The end of the season (unless you win it all) is always a disappointment, whether it concludes with the last game of the regular season or in the playoffs. We'll find small comfort in the fact the T-Birds were in a battle for a playoff spot up until game 71, after being out of it in February a season ago, but it isn't enough to massage away the pain of missing out on the second season for a second consecutive year. It's too easy to play the "what if" game but the T-Birds know they left some important points on the table through the course of the season.
Sunday's overtime loss to Tri-City put an end to another chapter of T-Bird history. This chapter should be remembered for the remarkable story of Brenden Dillon. Undrafted as a bantam player five years ago, undrafted by the NHL two years ago, all he did was persevere and work hard to improve his craft the past four seasons and that dedication earned him a contract with the NHL's Dallas Stars. Brenden was expected to board a plane early this week, most likely headed to Austin, Texas, and the Star's AHL affiliate, to begin his pro career. Congratulations Dills!
While he's there, he can say hi to Eli Johnson, the T-Birds bus driver retired after a 15-year association with the Thunderbirds, and is also headed to Texas. He may be the most difficult piece of the puzzle for this organization to replace next season; he was that valuable. By the way that move by all the players to come off the bench and join Eli at center ice prior to the ceremonial puck drop Sunday was completely spontanious. The original plan was just to have Dillon present Eli with the framed jersey but then the rest of the team hopped over the boards. Great moment.
You had to feel for Travis Bobbee. He spent too much of the second half of his last season in the WHL with his shoulder in a sling, including the second half of the last game. Numbers don't lie. With Bobbee out of the lineup, the team was well below .500.
The best offseason move GM Russ Farwell made was to acquire Travis Toomey from Saskatoon. Toomey has maturity beyond his years. He provided tremendous leadership, played with an edge and tried to set a positive example for the younger players off the ice as well as on it. He took that role as a veteran on a young team very seriously and he took his role as an ambassador to the community just as seriously, taking time to make a weekly visits to a local elementary school. I don't know what his future plans are. I'm sure he wants to keep playing the game but he is so well spoken and so at ease with his words, I think he'd make a great analyst on TV or radio.
Who gets drafted higher by the NHL this June, Colin Jacobs or Marcel Noebels? Both put up good numbers and drew the attention of NHL scouts. Might make for a friendly wager between the two. Luke Lockhart, Mitch Elliot and Dave Sutter will also draw interest. Even Jacob Doty, who may have the biggest upside because he's still quite raw, could hear his name called.
Is there another Brenden Dillon on the roster, a player undrafted by the NHL who could sign by the time his 20-year-old season winds down? Chance Lund has that chance. He has the size, plays very physical and can skate like the wind, three ingredients the NHL is looking for. But he needs to work on his consistency from game to game and, more importantly, he needs to work on getting his shot on goal. If he can dedicate himself the way Dillion did, there is no reason he can't be a 20 goal scorer in the WHL. Gotta want it; gotta earn it.
The T-Birds will have the 5th choice in the 2011 Bantam draft coming up in early May. After selecting three defensemen in the first three rounds last year (Hauf, Green and Theodore) it would seem logical that they would be looking at a forward with their high pick this time around. I subscribe to the best-player-available theory though and if that happens to be a defenseman, so be it. I think if the last two non-playoff seasons have taught us anything, it is that you can never have too many defensemen. Only one every day defenseman on this year's roster, Eric Fleming, came to Seattle through the Bantam draft (Dillon was listed, not drafted) and Fleming missed much of the season due to injury. Aside from Dave Sutter, selected in the Import Draft last June, every other T-Bird defenseman who played significant minutes this past season, came to the team via trade. It's time to develop home grown talent for the blue line corps.
Offense shouldn't be a problem next season. The team should have four of its top five point producers back, including leading scorer Burke Gallimore. All four produced 20-plus goals and all should improve on those numbers next season. The elephant in the room is the status of Branden Troock and I don't have an answer to that question.
Seattle finished the year playing .500 hockey over its last 15 games (7-7-1-0). Everett went 1-8-2-0 in their last 11. Everett is moving on to the playoffs, the T-Birds are not. How can that be? Going 4-14-1-1 coming out of the Christmas break was too much for Seattle to overcome. The rest of the season the T-Birds played close to .500 hockey. It was the second year in a row the team came out flat after the holiday break (just 1-15-4-0 the year before). That will need to change next season if they want to advance to the playoffs. Somehow, some way, they need to be better prepared to restart the season after that two week midseason layoff.
As we go through withdrawal symptoms this offseason, remember, training camp is just five months away!