Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas. I know that is not PC to say in some circles but I prefer it over Happy Holidays.
A two-game winning streak is definitely a nice way to go into the the break. The resiliency of this team is quite remarkable. They did lose 6 of their last 10 games but it could have been worse as twice they snapped 3-game losing streaks by winning 2 in a row. Just when you think you're out, they pull you right back in again!

I know some will say beating Portland loses some of the shine because three big offensive cogs were missing from the Winterhawks lineup but what would they be saying had the T-Birds lost? Certainly the 'Birds 3-0-0-1 record so far this season against Portland has been accomplished against a Portland team not quite at full strength in most of those games (although Portland had pretty much a full compliment of players in the two games that went to a shootout down at the Rose Garden), but Seattle doesn't have any say in who is in or who is out of the Winterhawks lineup. Besides, the T-Birds have not been at full strength in any of the games they've played against Portland either. Simple fact is those are seven crucial points earned by Seattle. Tell me another team in the league that has to play 12 games head-to-head against arguably the league's best team? Remember, there are still seven games left in the series. No need for the T-Birds to apologize for earning those points.
The record going into the Christmas break is better this season then last but the situation is eerily the same. A year ago, despite a sub par first half of the season, the 'Birds were still in the hunt for a playoff spot. They were only a few points out of the 8th and final playoff position in the Western Conference. Games right after the break were crucial. As you know though, Seattle didn't answer the bell and fell out of contention.

This season the T-Birds are again in a tight battle for a playoff spot at the break. Once again they have crucial games coming out of the layoff. Will they answer the bell this time around?

Here are some things to look forward to after the break when the season resumes: 1) the potential return to the lineup of Brendan Troock. Can the 16 year-old have an impact in the second half of the season? Can he stay healthy and in the lineup? 2)The January 10th trade deadline; will GM Russ Farwell stand pat, make a minor move or try for a big splash? 3)Home games; the T-Brds ended a six-ame home ice losing streak when they beat Portland the last game before the break, can they keep the winning mojo going on home ice with 22 home games left? A playoff spot may hang in the balance. 4)Games against their U.S. Division foes. 25 of their remaining 39 games will be against either Portland, Spokane, Tri-City or Everett. Again, the difference between making or missing the postseason may hinge on their effort against those four teams. So far Seattle is 6-6-0-3 against their division rivals. Will .500 against the U.S. Division be enough to garner a playoff spot? Fortunately they only have four games left with Tri-City. The T-Brds have yet to beat the Americans in five tries this season (0-3-0-2). 5) The 'Birds have 13 games remaining against the B.C. Division and nine of them will be at the ShoWare Center. So far the T-Brds are 4-2 against B.C. Division teams. These are teams Seattle will battle for a playoff spot down the stretch so these games will be just as crucial as games within the U.S. Division.

Enjoy the rest of the Christmas break and see you at the ShowWare Center on the 28th against Spokane!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Road Warriors

The T-Birds continue to earn points on the road, gaining four out of a possible six road points on their recent journey up into British Columbia. The trip started with a close 3-2 loss to the red hot Kelowna Rockets, a game in which Seattle had opportunities for more than the two goals they scored but ran into solid goaltending from the Rockets Adam Brown.

The team ventured north to Prince George for a pair but before they arrived in P.G., they made a pit stop in 100 Mile House for a practice. I still contend the name of the town should be changed since Canada switched to the metric system a few decades ago. I guess 160.9 Kilometer House just doesn't have the same ring. This small community has one of the nicer arenas the T-birds have practiced in on their road treks over the years, especially for a town of it's size. The rink is only six years old but is immaculately kept up and looks brand new. Once again, just like in Moosomin, Sask. on the eastern swing, the community was excited to have a WHL team come to their town and welcomed them with open arms. Because of the time of day of the practice not as many of the local youth got a chance to come on the ice at the end of the practice and skate with the 'Birds, but those that did had a blast. I posted a video of the practice on the Thunderbirds Facebook page.

The two games up in Prince George were very entertaining affairs. It wasn't necessarily the best hockey the T-Birds have played but what's most important is they left town with two wins, in the process snapping a three-game losing streak. With 18 goals it only seemed like there were more goals scored between the two teams in these games then we'd seen in all the previous games combined.

The two high scoring games were in stark contrast to the first time that Seattle played Prince George back in October at the ShoWare Center. In that game it was scoreless until the third period when the Cougars struck twice to post a 2-0 win.

After winning Friday's game, 5-4, in regulation, the 'Birds could have been satisfied and settled for a split, especially after falling behind 3-0 in the first period Saturday night. Once again though, the team's character came to the forefront and they battled back to earn the 5-4 win in the shootout.

I don't think Calvin Pickard would categorize either game as his best but boy does he have a knack for shutting down opponents late. Some athletes just have that "something" that puts then on a different plane when the game is on the line. Like a Peyton Manning or Brett Favre leading a team to a 4th quarter game winning drive, a Mariano Rivera coming out of the bullpen in the 9th inning to shut down the middle of the opponent's batting order or a Michael Jordan hitting the jumper at the buzzer to put his team over the top, Pickard may just be developing that "something" that sets him apart from other netminders.

Pretty nice weekend for Colin Jacobs as he pots the hat trick in Friday's win and then scores the game winning shootout goal Saturday. The effort I liked the best on this road trip though, came from Travis Toomey. He may not be racking up the points (although he did pick up a couple of assists) but his strong play, on the penalty kill in particular, both nights in Prince George were instrumental in picking up the four points over the weekend.

Don't overlook the contribution of Conner Sanvido. He may not be getting a lot of ice time but his shootout goal was huge. It was a "do or die" moment and the rookie showed ice in his veins, delivering a clever goal to keep the T-Birds alive. PG's Nick Buonassisi had just scored (and celebrated as if he had won the game for the Cougars I might add) meaning Sanvido had to score to keep the shootout and the 'Birds chances alive. While Buonassisi was still overcelebrating in front of the Cougars bench, Sanvido calmly stepped up and snapped in a cheeky little goal. After Pickard stopped the next PG shooter, Jacobs finished it by scoring for Seattle and the real celebration was on.

Seattle has now won four straight at the CN Centre in Prince George and in two of those games they came back from 3-0 first period deficits. So, while the trip north is long, at least recently it has been worth it.