to get grounded and come all the way back."
It's Seattle's eighth loss in their last eleven games and they now find themselves tied with Spokane for fourth place.
"We've got to get more consistent on the body," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I thought at times it was there but it's got to be everybody, all the time. We're still not playing with enough, I don't know if 'anger' is the right word, but a 'we got to do whatever it takes mentality."
Portland (52-13-2-3) used their high end skill and speed to pressure the T-Birds and keep the flow of play in their favor. The T-Birds are the bigger team and when they've had some success against Portland it has been in games where they were able to hit the Winterhawks -- something they did not do Friday.
Portland started to build their lead in the first Friday night on a goal from Matt Dumba as he walked into a slap shot from the point that beat goalie Taran Kozun. On the play the T-Birds forwards were standing around too much in their own zone and gave Dumba enough room to wind up and take what is a high-end slap shot.
It's the eighth straight game that the T-Birds have given up the game's first goal. As they have for most of the games through this stretch, they could not recover.
The Winterhawks extended their lead in the second period when Brendan Leipsic fired puck on a back-door play for a power play goal. Down two goals the T-Birds then would inflict some damage on themselves.
A turnover at the blue line led to an odd-man rush for Portland the other way. Kozun made the initial save on a Bjorkstrand attempt but the rebound deflected off of Justin Hickman and in the net.
Just like that the T-Birds were in a three-goal hole.
Seattle (40-24-2-4) started to get some life after that however and got on the board late in the second period when Mathew Barzal made a pretty pass through the slot to find a streaking Ryan Gropp. Gropp deposited the puck behind Brendan Burke for his 18th goal of the year.
That momentum carried into the third period as Seattle came out and seemingly found their physical game. They were generating chances early and got the game closer when Roberts Lipsbergs tipped a Shea Theodore point shot past Burke.
Now down only a goal, the 6,150 faithful at the ShoWare Center were back in the game and so were the T-Birds.
That excitement was doused however as the Winterhawks quickly got their two-goal lead back just over a minute later. After failing to get the puck out of their zone, the T-Birds watched as Bjorkstrand spun and fired a shot from the slot that Kozun could not find.
That goal was a killer and would end up being the final dagger on the night.
"That fourth goal, tough goal there," Konowalchuk said. "I thought we still kept coming a little bit. I didn't think our guys gave up. I like the way our guys came out to start the third with some big hits."
Portland would add to their lead when a Taylor Leier shot deflected off a Seattle stick and in the net.
"It's tough," Henry said. "Obviously you're frustrated but at the same time you've got to make sure that going into the playoffs you're not hanging your heads. You don't want to be falling apart as a team so we're going to try to take as many positives as we can."
Since clinching their playoff spot a few weeks ago the T-Birds have struggled - going 3-8-0-1 in their last eleven games. Only one of those wins was a regulation win and the team seems to have taken their foot off the gas in that stretch.
"A little bit of complacency," Konowalchuk says of the recent struggles. "We haven't found a way to get that out of our (game). I think things were getting too good for us there and we've maybe forgotten how hard it is to win...its still not good enough."
With the loss the T-Birds now have two games left and a magic number of three to clinch fourth place, two to clinch fifth. They travel down to Portland for a rematch with the Winterhawks on Saturday before finishing off the season at Tri City.
The good news for Seattle is that they control their own destiny, they don't need to scoreboard watch if they can take care of business in their final two games of the season.
"The message is that we've still got to get to playing better hockey," Konowalchuk said. "Then we've got to try and take care of it and get some points here."
The T-Birds challenge this weekend may be tougher as forward Brandan Troock may be looking at some league discipline after charging Burke late in the third period. Troock hit Burke pretty hard as the goalie's mask went flying off. Troock was assessed a five-minute major charging penalty, along with a game misconduct.
Liepsic's second period goal was his 300th point in his career with Portland.
Bjorkstrand added two assists to his two goals Friday night and now has scored 21 points against Seattle in their 11 games.
Friday night was Mitch Elliot's final regular season home game for the T-Birds. He has played all 320 games of his WHL career with Seattle and was awarded with a special award after the game.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 @ 6:57am
Seattle's Adam Henry chases the puck during Seattle's 6-4 loss on Tuesday (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- The Seattle Thunderbirds are finding ways to fill the last week of the season with more drama than they probably wished for.
With a chance to take a strangle hold on fourth place the T-Birds played a sloppy game and lost to the fifth place Spokane Chiefs 6-4. Spokane was paced by Mike Aviani's two goals and has pulled to within two points of Seattle for home ice advantage, with only three games left in the year.
"That's a stinger right there," Justin Hickman said. "It would have been nice to have that one. I think we would have pretty much put our foot in fourth place there. We've just got to keep going and we don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves, we've got a big weekend coming up."
In the eighth meeting between the two clubs, Spokane was finally able to solve the T-Birds and pick up a huge win as the season winds down. They also found a way to solve Seattle goalie Taran Kozun, who had not allowed a goal against the Chiefs in over 180 minutes of hockey this season.
"I thought I needed to make some saves and it didn't happen," Kozun said. "I've got to put the blame on myself tonight."
While Kozun probably would like a couple of the goals scored Tuesday back, the entire team seemed to play a little too sloppy and loose in the defensive zone. It led to several quality chances for Spokane and ultimately, too many goals.
"I saw a good physical effort by most guys," Head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "But mentally we just weren't quite there, I don't know if its because of all of the hockey we've (played). Mentally, some of our reads were a bit slower than usual. A couple of our decisions, that's why they got five goals."
Playing their fourth game in five nights, all against quality playoff teams, the T-Birds seemed a step off all night. In their previous seven wins against the Chiefs they were physical and sharp with the puck. Tuesday they did not hit the smaller Spokane roster as much and were not careful enough with the puck, especially in their own end.
"We were just a little bit off, and that's mental," Konowalchuk said. "Physically, it wasn't a bad effort."
The game was a back and forth affair as both teams would take, and give up, leads. The first period saw each team score twice, started by Spokane's Dominic Zwerger's 16th goal of the year.
Seattle battled back and got a goal from Alex Delnov a couple minutes later and then took the lead when Sam McKechnie chipped a puck off Spokane goalie Eric Williams for his 7th goal of the year.
Spokane didn't waste any time getting the game square again as Adam Helewka was given room in the slot and beat Kozun with a wrist shot.
The Chiefs would then take the lead in the second, on a good bounce after Mitch Holmberg's shot rebounded off Kozun, into the body of Aviani and found its way into the net. Mathew Barzal would answer for Seattle with his 14th goal of the year as the see-saw affair continued.
Seattle started to feel better about themselves when Ryan Gropp settled down a bouncing puck at the side of the net and was able to beat Williams for his 17th goal, giving the T-Birds a 4-3 lead. Unfortunately, the Chiefs would get the game even again, on a power play goal by Hudson Elynuik. Elynuik fired a shot that got by Kozun on the short side, causing frustration for the goalie as he banged his stick on the ice after.
The big moment came late in the third as overtime was looming. Shea Theodore burst out from behind his own net with the puck, only to have it bounce off his stick and to Aviani. Aviani was able to take it to the net and poke it through Kozun for what would be the game-winner.
The T-Birds had chances throughout the night, and in the third, but were unable to extend the game and Connor Chartier ended all doubt with an empty net tally with under two minutes left.
Seattle will now get a day of rest on Wednesday, according to Konowalchuk, and watch as the Chiefs will host Everett. A win for Spokane and they will pull even with Seattle in the standings. With only three games left, the scuffling T-Birds need to finish strong if they want home ice in the first round.
"Just keep your heads up." Hickman said. "I don't think too many guys in here think we're in a slump or anything. We're all excited for the playoffs, we have a huge weekend left and then it really starts."
Seattle's job this coming weekend won't be easy. They play three games in three nights, two of which are against Portland. They will need to find points in these games if they hope to fend off the Chiefs.
"We've just got to keep winning games," Konowalchuk said. "We still are in position to get our goal, there's no panic here. Can't get frustrated, they played a pretty hard hockey game. Again, we didn't play terrible, we didn't play our best. We would have liked to get the win here tonight and make it easier on our selves."
Seattle has lost three out of their last four games now but that isn't keeping them from looking forward and feeling confident about the last weekend of the season.
"We expect to win a game or two, or three this weekend," Konowalchuk said. "We expect to play good hockey."
Spokane hosts Everett on Wednesday in a game that the T-Birds will hope the Silvertips win. Everett has been playing well of late, going 8-0-0-1 in their last nine games. The bad news? They have not won in Spokane since 2010.
Looking forward, Spokane appears to have an easier schedule than Seattle has. Seattle has two games with Portland and a game at Tri City to end the season. Spokane has Wednesday's game with Everett followed by a home-and-home with Tri City. The Americans clinched a playoff spot last night and have nothing to play for in those games.
Barzal has now scored goals in two consecutive games and has five points in his last four games.
After being nearly unbeatable early on, Kozun and the Seattle defense have been leaky in the last few games. They have allowed 16 goals in Kozun's last three starts.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Monday, March 10, 2014 @ 6:24am
Mathew Barzal celebrates his first period goal during Seattle's 4-3 win on Sunday (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- With every point valuable, the T-Birds earned two big ones Sunday afternoon as they held on to beat the Vancouver Giants 4-3 in a shoot out.
Seattle got three assists from Shea Theodore along with a big shoot out conversion as Seattle held on after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period. The win snapped the T-Birds three game losing streak and kept them in the drivers seat to earn home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"It's a big win and it's nice to get that second point," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "The guys deserved it. They played a good game. I was happy with our game for maybe all about a minute."
That minute was big, and after three tough losses might have spelled doom for the T-Birds.
Up 3-1 midway through the third period it looked liked Seattle (40-22-2-4) was going to cruise to an easy win. Vancouver (31-27-7-4) picked up a power play goal when Mason Geertsen blasted a shot from the point to bring the Giants back to within one.
On the ensuing face off Vancouver's Cain Franson was able to get the puck at the blue line and scored his 30th goal of the year as he beat Danny Mumaugh. The two goals were five seconds apart and felt like they had blown away what had been a good effort by the T-Birds.
"At that point of the third you don't have time to hang your head," Justin Hickman said. "They don't feel sorry for you so you just have to keep trucking along and find a way to get the two points, whether it came in overtime or in the shoot out."
Seattle didn't hang their heads and after a scoreless overtime period found themselves in a shoot out with a big second point on the line.
Vancouver got the early advantage in the shoot out after Franson scored. Down to their last shooter, the T-Birds needed a conversion from Theodore to stay alive. The defenseman skated in, made a nice move and beat Giants' goalie Payton Lee with a backhand.
"It's the first time I've shoot as the third shooter in a while," Theodore said of the goal. "Steve told me he had confidence in me and I guess I just got it done, I liked it. I just had a fake, two or three, and just went to my backhand and I guess I caught him out of position."
That score meant that the shoot out would continue and on Seattle's fifth attempt, Roberts Lipsbergs was able to beat Lee. That meant that if Mumaugh could stop Vancouver's Trent Lofthouse the T-Birds would have their big second point. Lofthouse skated in, Mumaugh didn't flinch giving the Vancouver forward no no room and forced him into lifting a shot over the net.
Mumaugh celebrated after earning his team a big point. With the success of Taran Kozun, Mumaugh has become the back up but he performed well, making 32 saves on the night. Not bad after sitting out for a couple of weeks.
"When you're playing a lot its easy to get the ball rolling," Mumaugh said about having to come in after time off. "It's definitely a little harder when you're not in the groove but my team battled really well in front of me. They gave us, the rest of the team, a great chance to win."
Mumaugh has come up big in pressure games before, last year clinching a playoff berth for the T-Birds against Tri City, so Sunday's performance should not be a surprise.
"He's a good battler," Konowalchuk said. "He's a competitive kid, he competes every day in practice and it's tough when you don't play as much. There's pressure on those guys when they get in there once and a while to relieve Kozun. He went in there and played well and battled in the shoot out."
After a couple of tough losses the T-Birds started Sunday's game well. They played with a sense of urgency and generated a lot of scoring chances -- picking up 47 shots on the night.
Vancouver managed to get on the board early in the game on a power play goal by Arvin Atwall but then the T-Birds would strike back for three unanswered goals.
"I thought our guys played a good game," Konowalchuk said. "(We) generated more in the offensive zone. Generating and we didn't sacrifice too much defensively...better desperation in the offense to create chances and next time we get that many chances we'll score some more goals, their goalie played a good game."
Seattle got the ball rolling with a late first period power play of their own. Theodore took a big slap shot from the point that beat a screened Lee. At first the goal was awarded to Theodore, which would have tied a franchise record for career goals by a defenseman. The play was reviewed after the game and it was determined that Mathew Barzal had actually tipped the shot in and he was awarded the goal.
In the second period the T-Birds continued to pressure Lee and would get the go-ahead tally after another nice play by Theodore. He had the puck at the point and made a couple of nice moves that had Vancouver's Dalton Sward spinning and turning to try and keep up with Theodore. He couldn't and Theodore got a passing lane which he used to find Alex Delnov in the slot. Delnov spun and beat Lee for his 28th goal of the year.
Seattle extended their lead ten minutes later when Jared Smith crashed the net on a delayed penalty call and tapped in a nice pass from Scott Eansor.
In the end, the T-Birds simply needed to win Sunday. The fact that they did so after allowing Vancouver to tie the game up late is big moving forward. They have a big game Tuesday night, at home, with the Spokane Chiefs. The Chiefs trail Seattle by four points in the race for fourth place in the West.
"Huge game on Tuesday," Hickman said. "Spokane, who we very likely may play in the first round of the playoffs. So it's going to be a playoff style game and I'm sure they're going to come, they're right behind us. We're going to be ready."
While Theodore will have to wait for his franchise record goal, he still had a big game. He picked up three assists, a shoot out conversion and was seemingly on the ice the entire night. He has five points in his last three games and the three assist game was his 19th multi-assist game of the season. He has had three or more in nine games so far this year and continues to lead WHL defenseman in scoring.
Hickman returned to the line up Sunday after having to sit out two games as he nursed a hand injury. He said after that he felt fine and that there were no ill affects.
Mumaugh had not started a game since February 16th against Prince George. He did get into Saturday night's loss to Everett for 16 minutes of relief time, which may have helped get him ready for Sunday. The win was his 15th of the year.
Theodore was not aware of how close he was to the team record but after the game was quick to point out that he thought Barzal had tipped the shot. The league will often change scoring plays after video review and Sunday the word came down pretty quickly that it was in fact, Barzal's goal.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 @ 7:59am
Evan Wardley and Roberts Lipsbergs fight off an Everett player during Saturday's game (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- With the WHL Playoffs a week away, the Seattle Thunderbirds suddenly find themselves in a slump.
They lost their third straight game Saturday night as they dropped a tough 5-2 decision to the hot Everett Silvertips. Everett was paced by two goals from Josh Winquist as he established a new franchise record for goals in a season with 42. The T-Birds gave up three goals in the second period to dig a hole that they couldn't find a way out of.
"We quit playing," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "Really disappointing second period and start to the third. We weren't moving, some key guys that aren't playing the way they need to. It was a really lackluster second period and effort."
The game turned in the second period when Everett choked the T-Birds into turning the puck over and then capitalized.
After a scoreless first the Silvertips got on the board first when Patrick Bajkov deflected the puck past goalie Taran Kozun. That was a big goal as Everett is deadly this season when they score first. The Silvertips are now 25-6-1-1 when they get the game's first goal.
Seattle was able to get the equalizer however when Jaimen Yakubowski took a big shot that rebounded to Shea Theodore. Theodore blasted the puck past Everett's Austin Lotz for his 20th goal of the season. The T-Birds could not build on that momentum however and allowed Everett to take the game over.
Seattle got out of their game plan, started taking penalties and ultimately lost the game.
Winquist picked up his first goal shortly after Theodore's equalizer and then, just as Friday night, the T-Birds took a costly penalty.
Breaking in on a three-on-one rush the Silvertips came close to scoring. On the play however, Roberts Lipsbergs was called for knocking the net off its moorings. The referees determined that he did it without being pushed or forced into it, which resulted in a delay of game penalty.
The Silvertips took advantage and Dawson Leedahl deflected a shot past Kozun to give Everett a commanding two-goal lead with only twenty minutes left.
"The penalties we took the whole second period," Konowalchuk said. "They out worked us in our own end, we were standing around in our own end, not taking time and space away."
The third period started in the same fashion as the second period. The T-Birds came out flat, threw the puck around and after another turnover gave up a fourth goal as Zane Jones fired a slap shot past Kozun.
Konowalchuk called timeout after that goal and had some direct words at the bench for his team. He also decided to make a goalie change to try and flip the momentum. All of that worked to a point as Seattle started playing their game and with some much needed urgency.
They out shot Everett 19-4 in the third period and picked up several good scoring chances. Unfortunately they only were able to turn one of those chances into a goal as Russell Maxwell scored on a power play. In the end, the third period was too little, too late.
"We didn't get to playing our game until it was too late in the game," Adam Henry said. "By then it was too late. They were playing more desperate than we were and it showed on the scoreboard."
Winquist ended the drama by scoring his record setting goal into the empty net, sending the sold out crowd back out into the rain. The T-Birds now find themselves in the middle of a three game losing streak, in jeopardy of losing home ice advantage in the first round and maybe losing some confidence.
"Frustration coming off of yesterday and we've lost three games in a row," Konowalchuk said about the team's mood. "A couple guys are hanging their head's a little bit. You don't get through things like that. So it was good to see that some guys buckled down in the third period and at least got a little closer to how we need to play."
Seattle plays their third game in three nights Sunday when they host the Vancouver Giants at the ShoWare Center. The game is big as Seattle's lead on fifth place Spokane is down to just two points, and only three over Everett. If the T-Birds don't find their game quickly, they could be looking at dropping down to sixth place.
"Everyone's a little frustrated but at the same time you have to take the positives out of it," Henry said. "In the third period tonight we took it to them. We know we can play that way...we know we can do it. We know we have the guys in this room to go and win a championship. We just need to do it on a regular basis, it can't be a switch, it just needs to be like clock work."
The T-Birds will try to build on their play in the third period Sunday and into the last week. After two tough losses this weekend, they are happy to be able to get right back to it.
"I think its good to get back at it tomorrow," Konowalchuk said. "Get back at it and have a real good workman game, get some positive momentum going, one shift at a time."
Winquist's 42 goals sets a new Everett franchise record for goals in a single season. He eclipsed the mark set during the 2009-2010 season by Shane Harper.
Everett is almost impossible to beat when they have a lead, especially if that lead is after two periods. They led Saturday's game 3-1 after two periods and by holding on to win they are now 29-1 when they go into the third period with a lead.
Shea Theodore's second period goal was his 20th on the season and he now has 43 in his Seattle career. That puts him one goal behind Deron Quint for most career goals by a Seattle defenseman. Quint played for Seattle from 1993-1996.
Theodore's 20 goals is fourth best for a single season. Quint scored 29 goals in 1994-1995 to set the team mark. Theodore trails Jason McKee (23 goals in 1999-2000) and Tomas Mojzis (21 goals in 2002-2003). Theodore has five more games left and could get into second place, but scoring nine more times seems unlikely.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Friday, March 7, 2014 @ 9:41pm
By Andrew Eide
The city of Portland continues to be a struggle for the Seattle Thunderbirds as they lost 7-3 to the Winterhawks on Friday night at the Moda Center.
Portland got two goals from Mathew Dumba and Brendan Leipsic as they pulled away from Seattle by scoring four unanswered goals late to bury the T-Birds. Seattle struggled managing the puck at times and despite scoring three times on the power play, could not contain the Wnterhawks offense. Seattle has now lost two straight games and is 0-5 in Portland this year -- in games that were not competitive for the most part.
The T-Birds managed to erase a two-goal Portland lead in the second period but could not get the go-ahead tally in a game that ended up being a frustrating one for them.
"It was a frustrating game," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I mean, not all of it...I thought at times we had a chance to take over the game a little bit and get going. There were a couple of key points in the game that we just didn't finish a chance or made a critical mistake and those things kill you in the end."
Seattle had their chances in this game.
After falling behind 3-1 in the first period, the T-Birds came out in the second flying. They were forcing the play and drawing penalties on the Winterhawks. They got the game close on a Shea Theodore power play goal and would tie it up a couple of minutes later when Ryan Gropp found the back of the net on another power play.
After the Gropp goal, Portland goalie Corbin Boes came up injured and had to leave the game. He was replaced by rookie Adin Hill who had only played one WHL game prior to Friday. Everything was set up for the T-Birds to take over the game and earn a big statement type win in Portland.
Then, two big momentum swings occurred that ultimately changed the outcome of the game.
Late in the second, with the score tied, Branden Troock snuck behind the Portland defense and had the rookie goalie in his sites. He made a nice move and looked like he was going to give the T-Birds the lead. Unfortunately for Seattle the puck went over the net and harmlessly rang off the boards.
"We had a few chances to go up," Konowalchuk said. "Troock had the breakaway, we could have gone up 4-3 on a couple of chances."
A couple of minutes later, with under two minutes left in the period, the puck was in the Seattle zone and the T-Birds had a chance to clear it. They over-skated it and failed to get it out which led to a shot on goal and a big double minor penalty called on the T-Birds. As Taylor Leier and Jared Hauf were fighting for position, Hauf got his stick up and cut Leier's chin -- an automatic double minor.
The Winterhawks wasted no time cashing in as ten seconds later, Oliver Bjorkstrand banged home a shot from the slot to give Portland a lead they would not relinquish.
"We over-skate the puck and end up taking a four minute penalty," Konowalchuk said. "Difference is they capitalize on the penalty, they go ahead right before the period. Gives them momentum and not us. It was a high stick, we got the penalty because we over-skated the puck and couldn't get the puck out."
Armed with a big momentum-swinging goal, the Winterhawks opened the flood gates in the third as they scored three times on two goals from Dumba and one from Leipsic to turn the game into a laugher -- something that seems to happen regularly to Seattle in Portland.
"It's big to always play well and win on the road," Konowalchuk said about the struggles in Portland. "Its disappointing that we need to execute better at key parts of the game to get wins on the road. We've got to play a smarter road game in some areas."
Portland is a highly skilled club and can smother you by keeping the puck away from you and generating numerous scoring chances. When you turn the puck over, or don't get it deep, you can find yourself in for a long game.
"At times we got in trouble," Konowalchuk said. "Especially in that second period we were taking the puck back in our end instead of just keeping it on the forecheck, keeping it on the attack, that's the difference. You can't keep the momentum up."
Portland opened the scoring in the first when Chase De Leo beat Seattle goalie Taran Kozun for his 38th goal of the year. The T-Birds would manage to tie the game on a Russell Maxwell power play goal a few minutes later. Portland, as they often do, then struck quickly for two more goals, one each from Leipsic and Anton Cederholm to build their first period lead.
Seattle will now head home to continue a big weekend as they continue to try and wrap up the fourth seed in the West. The loss drops their lead to four points over Spokane and five over Everett for first round home ice. Seattle has a chance to put Everett further back when the two teams meet at the ShoWare Center Saturday night.
The T-Birds need to shake Friday's game off and get ready for a tough tilt with the red hot Silvertips.
"We'll talk about it, we'll go over some things," Konowalchuk said about Friday's loss. "We're not going to hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves. We don't have time, we've got a lot of hockey coming up. We've got to correct some things, and talk about things and get our compete up real high tomorrow."
How big of a pick up was Mathew Dumba for Portland? Since being sent back to junior by the Minnesota Wild the defenseman has 17 points and is plus-23 in only 22 games.
The seven goals allowed on Friday was the most given up by Kozun since joining the T-Birds.
Seattle captain Justin Hickman was a scratch Friday as he suffered a hand injury in last Sunday's game against Everett. Konowalchuk said that he was day-to-day.
Scott Eansor returned to the lineup for the T-Birds. The scrappy center had been out of the lineup since February 1st as he has been recovering from an injury.
All three of Seattle's goals came on the power play. On the night they were three-for-six.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 @ 6:44am
Taran Kozun has flourished since joining the T-Birds at the trade deadline (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
As the WHL Trade deadline was winding down in January, it was beginning to look like the Thunderbirds were not going to make any moves. After all, they had already made several trades during the year and many thought that they were going to go with the roster they had.
However, just before the deadline expired, the Kamloops Blazers announced that they had made a deal but waited to announce the details. Those details turned out to be a trade that sent goalie Taran Kozun to Seattle for Justin Myles, Austin Douglas and a fourth-round pick.
It was a trade that didn't garner a great deal of attention in WHL media circles, but it just might be the biggest deal of the season. For Kozun, the deal came as a surprise.
"I was pretty surprised," he said. "I wasn't expecting to get moved at all. Even looking at some Twitter feeds and stuff I was never really on the rumor mill or anything. I was just expecting to be there (Kamloops) for the year and start over again next year and hopefully get that team to the playoffs. ... I'm happy to be here."
Seattle is happy to have him as well.
His T-Birds tenure started with a bang, as he recorded two consecutive shutouts and really hasn't looked back since then. In the 19 games he has worn a T-Birds sweater, his record is 13-5-0-1 and includes four shutouts. He has a goals-against-average of 1.81 and an impressive save percentage of .943.
As well as Kozun fit in with the T-Birds from the start, you would think he had been preparing for this move all along. He says he didn't really know what to expect and didn't know any of the Seattle players, other than playing against Jaimen Yakubowski in midget.
"I was kind of just shocked that I got traded to Seattle," Kozun said. "But then I kind of looked at the bigger picture and I knew that they had a pretty good team, a good start to the year and they were doing really well. So I was pretty excited to come to this team."
On the ice Kozun plays with a ton of confidence, calmness and the requisite amount of swagger. Off the ice he is all smiles. It a makes sense why as he's gone from the last-place Blazers to a team that is fighting for a top-four seed in the playoffs. He also got to see his first NFL game as he attended the NFC championship game at CenturyLink Field, which he claims was the loudest place he's ever been.
With a new team comes new life and Kozun likes what he's seen in Seattle so far.
"The winning," he said is the best thing about playing in Seattle. "The winning atmosphere we have in the room. All the guys are willing to do whatever it takes to get the two points every night. It's just a great atmosphere to be around and I'll never complain about winning."
Growing up in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, Kozun was not always a goalie. He started playing forward but when his older brothers needed someone to stand in the net, he was the guy. At about 12 years old he switched to goalie full time and enjoyed watching guys like Marco Turco, Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury.
When you watch Kozun play you will notice pretty quickly how good he is at handling the puck. When the puck is dumped in the Seattle end he becomes a third defenseman in many ways and helps the T-Birds get the puck back out of their zone. He says his time playing forward may have helped him develop that skill set.
"I think that's a big help," he said. "Just passing the puck and stuff growing up at forward. I always liked shooting the puck, even shooting in the basement so I always practiced. I always wanted to be a good puck handler. There are lots of goalies in the NHL you see like that, so I wanted to be like them."
Kozun goes on to say the key to being a good goalie is pretty simple.
"Just stopping the puck," he said. "You just got to make the first save on everyone, you've got to stop all the ones you should and you've got to make some big saves. You've got to be able to keep your team in the game."
Kozun has kept the T-Birds in every game he has played and feels like a goalie who could easily steal a game or two in the playoffs. With Kamloops he got to see the playoffs, from the bench, as he sat behind then Blazers goalie Cole Cheveldave.
Now as the T-Birds No. 1 goalie, he is looking forward to the postseason.
"I've been watching the last couple of years," he said. "Its been exciting, you can get some nerves out watching. Some games you might think you're going to be in so you've always have to be ready. Being the No. 1 guy where I know I should get the starts, it's exciting, I can't wait for it.
"Once the playoffs come it's do or die, so you've got to bring your A game every night."
The team that he played behind in Kamloops was one that was young and in the middle of a big rebuild. Because of that his numbers were not as good, nor was his record. Playing in Seattle, with a better team, he has excelled and feels that it has a lot to do with the guys in front of him.
"It's huge," he said. "You gain a lot more confidence in yourself. You know the team is going to help you if you let a bad goal in. The whole team will step up more for you and try to get that one back. Even in the room there are a lot of older guys so there's leadership from each and every player, so that's a big help for a team."
Now that he's in Seattle he has been able to achieve some of the goals he had originally set out to achieve when the season stared in Kamloops – with one new one added.
"We'll be in the playoffs so that (goal) will be achieved," Kozun said. "I want to get to the playoffs and do well, finish the season well. My goal right now is probably to try and get the record back to .500, that would be a big year-end goal."
He has a chance to do it. With Kamloops he was saddled with a 5-19-2-1 mark and overall is 18-24-2-2. With seven games left in the season he will need at least six wins and no regulation losses, something that would make the T-Birds pretty happy to help him do.
Kozun is currently one of the 11 19-year-olds on the Seattle roster. Looking ahead to next season the T-Birds will have some very difficult decisions to make as they are only allowed to keep three of those players – all of which have been big contributors. Kozun said he doesn't worry too much about next year and is simply focused on finishing this one strong.
"You kind of look at it every once and a while," he said. "But right now it's more about the team than about yourself. So I'm just playing out this year and see what happens next year, it's up in the air."
The T-Birds still have a bit of work to do this season. They have a six-point lead over fifth-place Spokane and would very much like to stay ahead of the Chiefs and secure home ice for the first round. Beyond that, they would like to make a deep playoff run.
"We just have to play our systems for a full 60 minutes," Kozun said about the playoffs. "As soon as one guy doesn't play a full 60 minutes it's going to be a tough game for everybody else. I feel like we have the size, we have the skill, we have the scorers, we have the defense to keep the pucks out, so we just have to play the full 60 minutes."
Kozun and the T-Birds are back in action this Friday in Portland as they kick of a big three-in-three weekend that will also see them play home games against Everett and Vancouver.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.
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