After starting the season with 5 games in 9 nights, the T-Birds end up playing just one game in 12 days. As a result, it put extra emphasis on that game Saturday in Chilliwack against the Bruins. One game in 12 days and if you lose it, the sour taste of defeat probably lingers. Win the game and you build off the good work done the previous weekend (2 wins) and keep momentum going into the next weekend when you play two games in two nights.
That was the challenge the schedule and head coach Rob Sumner presented to his team and they certainly answered the bell with the 6-3 win at Prospera Centre. For the second straight game they had a bit of a hesitant start in the first period and fell behind, 2-1. But once again they got stronger as the game progressed. They really took over the contest right from the drop of the puck to start the second period and once they got the lead midway through the second you had the sense they were going to win because they were winning nearly every battle for loose pucks.
Size does matter and the T-Birds used their size to simply wear down the Bruins. This Chilliwack club possesses some very talented offensive weapons; they had seven players attend NHL training camps, but the T-Birds were just the more physical team on this night. Ryan Howse is a star in the making for the Bruins but other than his first period power-play goal Seattle did an excellent job of limiting his scoring chances by laying the body on him.
Despite the fact the Bruins scored two power-play goals, once again I thought the 'Birds penalty killing was excellent, especially in the middle period, when they took control of the game. They continually give up the body to block shots. Charles Wells and Travis Toomey probably spent the bus ride back from Chilliwack comparing bruises.
Alan Caldwell's blog (Small Thoughts at Large) recently broke down each team in the league and discovered that Seattle on average is the tallest and heaviest in the WHL. But don't think of this team as just a bunch of big bodies that get in the way of their opponent. There is skill to go along with that size. This team is big AND strong. They are strong AND fast. I think those attributes will keep this club in most games, even when they are having an off night.
Nowhere is that epitomized more than on the reunited (and it feels so good!) line featuring 17- year-olds Tyler Alos, Mitch Elliot and Colin Jacobs. This line was put together last season when all three were 16-year-old rookies. My guess is they'll still be together next season when they are all 18 and the following season when they are all 19. Saturday's game in Chilliwack was the first time they have skated together this season because Alos has been sidelined with injury. Healthy and back in the line-up for the first time this year all Alos did was contribute two assists as that line picked up 7 points (2g, 5a). In fact, you could credit that line with 8 points because Brendan Rouse scored his first goal while skating a shift with Elliot and Jacobs in the first period.
I had joked with Mitch Elliot that big guys didn't wear single digit jersey numbers. This was after Mitch switched from #25 to #7 following the trade of Brenden Silvester. I told him he had just a few weeks to score a goal or he would have to go back to #25. Since then he has scored twice in two games. By the way, he had the Gordie Howe hat trick against the Bruins (goal, assist and a fighting major) and the first to congratulate him was his mom, who texted him from back home in Prince George. Apparently the text contained just one word; Gordie! Ya gotta love the moms of these players in the WHL.
Meanwhile, Colin Jacobs just seemed to be everywhere when good things were happening. The anticipation when Colin joined the team is that he would develop into a top goal scorer and I don't see any reason why he won't, but he's also picking up key assists by just getting the puck to the front of the net.
With this line being together for a second season and beyond, I think it's time to come up with a catchy nickname. Any suggestions? Feel free to post and if I like your suggestion I may use it in a broadcast. Maybe I'll let the players pick the best one.
Brendan Rouse and Erik Fleming may be the two quietest players on this team but their play early this season is speaking volumes. I'd contend Rouse would get serious consideration for the team's MVP during this current three-game winning streak. I know he is a -2 in the plus/minus department right now but he's a microcosm of the team's play to date; he gets stronger and better as the game moves from the first to the third period. Fleming hasn't registered a point yet but I can't recall him registering a mistake either. He seems very focused on his defensive zone coverage. With Scott Ramsay out with injury, Fleming has elevated his play.
One player who is not quiet is Jacob Doty. Don't let his role as the team's enforcer fool you. Oh, he's gonna rack up the PIMs with his share of scraps this season but he's gonna pick up some points along the way too. He has an offensive upside and is hungry around the net. This young Montana native is going to turns some heads.
It's early but I like the play of both Import players on the roster. Marcel Noebels and Dave Sutter are a combined +9. In fact Sutter leads the team in that department at +6. I give both players extra points too because each speaks multiple languages. Rumor is Sutter can speak 7 different languages...and that doesn't include ig-pay atin-lay.
Not to dwell on it (okay, I'm dwelling on it) but the T-Birds are 38-seconds away from being at least 4-1-0-1 or 4-1-1-0, if not 5-1, but I think if you had told me they would be 4-2 after the first six games of the year, I'd have taken it in a heart beat considering the early schedule.
Last season I believe the team's longest winning streak was 4 games. If I recall three of the wins were on the road including a victory in Vancouver. Well, the T-Birds can equal that winning streak this Friday with a road win against the Giants in Vancouver. This is what the T-Birds have to do to be a playoff team this season; earn some road wins, take care of their home ice, put together a few winning streaks while avoiding losing streaks. Pretty simple, eh?