Updated Oct 4, 2013 - 3:25 pm
Seattle Thunderbirds Blog
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 @ 9:59am
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds continued their rampage through the U.S. Division Tuesday night and picked up their seventh straight win, beating the Tri City Americans 3-1 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Seattle got the go-ahead goal from Mathew Barzal in the third period, two goals from Roberts Lipsbergs and rode 22 saves from Danny Mumaugh in the win.
Like Saturday's win against Spokane, Seattle (19-9-1-3) had to grind this one out.
"It was a pretty good battle for 60 minutes there," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I give them (Tri City) credit, they battled hard from start to finish and we had to work and I thought our guys did that. ... I thought we played a fairly solid game."
The Thunderbirds' seven straight wins is the longest win streak since the 2006-2007 season. The franchise record is 15 straight games, which was set in 1994-1995.
Tri City (17-14-1-2) goalie Eric Comrie, one of the best in the business, stood tall and almost managed to steal the game for the short-handed Americans. He made 29 saves on the night, many of them from point-blank shots off Seattle sticks. While Comrie was good, Konowalchuk felt his team could have used more shots on the Winnipeg Jets prospect.
"We didn't shoot enough," he said. "The first period, the first 10 minutes we passed up so many shots. I thought the whole game we passed shots and finally, on the game-winning goal we just put it on net. We should have been doing that all game. He's (Comrie) going to make a lot of first saves but if you put it on net you're going to get chances."
Tied at one early in the third period, that's exactly what the T-Birds did.
Seth Swenson broke into the Tri City zone just over 2 minutes into the period and took a shot on goal that Comrie stopped. The rebound deflected off the Americans' goalie and into the chest of the crashing Barzal. Comrie couldn't stop the deflection and Seattle took the lead for good, proving to be true the old adage about good things happening when you go to the net.
The T-Birds then had to play hold on as Tri City pushed for the equalizer, but Mumaugh stood tall and bailed out his teammates that got a bit scrambly towards the end. Finally, Lipsbergs flung a puck from the blue line into the empty net for his second goal to secure the win.
The T-Birds played well for most of the night. Despite not beating Comrie in the first period they played well and generated some good chances. They got on the board first, in the second period, when Barzal made a nice drop pass to Lipsbergs in the Tri City zone. He buried a top-shelf, corner shot that Comrie could not get a piece of.
For most of the second period, Seattle was controlling the play, out-shooting Tri City 16-6. While playing four-on-four, the Americans managed to tie the game when Lucas Nickles turned on the jets to get past the Seattle defense and beat Mumaugh. Like they have done throughout their winning streak, the T-Birds did not let that goal get them down. They bore down and got the game winner in the third.
All night long, Seattle's defense played strong, limiting the chances for the Americans and giving Mumaugh a chance to match Comrie.
"I thought they played a pretty strong game," Konowalchuk said of his defense. "They've got some fast forwards on that team and the D kept the play in front of them. I thought they did a good job of protecting our end, protecting the 'house', as we like to call it."
Early in the year, the Thunderbirds struggled to find a win on the road in division games. They now have won three straight U.S. Division road games and are playing with a lot of confidence, no matter where the game is.
"Spokane and these guys both play really well at home," Konowalchuk said. "They're not easy places to play. You have to play 60 minutes and be ready to battle and our guys did that."
The challenge for Seattle gets a little tougher this weekend when they play a home and home series with the Portland Winterhawks. After that the T-Birds have one more home game with Tri City before the league takes a holiday break. Konowalchuk wanted to have a big push through these games and so far they are getting it.
"We talked about it," he said of these games. "We had six games and we wanted to make a big push, stay focused and see how many points we can get before the break, try to put ourselves in a good position before the second half."
So far the Thunderbirds have picked up all 14 points available in their last seven. How many more will they get before Christmas?
The T-Birds will next be in action Friday night as they try to pick up their eighth straight win when they host Portland at the ShoWare Center.
• Tuesday night's game was the last game for Roberts Lipsbergs before he heads off to play for Team Latvia in the World Junior Championships. He went out in style as he scored his 20th and 21st goals on the season. He leaves having scored 10 goals in his last 12 games.
Lipsbergs departure leaves an opening on the Barzal line, which has been good all year. Konowalchuk said he has yet to decide which player will take Lipsbergs' place and will make a decision during the week. A good bet might be Seth Swenson, who played on that line at the beginning of the year when Justin Hickman was serving a suspension.
No matter who plays on the Barzal line, rookie Calvin Spencer will make his debut on Friday as Seattle does not have any other healthy forwards to play.
• With the win, coupled with Victoria's loss in Vancouver Tuesday, the T-Birds took over sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference.
• Barzal's two-point night was his 10th multi-point game of the season. He is now third overall in WHL rookie scoring and the top 16-year-old scorer.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.
Saturday, December 7, 2013 @ 9:28pm
Seattle's Justin Hickman moves past Jackson Playfair during the T-Birds 4-2 win on Saturday (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- Get out your brooms. The Thunderbirds completed their three game stretch against the Spokane Chiefs with a gritty 4-2 victory in front of 3,709 fans at the ShoWare Center Saturday night. Seattle has now won six straight games and three in a row against division rival Spokane.
Seattle (18-9-1-3) picked up the go ahead goal from Ryan Gropp in the third period and rode the shoulders of Danny Mumaugh who made 28 saves on the night to pick up his eighth win of the season.
Beating any team three straight times is big, its even bigger when its a division rival who started the week ahead of you in the standings.
"That's a good hockey team over there," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. "They've got a lot of skill and they've got some older players that are good over there. That's a good hockey team and to get six points out of six against any team is really good and I'm really happy with the way the guys battled and we want to continue this push here before Christmas."
After two blow out wins over the Chiefs the T-Birds had to work harder in this one as Spokane hung around and made things difficult. Seattle took a first period lead just after a power play ended as Shea Theodore snuck a pass over to Alex Delnov who beat Eric Williams for his 15th goal of the season.
The second period was a frustrating one for the T-Birds as they gave Spokane (18-12-0-2) five power plays which put them on their heels. Spokane evened the score on one of those power plays when the WHL's leading scorer Mitch Holmberg fired a wrist shot through traffic.
With so many penalties it was hard for the T-Birds to gain any momentum and in the end, resulted in them giving up their lead.
"It was a grinding game, there was just no flow," Konowalchuk said. "It was a frustrating game, I'm sure it was for the fans. I know the bench was frustrated. We didn't know which penalty was being called or what was going to be called. We had a couple of undisciplined penalties for sure, where I thought we weren't sharp but I thought they just called more penalties today."
The game could have changed drastically with the chances given to the Chiefs but the Seattle penalty kill held strong. For the most part the Chiefs did not get too many good looks with the man advantage and when they did, Mumaugh was there. The goalie was quick to praise the effort of the guys in front of him.
"Just a lot of hard work," the goalie said of his mates. "They worked really tough and well in front of me, I really can't give them enough credit there. They really came together and did a good job."
Spokane out shot Seattle 15-4 in that period, thanks to all the power plays, and Seattle was reeling a bit as they went into the dressing room to regroup for the final 20 minutes. Konowalchuk rallied his troops to come out stronger in the third.
"The message was we worked so hard for two games and even that first period I thought wasn't too bad, we just needed to get going,"he said. "Let's put everything together in the third period and they did."
Seattle responded well to start the third as they came out with several good shifts and kept the Chiefs pinned in their own end. They took the lead when Ethan Bear fired a slap shot from the point that beat a screened Williams.
Just when it looked like Seattle could take a breath, Spokane got the goal back. With the T-Birds on a power play Bear got tangled up with Adam Helewka in the Seattle zone. The two players fell to the ice and Connor Chartier, who was following the play, picked up the loose puck and scored.
The T-Birds did not let that phase them and got the go ahead goal five minutes later on a nice play by Gropp who got a pass from Theodore and deked his way through the Spokane defense before scoring on a back handed shot. It was Seattle's only power play tally on the night and it was big.
From there Mumaugh took over, kept the Chiefs at bay and when Jaimen Yakubowski chipped a puck into the empty Spokane net the T-Birds had secured their sixth straight win.
For the third straight time Seattle was able to keep the high scoring Holmberg in check. Once again the Yakubowski-Scott Eansor-Sam McKechnie line was given the task of slowing him down. After three games the only time Holmberg has figured in the scoring was his second period power play goal. While five-on-five, he was shut out.
"I have seen a lot of Holmberg," Eansor said of the player he shadowed all week. "He's a great player, very skilled. You can't take your eyes of him for a second and my line mates helped me out a lot."
The T-Birds will try for their seventh win in a row on Tuesday as they head to the Toyota Center in Kennewick to face the Tri City Americans. The T-Birds go into that game playing with a level of confidence and consistency that they have been working hard to find since their losing streak in November.
To go along with that confidence they are competing right from the start of every game.
"It started that game against Portland, six games ago now, where we came out in the first five minutes," defenseman Adam Henry said. "We have such a big, fast, physical team that if we come out in the first five minutes and put a few guys on their butts, run a few guys over, it lets them know they're in for a long game and it really sets the tone for the way the game is going to go."
Shea Theodore picked up two more assists Saturday night and now has ten helpers in his last four games. That is spreading the wealth and he continues to lead WHL defenseman in scoring.
Adam Henry is also being generous with the puck. He had two assists on Saturday which gives him six in the three games against Spokane (he also scored a goal). Overall he has 11 assists in his last 12 games.
Branden Troock's five game goal scoring streak was snapped but the big winger did pick up an assist on Saturday and still has a six game point streak in tact.
Defenseman Ethan Bear had a strong night as the 16-year-old scored a big goal in the third period and was very steady on the back end. On one play in the first period he found himself one on one with Holmberg, which would give most young blue liners the shakes. Bear kept calm and rubbed Holmberg off the puck freeing it for his teammates to easily clear.
Spokane's Holmberg had been the run away leading scorer in the WHL. His pace has slowed down and while only getting one point in the three games against Seattle this week his lead in the scoring race is down to one point as Portland's Nic Petan has reeled him in.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Friday, December 6, 2013 @ 10:09pm
By Andrew Eide
Its safe to say that the Spokane Chiefs don't want to see the Thunderbirds skate into the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena again any time soon. Seattle was there Friday night and for the second straight game ran away from the Chiefs -- this time by a 7-3 score. The T-Birds got a hat trick from Branden Troock, two goals from Justin Hickman and four assists from Shea Theodore to pick up their fifth straight win.
After the T-Birds blew out Spokane (18-11-0-2) last Sunday you would expect the Chiefs to come out strong and that's what they did on Friday night. They pushed Seattle (17-9-1-3) early and picked up the game's first goal when Adam Helewka swept in a power play goal past Justin Myles.
The T-Birds absorbed the early energy from Spokane and pushed back. Six minutes later Alex Delnov won a face off to Troock,who was left all alone in front of Chiefs' goalie Eric Williams. Williams, hung out to dry by his mates, had no shot and Troock beat him for his 11th goal of the year.
The T-Birds carried the momentum of that goal for the rest of the period, and game.
"Our guys competed, they came out and were ready to compete at the start," Steve Konowalchuk said about the game. "I thought their team came out with a bit of a push and we stood in there, pushed back and were able to take over the momentum of the game towards the end of the first period."
The rest of the game belonged to the T-Birds and their resurgent offense.
Seattle erupted for three big goals in the second period where they out shot Spokane 9-4 and put the game away. Seattle got a goal from Jerret Smith to start the scoring spree and then Troock struck again a minute later to give the T-Birds a two-goal lead. The T-Birds then went to the power play and Roberts Lipsbergs knocked home a rebound for Seattle's fourth goal of the game and the blow out was on.
The T-Birds added three more goals in the third when Hickman scored twice and Troock completed his first WHL hat trick for Seattle's seventh goal. There were many offensive stars on the night but lost in it all was how well the T-Birds played defensively. Spokane scored two late, meaningless, goals in the third but for the most part were kept in check by Seattle's blue line.
The Chiefs only managed 15 shots on the night as the T-Birds kept the chances down and got the puck out of their zone quickly. One of the keys to this hot streak they are on has been the play on defense.
"They're solid," Konowalchuk said about his defense. "Again I think we've got some pretty good chemistry in our units. They're all battling, they get the pucks to our forwards in good positions to get out of our end as quickly as possible. I think our guys are really buying into team defense right now and that's helping them but it's also helping us score goals."
Scoring goals they are.
Seattle now has 29 goals in its last five games and is generating a ton of chances. There are many hot T-Birds players but Friday night it was Troock who was the offensive star. The three goals give him 13 on the year and he now has goals in each of his last five games -- scoring seven times over that span. It's a continuation of what has been a pretty strong year for the Dallas Stars prospect.
"He's just playing solid hockey," Konowalchuk says of the big winger. "He's passing the puck when its time to pass, he's getting back checks and stripping the puck from guys and that's helping him with his offense too. He's playing well and he's working pretty hard."
When playing Spokane you have to be aware of Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani at all times. The T-Birds shut out Holmberg, the WHL's leading scorer, for the second straight game. Konowalchuk did his best to get the Scott Eansor line on the ice against Holmberg when he could, but for most of the night it was the Mathew Barzal line.
That line was particularly good and frustrated Holmberg by possessing the puck and making Spokane's big line play in their own end for most of the night.
"They played a really strong game. I felt confident putting them out against Holmberg's line," Konowalchuk said. "If they were out there against them I didn't mind that match up tonight, they were skating. I thought Maty (Barzal) played a 200 foot game and I think his game was even better for that."
So for the second straight game the T-Birds blew the doors off the home standing Chiefs -- out scoring them 12-4. Frustration boiled over near the end of the game when several fights broke out, including a mini-line brawl that involved Holmberg and Aviani for Spokane. With the two teams playing again on Saturday, Konowalchuk cautioned that his squad would need to keep focus on the two points at stake.
"We've got to enjoy this for a little bit here and then we have to put our emotions in check." he said. "We've got two huge points at stake tomorrow."
Spokane makes their first visit to the ShoWare Center Saturday night at 7 P.M.
Defenseman Jerret Smith added two assists to his second period goal. The three point night was a career high for the steady blue liner.
Theodore's four assists was also a career high for him and he continues to lead the team in scoring with 36 points. After only 28 games he is seven assists away from his total of 31 from last season. The big night also makes him the top scoring defenseman in the WHL this season as he passed Prince Alberts' Josh Morrisey. He is 16th in the WHL in overall scoring.
Justin Myles made his second consecutive start and like Danny Mumaugh last week was sporting a new painted mask. The T-Birds are now 2-0 when their goalies play with painted masks.
Keegan Kolesar and Shea Theodore both found themselves in scraps Friday night, the first time in the WHL for both of them. Theodore was involved in the line brawl at the end of the game and picked up the five minute penalty for fighting along with a ten minute misconduct. The 15 minutes in penalties is also a career high for Theodore as he never had more than four in one game prior to Friday.
The T-Birds power play continues to click as they went 3-for-8 on the night and have the leagues 14th best power play percentage of 21.6%.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Thursday, December 5, 2013 @ 7:11pm
Seattle has big division match ups with Spokane and Tri City this week (photo WHL)
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds will begin this weekend of hockey action in the same place they left off last weekend, in Spokane. The T-Birds will play the Chiefs twice this coming week and are in a stretch that will see their next eight games all be within the U.S. Division.
Needless to say, this is an important stretch.
There was some T-Birds news this week as Wednesday it was announced that 17-year-old forward Michal Holub had left the team to return home to await a trade. Holub had appeared in 16 games for Seattle this season while registering one goal and two assists. In total he played 66 games over the past two seasons with the T-Birds but was finding that his ice time was hard to come by this year.
With the addition of Calvin Spencer last week the T-Birds forward group became even more crowded so it makes sense that Holub would want to be somewhere that he could play more frequently. It will be interesting to see what Seattle can get for him in a trade.
Here's what's on tap for the T-Birds this week.
Friday and Saturday: Spokane Chiefs (Friday in Spokane, Saturday at ShoWare Center)
Record: 18-10-0-2 (third, U.S. Division)
T-Birds all time record against: 119-130-11-3-2
This season: 1-0 (5-1 Victory on December 1st)
Scouting Report: The WHL schedule maker, which was a computer this year, has given the T-Birds a three game 'series' against the Chiefs this week. Seattle beat Spokane on the road Sunday and returns Friday to start a home-and-home stint with the Chiefs. Getting that first win was big and without a doubt the Chiefs will come out hard as they will not want to lose two straight at home to Seattle.
The story remains the same with Spokane - you have to stop Mitch Holmberg. Seattle did an excellent job of containing Holmberg and fellow line mate Mike Aviani Sunday and will have to again if they expect to win. The Chiefs simply go depending on how those two play. That was in evidence on Wednesday night as Spokane beat Saskatoon 2-1 on two Holmberg short handed goals.
Putting Holmberg's start in perspective, he has 32 goals so far this season, which equals the total points T-Birds leading scorer Shea Theodore has. His 66 total points is more than Seattle's top two scorers combined have. The difference? Depth. Despite those gaudy totals at the top of their stat sheet Spokane has only scored three more goals than the T-Birds have.
Seattle can't dictate the match ups on the road Friday but expect for Steve Konowalchuk to try and get the Scott Eansor line out against Holmberg and Aviani as much as possible. Saturday night at home, with last change, it will be surprising if those two see anyone other than the Eansor line on the ice.
Sunday the T-Birds beat goalie Garret Hughson, Spokane's back up. With a couple of days off between their last game Seattle will most likely see the Chiefs number one guy, Eric Williams, in net. Williams, a 20-year-old, is off to a career start with a goals against average of 2.43 and a save percentage at .914. After giving up a five-spot to Portland on November 29th Williams has rebounded to only allow two goals in his last two starts.
The T-Birds will need to deploy the same game plan that worked so well for them on Sunday. They will have to battle hard, play physical, get their forecheck going and get screened shots on Williams. Oh yeah, and shut down Holmberg.
Tuesday: at Tri City Americans
Record: 16-12-1-2 (fourth, U.S. Division)
T-Birds all time record against: 110-92-13-7-6
This Season: 2-1-1 (last game, 3-2 SO loss at Tri City)
Scouting report: The strange schedule continues for Seattle on Tuesday as they return to Kennewick for their fifth meeting with the Americans. Seattle has not fared too well at the Toyota Center so far this season, losing both times they have played there. The story with the Americans continues to be their outstanding goaltender Eric Comrie. Comrie carries the Americans and the Winnipeg Jets prospect is considered one of the top goalies in junior hockey.
Comrie boasts a great save percentage of .926 and is tough to beat. Seattle has had some success against him and when they have its because they've generated traffic in front of him. To beat an elite goaltender like Comrie you have to make it tough for him to see the puck, because if he can see it, he'll eat it up. Look for the T-Birds to crash the net and get bodies in front of Comrie all night.
Tri City's weakness has been getting consistent scoring. Brian Williams leads them and has hit the 20 goal mark already and has had some success against the T-Birds already this year. The Americans got a boost when they saw the return of Parker Bowles who raced out to a 19 points in 11 games start for them. He has not played in the Americans last three games but is not listed as hurt on the WHL report so could be available to play on Tuesday.
While Tri City is behind Seattle in the standings this is not a game that will come easy for the T-Birds. Again, they will have to come out playing tough, physical hockey to grind out a win. Seattle has been generating scoring chances and has solved top goalies of late as they scored six times against the Victoria Royals top pair last weekend. They will need that kind of effort to best Comrie and the Americans.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 @ 9:54am
By Tim Pigulski
With nine 19-year-olds currently on the Thunderbirds' roster, it appeared earlier this season that general manager Russ Farwell was prepared to go all-in for a U.S. Division crown and perhaps a WHL championship and Memorial Cup appearance. Three of those nine 1994-born players – defenseman Adam Henry and forwards Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie – joined shortly after the season began, further crowding an age group that already featured a number of veterans.
After the recent addition of power forward Calvin Spencer – who had 10 points in 21 games in the Upper Midwest Elite League – Farwell is letting the rest of the WHL know that the Thunderbirds won't be a one-and-done team, but are focused on sustained success, at least for the next few seasons.
Only the Vancouver Giants feature as many 19-year-olds as Seattle, with no other team in the league having more than seven on its roster. The Thunderbirds will undoubtedly have some decisions to make once the offseason arrives, even after the likely departures of their import players (Alex Delnov and Roberts Lipsbergs) and the potential graduation of Branden Troock to the American Hockey League.
Replacing nine veterans, each of whom plays a prominent role on the team, won't be an easy task, which is what makes the addition and development of Spencer and his fellow 17-year-olds a particularly important endeavor for Seattle.
The announcement of Spencer's signing, particularly at this point in time, resulted in more than a few questions, as it seemed to be creating an even bigger logjam at forward, where talented players are finding themselves relegated to the stands on any given game night.
"[The process] has only been going on for about a month now," said the Brooklyn Park, Minn. native. "I just came out last week and practiced with the team and they asked me to sign. We're all going to have to work hard every day to get into that lineup. Every day, every practice we're going to have to bring our best."
If the staff is able to keep those talented young players happy and get them the playing time necessary for their development, the decision to add Spencer midseason will eventually pay off in a big way.
He should play a similar game to that of one of his 17-year-old colleagues, Michal Holub. Both are right wings, shoot right-handed, are approximately 6-feet-1 and 190 pounds, and play a high-energy, physical style. The young forward projects as a punishing power forward who will shine in a checking line role.
"I'm more of a grinder," said Spencer, who is the half-brother of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. "I like to go in the corners, chip the puck into the zone, and hit the defensemen."
Also in that 1996-born age group is offensively-gifted left wing Ryan Gropp, whose game has taken a major step forward over the past few weekends as he has gained confidence. After scoring on his very first WHL shift, Gropp went pointless in his next nine games. However, he has six points in his last six contests, including four in three this past weekend. He's been promoted to a line with high-scoring veterans Delnov and Troock and also has worked himself on to the power play, which is gradually working itself out of the league's basement.
Center Scott Eansor's play has also turned heads over the past few weekends as his high motor has earned him favor with head coach Steve Konowalchuk and led to increased ice time. The 5-feet-8 Eansor will surely be an important cog on the penalty kill and checking line for the next few seasons, roles in which he has excelled. Lately he's been tasked with shutting down the opposition's top line, which has included the vaunted Portland first line featuring Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic, and has performed admirably.
His offensive game has shown more potential of late, as he's beginning to pick up assists and has come close to his first goal on multiple occasions. Add to all of this his ability to win faceoffs, which should only improve with time and practice, and the Colorado native's value far exceeds the numbers reflected in the box score.
In addition to a talented group of 17-year-olds, the team also features a number of skilled 16-year-olds in Mathew Barzal, Ethan Bear, and Keegan Kolesar. Next year, the young forward core should be joined by Lane Pederson, who made the team out of training camp but was sent home to Saskatoon to get him more playing time, as well as two new import picks and recent high draftees Kaden Elder and Nolan Volcan.
At this point, the focus certainly remains on this season as the veterans look to enjoy an extended playoff run and the younger players gain valuable postseason experience. Spencer, Holub, Gropp, and Eansor have this season to acclimate themselves to the increased intensity of the WHL game, but will be counted on next year to be big contributors.
As the team lacks a single forward in the 1995-born age group, the quick progression of the 17-year-olds is a more pressing task for the T-Birds than most teams. It's very possible that next year they will be counted on to provide production while also mentoring those forwards who are one or two years younger than them.
Follow Tim Pigulski on Twitter @tpigulski.
Monday, December 2, 2013 @ 9:48pm
The T-Birds were all smiles this weekend with three big wins (photo WHL)
By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds just completed a perfect weekend. Playing three games in three nights is always a tough proposition but for the second time this season, Seattle flew through it with flying colors. Overall they've won four straight games and it is starting to feel like the six game losing streak earlier in November is just a distant memory.
Let's take a look back at what we just saw and what is trending with the T-Birds.
Playing at a high level
The four game winning streak has been great for Seattle, but its not their longest of the season. Earlier in the year they won five straight games as they beat Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Kootenay, Kelowna and Tri City. This four game streak has been more impressive. Over these past four games they have outscored their opponents (Portland, Saskatoon, Victoria and Spokane) to a tune of 22-10 and only the game against Portland was really close. The previous streak included four one-goal games, two of which went into overtime. This past week and weekend was mostly dominant.
"I think our defensive game is at a better level than it was early on," Steve Konowalchuk said Sunday. "I think we're taking a little more pride in our d-zone and scoring great goals off of that...but most hockey seasons you tighten up as you go on."
Along with that defense Seattle is generating chances again and is now back up to fourth in the WHL in scoring.
Special teams getting special
For most of the season the T-Birds power play had struggled. On paper, it should have been better -- considering the talent they were able to throw out there in both units. While they were hesitant to take shots earlier they now have found the groove. Seattle has scored power play goals in six of their last seven games, clicking along at 30% over that span. That hot streak has seen them climb up to 16th in the league with a season long percentage of 20.6%.
Looking further at the T-Birds power play there is a wide split in how they do at home versus the road. Seattle has the league's third best power play percentage at home at 29.4%. Where they have struggled is on the road -- ranked 20th and only converting 14.7% of the time. The three goals they scored at Spokane Sunday was definitely a good sign.
Killing penalties the T-Birds have an opposite home-away split. Overall Seattle is 10th in the WHL killing penalties which is solid. Where they have really excelled is on the road where they are fourth in the league -- killing off 83.5% of their opponents chances. At home they have not fared quite as well, only 74.5% which is 17th in the league.
So many T-Birds on a roll
When you score 22 goals over a four game stretch you are getting contributions from a number of players and that is exactly what is happening with the T-Birds. The hottest player has to be Alex Delnov who has six goals and ten points over his last seven games. But he is not the only one. Branden Trook has goals in his last four straight games and Roberts Lipsbergs has seven goals in his last eight games.
Then there is Shea Theodore who had a goal and four assists over the weekend -- his goal was a thing of beauty and should make the WHL Plays of the Week. Mathew Barzal also has two goals and six points in his last four games. This kind of scoring depth is why there is a great deal of optimism in Kent these days.
The Scott Eansor effect
If you just look at the stat sheet you might miss how good Scott Eansor has been for the T-Birds lately. He only has registered five assists on the season and no goals, but that's not what his game is about right now. Eansor is just as big of a reason for Seattle winning as all the goal scorers. Flanked by Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie, Eansor is sparking a pretty impressive shut down line for the T-Birds.
They have taken on some of the top lines in the WHL and giving them fits. Eansor is the spark plug, he skates hard, he wins face offs and is very difficult to play against. When you can throw out a shut down line that is so effective it frees up your scoring lines, which Seattle has two of, to get favorable match ups and wear down the opposition. It is not a coincidence that since Konowalchuk has put this line together and matched them up against the opponents top lines that the T-Birds are scoring more.
Next time Seattle plays pay attention to what number 8 is doing on the ice, you'll be impressed.
Three stars of the week
Number three star: We're going to give our number three star to the aforementioned Scott Eansor. His play has given Seattle energy and caused havoc on the opposition.
Number two star: Branden Troock gets the number two star this week. He scored goals in all three games this weekend and has been playing really strong hockey.
Number one star: Alex Delnov gets the top spot this week. His five point game on Friday against Saskatoon was electric and he continued his fine play all weekend. On top of the goal scoring he also has been playing a 200-foot game and been involved in the forecheck.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Sunday, December 1, 2013 @ 9:08pm
By Andrew Eide
It turns out three games in three nights were no sweat for the T-Birds. After two blow out home wins Seattle hit the road Sunday and scored the first five goals of the game to beat the Chiefs in Spokane 5-1. The T-Birds got goals from five different players, scored three times on the power play and Justin Myles made 28 saves for Seattle's fourth win in a row.
Sunday's game was the first game against U.S. Division rivals Spokane, who started the night two points ahead of Seattle in the standings. Seattle started the game strong, collecting the first ten shots and putting the Chiefs on their heels early -- it set a tone for the rest of the night.
"Guys, in the first period came out and played smart, played physical," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "I thought it set the tone of the game from the start."
Seattle (16-9-1-3) got on the board first with a power play goal when Roberts Lipsbergs got the puck in the face off circle and beat Spokane goalie Garret Hughson with a wrist shot. The Chiefs got a power play chance late in the period and picked up a bit of momentum but were unable to get anything past Myles.
The second period was more of the same for Seattle as they played a solid defensive game, managed the puck well and extended their lead when Alex Delnov fed a crashing Branden Troock in the slot. Troock knocked it home for his 10th goal of the season and now has scored in four straight games.
Spokane (17-10-0-2) came into the game with the WHL's second best power play unit and in the second period were given three power play chances to get back in the game. The T-Birds penalty kill was strong though and did not allow Spokane much of anything on any of their chances and the Chiefs ended the night 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
For Seattle, the excellent penalty kill kept Spokane at bay.
"I thought they (the penalty killers) did a nice job of staying in the lanes, not running out of position and staying patient," Konowalchuk said."When they got a chance, Myles was good."
Going into the third period the T-Birds had been the better team but still only had a two-goal advantage and the win was far from secure. As they have the last few nights Seattle's offense erupted and scored three third period goals to bury the Chiefs.
It started with Alex Delnov picking up a puck deep in the Chiefs' zone, after a nice forecheck. He walked the puck out front and beat Hughson for his 14th goal of the year.
Later in the period, Spokane's Colton Bobyk was called for two minor penalties giving the T-Birds four minutes of power play time -- they didn't need four minutes. Mathew Barzal deflected an Adam Henry point shot past Hughson on the first power play and then a pretty Barzal rush through the Spokane defense resulted in a shot rebounding to Henry who potted it to give Seattle a five-goal lead.
Spokane picked up a late goal from Riley Whittingham but by then the game was sealed.
The Chiefs big guns, Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani, were silenced on Sunday and even though he couldn't dictate the match ups all night, Konowalchuk liked the total team effort he got in shutting down Spokane's offense.
"It was (a team effort)," he said. "Everybody did a good job, they were responsible for pucks. At times I had the McKechnie line out there but with all the penalties and four on four hockey I didn't want to stick to that match up too much, wanted to keep everybody involved."
Everybody was involved and Seattle skated to their fourth straight win and picked up two big points against a division rival that had been ahead of them in the standings. With still two more games against the Chiefs this coming week, getting the first one was big.
"We're certainly happy to get the first win," Konowalchuk said. "They're a good hockey team over there and we wanted to get the first two points. We're bunched up in the standings so any time you get a division game it's very important."
Looking ahead in a week that feels like a playoff series Konowalchuk doesn't foresee making any adjustments to the game plan that has been clicking very well for Seattle.
"We don't do anything different," he said of the next two games. "We come out and make sure we push the pace and stick with the same game plan and we know they're going to come out with a huge effort to even it up, so we'll have to be ready to go."
Seattle's next game will be back in Spokane Friday night for a rematch with the Chiefs.
Justin Myles' bid for a shut out ended with less than nine minutes left in the game when Whittingham scored. Had he been able to hold on it would have been his first career shut out.
During their six game losing streak in November the T-Birds struggled to generate scoring chances and score goals. They have found the right mix to get back to scoring during their four game winning streak. Over that stretch they have scored 22 goals and this weekend outscored their opponents 17-6.
It's hard to say who the hottest Thunderbirds player is right now but a good argument could be made for Delnov. He now has six goals and ten points over his last seven games.
While Seattle's next opponent will be a rematch with the Chiefs, Spokane will play a game in between. They will host the Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday.
Sunday's win was the second consecutive win for the T-Birds in Spokane. Seattle beat the Chiefs 4-2 last season on March 6th -- their final game against Spokane of the year.
Sunday marked the second time this year that Seattle has won all three games over a three-in-three weekend. Earlier they defeated Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Kootenay on consecutive nights -- giving them a 6-0 record on such weekends this year. Perhaps they should always play three-in-three.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Saturday, November 30, 2013 @ 9:30pm
Sam McKechnie and Scott Eansor clamp down on Victoria's Tyler Soy during Seattle's 6-3 win (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- The Seattle Thunderbirds have found their groove again. Saturday night they exploded with four goals over a five minute span in the second period to blow open a tie game against the Victoria Royals and cruise to their third straight win. Seattle got solid performances up and down their lineup, high-lighted by Branden Troock and Roberts Lipsbergs each picking up three points on the night.
"I think the good start was the key," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said after. "Guys came out physical with a lot of energy, played the right way, kept putting pucks behind their D and forcing them."
Seattle (15-9-3-1) lit up a Victoria team that came into the game riding a five game win streak that saw them only surrender a total of four goals. The T-Birds also cashed in with two power play goals against the Royals' league best penalty kill.
"We're going good. We're getting some chemistry and its carrying over from those last two games," Branden Troock said. "We're finding a way to get the puck in the net."
The tone was set early in the first period as the T-Birds came out playing physically and got up early on the Royals. Alex Delnov continued his hot play by banking the puck off Victoria goalie Patrik Polivka's skate and in for his 13th goal and fourth in his last three games.
The T-Birds kept the pressure on and 30 seconds later scored again on a Lipsbergs deflection of a Jared Hauf point shot. Suddenly the Royals found themselves in a two-goal hole in the first three minutes of the game.
"It helps a lot getting the good start. If you're down two in the hole right away, in the first five minutes, obviously you feel demoralized," Mathew Barzal said. "That's the way we need to come out every game."
The Royals head coach Dave Lowry used his timeout after the Lipsbergs goal to settle things down and his club responded. The Royals got a goal back half way through the first when Mitch Skapski knocked home a puck that had banged off the post.
Victoria (18-11-0-1) would then tie it up in the second after a bad Seattle turnover landed on Skapski's stick and he fed Logan Fisher who beat Danny Mumaugh.
It was then that the T-Birds erupted.
The four goal explosion started when Shea Theodore picked up a puck in the neutral zone and turned on his jets. He blew past the Victoria defense and beat Polivka with a pretty top shelf shot.
"I dished it off and got it back and I got some speed and just put it up stairs," Theodore said about the play. Saturday night the team gave away Shea Theodore bobble heads to the fans at the ShoWare Center and Theodore came up big with the goal and an assist. Was there any pressure to score on his bobble head night?
"Oh, a little bit," the defenseman said with a smile. "A few of the guys were giving it to me, but it was OK."
That goal seemed to spark the T-Birds as shortly after Mathew Barzal knocked home a loose puck in the Victoria crease as he was falling to the ice. The original shot from Lipsbergs hit the post and rattled around in Victoria's crease. Barzal kept playing despite the goal light and horn going off before the puck crossed the goal line. It was a power play goal and put the T-Birds back up by two.
"Lipsbergs hit the post, he usually doesn't do that," Barzal said about the play. "It hit there was just sitting right there (in the crease) and I wasn't going to miss that one."
It was Barzal's fourth goal of the year and first goal scored in front of the home crowd.
"It feels good, there was a little monkey on back the last 15 or 16 games," he said. "So it was nice to get that one for sure."
Less than 20 seconds later Ryan Gropp flew into the Victoria zone and fed Troock in the slot, where he picked the puck out of mid-air and past Polivka. That goal ended Polivka's night as he was replaced by Coleman Vollrath.
Vollrath didn't find the going any easier as less than a minute later Lipsbergs scored his second of the night, again on a deflection from in front.
When the dust settled the T-Birds had blown the doors off the Royals, scoring more goals than Victoria had allowed since the last time these two teams played. Seattle also ended up chasing a goalie in Polivka that was fifth in the league in goals against and had been the number one star in each of the last five games Victoria played -- only allowing four goals.
"The key was traffic," Konowalchuk said. "I think we deflected one of the first goals in and we had to get guys in front of the net. That team does a good job of boxing out for the most part. With those goalies, if they see the puck they're going to make the save."
The T-Birds now have not only a three game winning streak but they have found their offense and their confidence. They continue to roll all four lines and are again generating scoring chances and more importantly, goals. Seattle now has scored 17 goals over their last three games.
The T-Birds now travels to Spokane for a big U.S. Division game against the Spokane Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. It will be Seattle's first look a the surprising Chiefs and is the first of three straight games against their eastern Washington rivals.
"We've got to be careful with (Mitch) Holmberg and (Mike) Aviani" Troock said about Sunday's game in Spokane. "Those two are obviously very dangerous out there. We're going to pay a lot of attention to those guys but we've got to play our game. We're going to go out there and play Thunderbirds hockey."
Coming into the game the Royals had the league's best penalty killing unit, only allowing a goal 87% of the time. Seattle was 2-for-6 on the night and now have power play goals in five of their last six games -- including five in the last two games.
Ryan Gropp continues to improve as the season wears on. He picked up one assist on Saturday night and now has a point in four of his last five games.
Besides Gropp there are several players that are on hot streaks. Troock has a three game goal scoring streak going and Lipsbergs now has six goals in his last seven games.
Danny Mumaugh debuted his new painted goalie mask and so far the mask is 1-0.
Konowalchuk was undecided as to which goalie will start Sunday in Spokane as he felt that both played well this weekend.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
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