Updated Oct 4, 2013 - 3:25 pm
Seattle Thunderbirds Blog
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.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 @ 11:21am
By Tim Pigulski
The Seattle Thunderbirds' roster looks much different today than it did at the beginning of September.
Gone are forwards Seth Swenson, Riley Sheen, Erik Benoit, Michal Holub, and Carter Folk. On defense, Griffin Foulk, Jesse Forsberg, and Austin Douglas are all playing elsewhere. Justin Myles, who began the season in a battle for the No. 1 goaltending spot, has moved on to Kamloops.
Arriving in Seattle have been four former members of the Lethbridge Hurricanes in Adam Henry, Sam McKechnie, Jaimen Yakubowski, and Russell Maxwell. Taran Kozun came to Seattle at the trade deadline and has been a revelation in net.
The talent that the Thunderbirds have acquired has been invaluable in helping them clinch a playoff berth and their first winning record since the 2008-2009 season, including a turnaround that already includes 15 more wins than they accumulated last season.
Henry hasn't been the flashiest player since he arrived in Seattle, but he has been consistent and played in every situation. On the power play, he's taken some of the pressure off of Shea Theodore as the only puck-moving defensemen. For most of the season, he's been paired with rookie Ethan Bear and provided guidance that has been instrumental in the young blueliner's development.
With 35 points in 57 games, the Winnipeg native has been Seattle's second-leading scorer on defense and ranks fifth on the team with 28 assists.
"He gave us a real good puck handler and he's been a great fit with Bear," general manager Russ Farwell said about Henry. "He really rounded out our defensive depth and has given us some extra offense back there in addition to Theodore."
Maxwell, Yakubowski, and McKechnie were Lethbridge's top three scorers last season. This year, however, their biggest contributions are those that aren't showing on the score sheet. All three have excelled in shutting down the opposition's top lines and killing penalties.
Maxwell has been an exceptional addition in the middle, winning faceoffs and playing in all three situations. With the recent illness of Scott Eansor, Maxwell's addition has become even more important.
"Maxwell has been a real feisty and competitive player over his career," Farwell said about the 5-foot-8 center. "He's been real important with Eansor out, but has also contributed a lot on offense."
Yakubowski has been one of the hardest-nosed players in the league since his arrival, accumulating 110 penalty minutes in 40 games, including 13 fighting majors.
Farwell describes Yakubowski as a physical player who "plays with an edge and intimidates his opponents." Being such a well-rounded player capable of scoring points, shutting down opposing scorers, and standing up to opposing enforcers makes Yakubowski one of the most valuable players on the team.
McKechnie, who says that the role he enjoys playing is that of "a fly in the opponent's ear," has been just that since arriving in Seattle. He's been perhaps the team's best penalty killer and a constant nuisance for opposing defensemen in their own zone.
"McKechnie has been really consistent and reliable on the penalty kill," Farwell said. "I wouldn't say [Maxwell, Yakubowski, and McKechnie] are playing a different role here, but these three guys aren't always being counted on to score like they were in the past. We're a team that's hard to shut down because we aren't just focused on one scorer – the threat is spread out, which makes it tough to neutralize."
Each player has been a welcomed addition, but no one could have expected Kozun to perform the way he has since leaving Kamloops.
In 19 games, he is 13-5-0-1 with a .943 save percentage a miniscule 1.81 goals-against average. After a hot start that included back-to-back shutouts over division rivals Spokane and Tri-City, Kozun hasn't slowed down, continuing his dominance of the WHL in allowing more than three goals in a game just once.
"We expected him to come in and play well, but I don't think we expected back-to-back shutouts," Farwell said of Kozun, who has won the CHL's top goaltender award twice since arriving in Seattle. "We spend much less time in our own end with him in net. He's great at handling the puck and gets things going the other way quickly.
"He came in here and looked at this opportunity as a new start. He's such a solid kid, low-maintenance and he's always in a good mood."
All five players that Seattle acquired are playing their 19-year-old seasons, which means we already know that some of them won't be here next year. Considering Seattle has six 19-year-olds on its roster in addition to the five new faces, the moves left some scratching their heads. However, when you consider what the Thunderbirds gave up in each of the trades, it's tough to say that Seattle lost on any of the deals.
In acquiring Henry, the Thunderbirds sent the 18-year-old Foulk to Lethbridge. While he could have given them an extra year of service time, it didn't seem likely Foulk would be with the team next season anyway. With three 18-year-old defensemen (Shea Theodore, Jared Hauf, and Jerret Smith) and a 16-year-old (Ethan Bear) receiving consistent minutes this year, four spots were already almost guaranteed to be locked up next season. Kevin Wolf, 17, has been a healthy scratch much of the season, but will also be fighting for a spot next year.
In the pipeline, the Thunderbirds are hoping to receive a commitment soon from highly-touted prospect Dante Fabbro, and Luke Osterman, 16, showed enough in training camp to convince many that he might even make the team this season.
With seven defensemen potentially fighting for a spot for next season, as well as the possibility of Henry and/or Evan Wardley returning, the defensive group is filled with both young and veteran talent, even without Foulk in the mix.
The moves of both Jesse Forsberg and Austin Douglas follow the same logic, as neither would have had a place here next season. Forsberg, 20, is in his final WHL season, and Douglas, 17, had fallen behind Wolf for the seventh defensive spot this season.
Swenson, 20, and Holub, 17, both sought trades due to a lack of playing time. Holub may be the biggest loss of all of the players that Seattle sent elsewhere, but Seattle has a bright group of 16-year-olds and reinforced its 1996-born age group with the offseason addition of Eansor and the in-season signing of Calvin Spencer out of Minnesota.
Benoit, another 20-year-old, had been relegated to fourth line and penalty killing duties, both roles that Seattle felt were better filled by younger players.
Sheen, 19, and Folk, 17, were sent to Lethbridge in exchange for Yakubowski and McKechnie. Folk's future seemed to have him playing the role of enforcer, a place Seattle didn't have room for with its crop of young talent. Sheen is a good player and was difficult to give up, especially with how well he was playing at the time, but at 19 years old, the team gained even more value with the two players it acquired.
Myles, an 18-year-old goaltender, had fallen behind Danny Mumaugh, who is a year younger, in the battle for the top spot in net. With 16-year-old Logan Flodell fighting hard for a roster spot next season, there simply was no room for Myles, who has also had trouble staying off of the injured list during his career.
Ultimately, each of the trades benefited Seattle a great deal this year, and sacrificed little for the future. The T-Birds sent a few mid-round draft choices the other way as components of different trades, but with the pending wholesale of soon-to-turn-20-year-olds this offseason, they're sure to recover some of those choices, in addition to the third-round pick they acquired for Forsberg.
Follow Tim Pigulski on Twitter @tpigulski.
Monday, March 3, 2014 @ 6:34am
Jaimen Yakubowski attempts to chip the puck in while Everett's Matt Pufahl leans on him during Sunday's game (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- The Thunderbirds found themselves in another grind it out game with the Everett Silvertips Sunday and for the second straight time came up short.
Everett deployed their suffocating trap all night to hang on and beat Seattle 3-1 behind 27 saves from Austin Lotz and three different goal scorers. It was Everett's second straight win against the T-Birds as they continue their push for playoff positioning. Seattle got a goal from Jaimen Yakubowski but were unable to generate much more against a stingy Silvertips defense.
"They're a frustrating team to play against compared to the style of game we played last night," defenseman Adam Henry said , referring to Seattle's 4-1 win against Portland Saturday. "Last night was probably the best effort we've had all year, so it was definitely frustrating."
The Silvertips excel at playing a neutral zone trap where they lay back and wait for you to turn the puck over. In the last two losses against Everett, Seattle has allowed the Silvertips to dictate their style of play right from the start. That makes it hard to get going against them.
"Our first period, they were better than us, no doubt about it," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "They won the game in the first period. Something we've got to get better at, starting games,that was the difference in the game."
Everett (33-23-7-2) controlled the first period. They out shot Seattle 16-6 and ended the opening frame with a one goal lead.
Already on the power play the Silvertips went up two men after Justin Hickman inadvertently flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. With the two-man advantage the Silvertips were able to work the puck around and get a good shot from Mirco Mueller that rebounded right to Ivan Nikolishin on the door step. From there the Russian import had an easy tap in goal past Seattle goalie Taran Kozun.
Seattle (39-20-2-4) seemed to figure out the trap in the second period. They did a better job of getting the puck deep and maintaining possession with a strong forecheck. They generated the first seven shots in the period and drew two power play chances with their strong play.
They got the game even after Yakubowski fired a backhand shot past Austin Lotz. It was Yakubowski's 10th goal of the year and seemingly was a sign that the T-Birds may be ready to take the game over.
Going against the flow of play however, Everett struck for a big goal late in the period. Matt Fonteyne flew into the Seattle zone on what looked like an innocent rush. He fired a deadly accurate wrist shot that beat Kozun up high and gave the Silvertips their one goal lead back.
"That's a tough one, late in the period," Henry said. "There's not much you can do. We had a good period, we fought back after a lackadaisical first...its tough when you get in a hole, they're a tough team to play against when they have the lead."
Everett is extremely tough after getting the lead. In fact, they have only one loss on the season when they head into the third period ahead in the game -- going 25-1-0-0 on the year in those situations.
"That's a tough goal," Konowalchuk said. "I didn't think it deflated us but now you're battling from behind again. I thought our guys did keep coming, I thought they battled in the third, but they're a good defensive team."
The T-Birds did battle hard in the third. They played with energy and tried to fight through Everett's defense to generate scoring chances but just could not find the equalizer. With a one goal lead the Silvertips made things even harder. They dropped their forecheckers back and waited for Seattle to come to them, seemingly more interested in preserving the lead then they were in generating any offense of their own.
"They weren't forechecking quite as hard," Konowlachuk said of the third period. "They're sitting, protecting the middle, it makes it tough...we had a couple chances there, the goalie made some saves. We just didn't score as many goals as they did."
Seattle pulled Kozun late to try and get the game to overtime but Carson Stadnyk put an end to that bid when he scored on the empty net to seal the victory for Everett.
Seattle now has the rest of the week off before playing a big three-in-three weekend, starting with a road game in Portland on Friday night.
Konowlachuk mentioned the start of the game. Falling behind Everett, even early, can be deadly as the Silvertips are now 22-6-1-2 when they score the game's first goal.
Yakubowski was Seattle's best player on Sunday. He got their only goal and was flying all over the ice all game long.
The trap that Everett uses may not be the most exciting brand of hockey, but it has been effective for them. They have allowed fewer than three goals in eight of their last ten games now and have held their opponents to about 24 shots per game, making it tough to score against them.
With six games left in the season the T-Birds hold a six point lead over the Spokane Chiefs for fourth place, and home ice advantage in the first round, in the Western Conference.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
Sunday, March 2, 2014 @ 6:23am
By Andrew Eide
KENT – The Thunderbirds turned in one of their best performances on the season Saturday night and put an end to their rivals hopes of tying a WHL record.
Seattle scored four unanswered goals and got 41 big saves from goalie Taran Kozun to beat the Portland Winterhawks 4-1 in front of 6,031 rowdy fans at the ShoWare Center. The T-Birds picked up their four goals from four different players and were able to stick to their game plan for the full 60 minutes of the game.
"That definitely feels good," Justin Hickman said. "They're going for a record, we played 60 minutes. I think that's the best performance we put together in the second half. It feels good, especially against those guys."
The win helped Seattle in its playoff positioning and put an end to Portland's impressive 21-game win streak – one shy of a WHL single-season record. The Winterhawks feature a roster loaded with offensive talent but Saturday night the T-Birds were able to control the play.
"It's about our game," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "We've talked about the last 20 games, it's about what we do as a team. Today's focus was about us playing our best game. Emotion, physical, puck management, good D-zone coverage, so it's not so much about what they have, it's about how we have to play."
The T-Birds had strong performances up and down their roster, but perhaps none better than Kozun in net. The 19-year-old goalie continued his strong play since joining the T-Birds and picked up his 13th win with Seattle.
"It was an exciting game," Kozun said. "I love playing them, they get a lot of scoring chances. They never quit throughout the whole 60 minutes, so it's really exciting playing against them. Rivalry games are the best. We had a nice big crowd tonight and they were really into it."
Kozun held the league's top offensive club to one goal and was calm and confident the entire night. Seattle also got a big boost from their shut-down line made up of Justin Hickman, Russell Maxwell and Jaimien Yakubowski. The three forwards were given the tough assignment of checking Portland's top line, a line that features the league's leading scorer in Nic Petan and the dangerous Brendan Leipsic.
"Those guys, they're so good offensively," Hickman said. "Trying to get pucks in their end. It doesn't matter how many times it takes you to shut them down, it was nice to get rewarded there. The main goal is that we shut them down and got the win."
Not only was Portland's top line kept off the score sheet, but Hickman scored a big goal late in the third period. Leading 2-1, the shut-down line went to work forechecking. Maxwell forced a turnover in the Portland zone and got the puck to Yakubowski, who made a nice feed to Hickman for the goal.
"'Maxi's doing a good job on the back check," Hickman said. "Kind of stripped the puck, dished it to Yak, and Yak fed me back door for a nice tic-tac-toe. Nice passing play by those guys."
It was Hickman's 21st goal of the year and gave Seattle a big two-goal lead heading into the final 20 minutes of play.
"Your job is to shut down the other team," Konowalchuk said of his shut-down line's goal. "If you can come out on the plus side that's a real bonus. ... A good shut-down line, if you play the right way can chip in some goals like that."
In the third, the T-Birds got the insurance goal when Branden Troock out-muscled Portland's Derrick Pouliot for the puck and went in alone to beat Winterhawks goalie Corbin Boes.
When playing Portland this year, the T-Birds have sometimes succumbed to getting in penalty trouble, letting their emotions get the best of them. Saturday night they were able to keep those emotions in check while still playing a physical game against the highly-skilled Winterhawks.
"We've been talking about it for the last month," Konowalchuk said about playing with the right amount of emotion. "The guys have been getting better at it. They did a good job. I believe we limited them to a couple of power plays until the game was 4-1, late in the game, so that going down the stretch is very important."
On the night the T-Birds only gave Portland four powerplay chances, shutting down all four, which was a big contrast from the last time these two teams met – a game where Seattle was shorthanded eight times.
In what has become a growing trend this season, the T-Birds were buoyed by a big, loud and vocal crowd. The ShoWare Center faithful were in the game from the start and Seattle used that to get some momentum.
"Our guys love it," Konowalchuk said. "It's awesome when there's a big hit and the crowd goes nuts. You block a shot and the crowd's loud. All those things, it gives the bench energy, its very important. Kids are emotional, more and more so than even the pros. ... I think we have the most fun place to play for our guys. It's an awesome environment."
Seattle fell behind early in the game when a Taylor Leier shot was stopped by Kozun and trickled behind him. Chase De Leo poked it in the Winterhawks.
The T-Birds got that goal back on the power play when Shea Theodore ripped a slap shot from the point to beat a screened Boes. Seattle extended its lead later in the period after a good Seattle forecheck turned the puck over, and Alex Delnov banged it in off of Boes' body.
The win was big for Seattle as it picked up two more points on Spokane, who lost against Tri City, for fourth place in the Western Conference standings. They now lead the Chiefs by six big points heading into the season's final weeks.
The T-Birds hit the ice again Sunday afternoon against the Everett Silvertips, another team that is fighting for playoff positioning. Face off is at 5 p.m. at the ShoWare Center.
• Saturday's win was Seattle's fourth against the Winterhawks this season. All four wins have come at home as they have struggled in Portland. The T-Birds will get a chance to make a big statement against their rivals in Portland next Friday.
• Portland's win streak fell one short of tying a single-season WHL record. The 1967 Estevan Bruins won 22 straight games and hold the mark. The 1981 Victoria Cougars hold the overall record with 24 straight wins, but those came over two seasons.
Seattle and Portland have had long streaks broken before. Last year the T-Birds were on a frustrating 15-game losing streak and ended it on January 19th, 2013 when they beat the Winterhawks 4-3.
• Lost in the statistics Saturday night was the outstanding play by the Mathew Barzal-Ryan Gropp-Sam McKechnie line. The trio failed to score but they generated numerous scoring chances and played a strong 200-foot game.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 @ 11:07pm
Mathew Barzal celebrates his second goal of the night during Seattle's 4-3 overtime win Tuesday (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- If Tuesday's game between the Thunderbirds and Prince Albert Raiders are an indication of what the playoffs are going to be like, Seattle is in for a fun ride.
Seattle out lasted a tough Prince Albert squad 4-3 in overtime to snap their three-game losing streak in front of 5,044 fans at the ShoWare Center. Alex Delnov scored the game winner 2:35 seconds into the extra frame, leaving Raiders players laying on the ice in disbelief while sending the T-Birds bench into delirium.
This game had a little of everything.
Seattle twice came from behind to tie the game before taking a lead, only to see Prince Albert tie it up late.
"More exciting than it had to be," head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "They (Prince Albert) played a hard game over there, they played a really hard game and they're fighting for their lives, they're playing playoff hockey."
The two teams played an even first period, one that saw the T-Birds miss a couple of chances and have to kill of a crucial five-on-three advantage after the Raiders took a one goal lead on Tomas Andrlik's unassisted goal.
"We weren't our best early on defensively," Konowalchuk said. "I thought again we were working harder in the offensive zone, not everybody, but a few working harder in the offensive zone than in the defensive zone."
The game picked up steam in the second period, as both teams started hitting each other and generating chances. They combined for three goals and 33 shots, many of which were quality chances.
Seattle got the game tied when Mathew Barzal picked up the puck and walked it out from behind the Raiders net. He quickly swept a back hand shot that seemed to fool goalie Nick McBride as the net minder was unable to stop it.
The goal was Barzal's 11th of the year and he may have the inside scoop.
"I played with the goalie on that team for a few years back in Vancouver so I kind of know what he does a little bit and I think I caught him," Barzal said. "He usually stops those, he's a good goalie."
Prince Albert wasted no time getting the goal back however. Playing four-on-four Leon Draisaitl snuck behind the Seattle defense and Dakota Conroy was able to find him. He raced down the ice and beat Taran Kozun with a nice move for his 29th goal of the year.
The game got physical from there as several scraps broke out between the two clubs, who only play once a year.
Seattle again tied the game after a nice rush from Alex Delnov. He fired the puck on net where Keegan Kolesar banged away at it. Kolesar didn't score but the rebound went to Roberts Lipsbergs who calmly skated in front and scored.
It was a big goal for the streaky Lipsbergs who had not found the back of the net in eight games.
"Hopefully he'll get going," Konowalchuk said about the Latvian. "He hasn't been playing terrible but he hasn't been playing his best either. I think that weighs on him a little bit."
The Third period was a back and forth battle that looked and felt like playoff hockey. Both teams traded chances as Kozun and McBride kept their teams in it.
Barzal scored again, on a pretty goal, as he deked his way through the Raiders defense and beat his former teammate to give Seattle the lead.
The T-Birds were physical all night and Evan Wardley put the punctuation on the game late in the third. He blasted Prince Albert's Chance Braid along the boards causing the glass to explode in a thousand pieces.
"I was just trying to finish my check there," Wardley said. "I've done that all year, I guess I got the right part of the glass and it ended up breaking."
They play excited the crowd, the T-Birds bench but maybe not their coach.
"I would rather have seen the glass stay in tact," Konowalchuk said with a smile. "Things are going pretty good and it gives everybody time to relax, especially the other bench.
I think we had them where we wanted, they're playing their top line a ton and it gave them a ten minute breather, but it was exciting for the fans."
There may have been something to that theory.
With under two minutes left the Raiders pulled McBride and tied the game as Josh Morrissey managed to slide the puck through Kozun to send the game into overtime.
That set up Delnov who scored the game winner in overtime after he put back his own rebound.
The win was huge for a Seattle team that had been scuffling the past week.
"Spirits were a little down after three losses in a row," Hickman said. '"Coming into the home stretch that's what we needed to get our confidence back and get going again."
The T-Birds picked up two points on idle Spokane and now lead the Chiefs by four points in the race for fourth place in the West. Seattle now will get ready for a big weekend against the red hot Portland Winterhawks and Everett Silvertips.
Getting the win Tuesday will help them go into those games with momentum.
"It was good, its nice to get back on track in the win column," Barzal said. We're fired up about that , hopefully we can get going again this weekend."
Prince Albert features some high end players. Most notable is German import Leon Draisaitl who is a top prospect in this spring's NHL draft. Konwalchuk moved Hickman to the shut down line to try and slow Draisaitl down. "Just keep it simple," Hickman said about playing the top line. "Whenever you're playing against the other team's top lines you've just got to get it deep, make them work in their own zone."
Josh Morrissey is another big time player for Prince Albert. The Winnipeg Jets first round draft pick tied the game late with his 23rd goal of the year, which is a franchise record for Prince Albert defensemen.
Barzal's two goals was the first multi-goal game of his WHL career, he now has 12 on the season.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.
Sunday, February 23, 2014 @ 7:09am
By Andrew Eide
KENT -- The Kamloops Blazers seem to forget that they are in last place whenever they take on the Seattle Thunderbirds.
The Blazers beat Seattle 3-2 in a shoot out Saturday night in front of 5,080 fans at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Kamloops relied on 33 saves from rookie goalie Cole Kehler and got the shoot out winner from Matt Bellerive for their third win against Seattle this season.
For Seattle, it was their third straight loss.
The win was only the 13th of the year for Kamloops, but three of them have come against the T-Birds.
"That's the million dollar question," Justin Hickman said trying to explain the Blazers success. "Maybe the last time they were here we played them a little too lightly. Their record doesn't really reflect the team they are. They work hard, credit to them they always battle hard against us."
The T-Birds started the game strong, getting off to a lead early after Shea Theodore flung a wrist shot through traffic for his 17th goal of the year. That goal was against starting goalie Bolton Pouliot who was replaced by Kehler shortly after the goal when he was knocked into by Russel Maxwell.
During their current mini losing streak the T-Birds have struggled managing the puck. That problem reared its head again Saturday night in the first period. A turnover in their own end resulted in the puck being put on Collin Shirley's stick right in front of the Seattle goal. Shirley beat Taran Kozun to tie the game up at one.
Shortly after that goal Alex Delnov was called for tripping and the Blazers would take a lead on the resulting power play chance. Cole Ully centered a pass in front of the Seattle net where it hit Hickman and deflected past Kozun.
Seattle headed to the dressing room trailing by a goal.
"We came out not too bad," Steve Konowalchuk said of the first period. "We gave them the two goals, we passed it right into the slot and then on the penalty kill we deflected it in."
The T-Birds continued to struggle maintaining momentum in the second period but were able to get the game square again. Delnov scored on the power play after the T-Birds worked the puck around the zone. It was Delnov's 25th goal of the year.
Seattle finally got going in the third period. They dominated the play, dictated the tempo of the game and out shot Kamloops 16-2 -- not allowing a Blazers shot on goal until just over two minutes left.
The problem was that they could not beat Kehler. Some shots were stopped by the rookie goaltender, other times the T-Birds missed wide open nets.
"It was a good third period, we had some real good chances," Konowalchuk said. "We missed the net on two of them at the end of the game there. I thought most of the third period we definitely carried the tempo of the game. Early on in the game, just a few casual moments that kept them in it so it could go to a shoot out."
After a scoreless overtime period the game went to the shoot out where Kamloops scored on two of their four chances to get the win.
For the T-Birds, they find themselves scuffling a bit as the season is winding down the stretch. They have secured a playoff spot and currently are holding onto fourth place in the West. With the loss the fifth place Spokane Chiefs pulled to within four points of Seattle -- the T-Birds still have some work ahead of them.
"We're making strides in the right direction," Hickman said. "I thought we played a pretty good game tonight, just we've got to keep our heads up and make sure we correct things that we need to correct, keep doing the things that we're doing right."
Seattle has nine games left in the season to correct the mistakes they're making and get their game back to where it was a week ago.
"Until we get everybody going, we're going to have a tough time winning," Konowalchuk said.
Kamloops record against Seattle defies explanation. They are 3-1 against the T-Birds despite trailing them by 49 points in the standings. 23% of the Blazers wins this year have come against the T-Birds.
Both of the Kamloops goals were unassisted.
Saturday's game was the first game back in Seattle for former T-Birds defenseman Austin Douglas. Douglas was part of the trade that brought Taran Kozun to Seattle.
Branden Troock was the only T-Birds player to convert in the shoot out. Mathew Barzal, Shea Theodore and Sam McKechnie were all stopped by Kehler.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide
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