Friday, December 30, 2011

A Jaw Dropping Win

To quote that famous wordsmith from the 70's, K.C. of K.C. and the Sunshine Band fame, "That's the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it!"

Just an exciting 2-0 win over a very good Moose Jaw team Friday night before another enthusiastic crowd at the ShoWare Center. It was the very definition of a total team effort as everyone in the lineup gave 100 percent in the win. Loved the confidence that head coach Steve Konowalchuk showed in all his players. It's the third period of a tight game and he doesn't hesitate to put his young defensemen, Theodore, Hauf and Wardley on the ice.

Moose Jaw is a big team; the equal in size of Seattle and I thought early on their game was to try and impose their physicality on the T-birds. But Seattle didn't back down and Jacob Doty going toe-to-toe with Dallas Ehrhardt got the crowd into the game and gave the 'Birds the confidence they needed to skate with the Warriors. Don't underestimate what Doty's efforts in that tilt meant to his teammates. That was a big turning point in the game in my estimation.

But the biggest turning point was Seattle killing off that 1:41 of 5-on-3 power play time Moose Jaw had in the first period. They limited the Warriors 5th ranked PP to just one shot on goal. They T-birds paid the price to keep the puck out of their net, blocking shots cost them Marcel Noebels for much of the game after he took a slap shot in the ribs. "Es tut so weh!"

Prior to Friday night's game the T-birds had gone scoreless in the third period in three straight contest, each time seeing a lead evaporate because they couldn't play add on. That made the Burke Gallimore power play goal early in the third against Moose Jaw huge. It gave them breathing room and they played the rest of the game on their toes rather then back on their heels. Prior to that goal the 'Birds had been outscored 15-5 in the third period in the month of December (three of those five goals came in one game) and as a result had coughed up 3rd period leads four times. For one night at least, they turned the tables.

Calvin Pickard now has three shutouts in his past 16 games. Even more impressive his shutouts have been against Tri-City (Nov 18th), Vancouver (Dec 13th) and Moose Jaw. Those three teams are a combined 75-30-4-2 and have complied 404 goals in 111 games. In those three games Pickard has faced 120 shots and stopped them all.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winning Doesn't Have to be Pretty

After winning just one of their first 15 games after the Christmas break last season, and just 1 of 15 after the break the year before that, there should be no reason for the T-birds to make apologies for winning a couple games after the break this season in less then "beauty pageant" fashion. You win, you get two points and no style points are added or, for that matter, deducted if you don't play in the most scintillating fashion.

I thought the first period Wednesday night in Everett was played at a pretty good pace and there were some scoring chances created by the T-birds forecheck and aggressive penalty kill. After that it appeared playing for the second time in as many nights, after a nine day layoff, began to affect both teams and the play got a bit sloppy and as a result it lacked flow. Still, if you are writing the script for these two games and you have two rivals battling out in a home-and-home series you have to like the fact that the outcome wasn't determined until the final page was turned.

Cason Machacek has been playing some good hockey lately. I thought his last two games before the break were two of his best and the first two after the break have been good as well. I have a feeling if any of the players skated and worked out over the break he would be one.

With Dave Sutter away and Kyle Verdino out of the lineup with an injury, Seattle needed Machacek's veteran leadership on the back end and he gave them that. Chipping in with his first goal of the season was a bonus. Fairly calm off the ice, between the boards Machacek is an emotional player which sometimes gets him into penalty trouble. But lately he's kept his emotions in check and has been playing good, smart hockey.

I'm sure Luke Lockhart has heard the criticism about his lack of offensive production so far this season. I suppose some of that could be warranted considering he potted over 20 goals last year. But all you have to do is look at a tape of Wednesday's game in Everett to see his worth to this team.

I'm not talking about the two goals or the shootout winner either. Instead, watch how many shifts he takes. Watch how many key face offs he wins and look at his defensive zone coverage and how many times he took a puck off an Everett player's stick. I wouldn't be surprised if he logged 40 minutes in that game.

Good; the T-birds winning two games out of the break and earning the full 4 pts and climbing within a point of 6th place in the Western Conference. In fact the T-birds now have the 6th best winning percentage.

The bad; the power play seems to be regressing with each PP chance. Watch the T-birds power play in these two games and you understand the value of a Dave Sutter and, for that matter, a Brendan Rouse as well. But right now sticks are being squeezed too tight and too many mental errors are being made. Gotta clean that up.

The good; the 'Birds didn't allow Everett a power play goal in the two games. In close games like these, one power play goal by the 'Tips could have been the difference between winning and losing and the Thunderbirds coming out of these two games with no points.

The bad; the T-birds have had the lead entering the third period in their last three games only to cough it up, being outscored 7-0 in the process. Good teams own the third period. Good teams "go for the kill" in the third period. That is something the T-birds still need to learn.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Going the Extra Mile

The T-birds came out of the week long Christmas break with a 2-1 shootout win over the Everett Silvertips at a sold out ShoWare Center Tuesday night. There were some missed opportunities to put this game away in regulation but in the end they got the "W."

It was quite the goaltending battle between the T-birds Calvin Pickard and Everett's Kent Simpson. There is a lot of pressure put on both these goalies because neither team has an explosive offense. Both are second round NHL draft picks and because of the lack of scoring both are probably the key player on their respective teams. On this night Pickard got the better of it by stopping all three Everett shots in the shootout while Simpson was beaten by Colin Jacobs.

Pickard was clearly upset on a couple of occasions when Everett players slashed him after a save. I found it interesting that on the first such occasion no slashing penalty was going to be called. Then, when Tyler Alos came to his goalie's defense the referee gave Alos a roughing minor then decided to issue the minor for slashing to even things up. I'm not a fan of that kind of officiating.

Congratulations to Evan Wardley on his first WHL point as he assisted on Burke Gallimore's second period goal. There was nothing cheap about the assist either as Wardley did a terrific job from keeping a puck from escaping the attacking zone, wheeled and fired a hard shot into Simpson's pads.

Gallimore was there to snap in the rebound. After playing a lot of forward in his first few games in the league, Wardley got to play the game as a defenseman (his natural position) in the absence of Dave Sutter, who's away at World Juniors, and Kyle Verdino, who is out with an injury. I thought he did a solid job.

I counted just one shot on goal on the Thunderbirds four power plays (approximately six and a half minutes worth of 5-on-4) and that shot came in the waning seconds of the final man advantage. That's not good. Stop thinking and start shooting.
Great to see the building filled to capacity and the crowd was hungry for something to cheer about. Nice that they got that with the shootout win.

Jacobs has now won two shootouts since coming off his long layoff due to offseason surgery. He used the same move twice and it worked. Don't fix what ain't broken!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Haming it Up

Bah humbug. That's the most PG-13 friendly thing I can print to tell you how I feel about the weekend series against Tri-City as the T-birds dropped both games.
The 5-1 loss in Kennewick was the T-birds 18th straight at the Toyota Center. Seattle had a very good start but then ran into penalty trouble and fell apart, wasting a solid first ten minutes of the game and a 1-0 lead.

If you let an opponent (or a building) get into your head, then you've defeated yourself. Just my opinion but that's what I think it comes down to over in Kennewick. The 'Birds just don't believe in themselves enough in that arena to overcome any adversity against such a good team.

As disappointing as that loss was the 5-3 loss at home Saturday was ten times worse. I'd call it the most devastating home loss in the 11 years I've been with the team. It's hard to understand how the team could play two nearly flawless periods against the top team in the league, building a three goal lead in the process, then fritter it away with such a lackadaisical final twenty minutes. It was their strong forechecking that helped build that lead and in the third period they abandoned that effort altogether. This is a bit harsh but I hope some of these players find some heart under their Christmas tree next weekend because it was sorely lacking on the ice in that final period.

Part of the problem is this team doesn't know how to win. They haven't developed a "killer instinct". Instead of hoping to get through that third period with the lead intact, or believing they had the game in the bag and feeling good about themselves for their effort through the first 40 minutes, they should have come out and played even harder then they did in the first two periods. They should have treated that third period as though it was a 0-0 game and not a 3-0 lead.
Just go back to Tri-City and the way they played the third period Friday night at home with a three goal lead. The came out attacking.

He may not have the most goals or the most points and he still takes the occasional, ill-timed penalty, but there is a reason why, from time to time, 17-year old Justin Hickman is wearing an "A" on his jersey. It's because he plays the system the way the coaches want it played and he plays all out. He's immensely coachable, sticks up for his teammates and he shows natural leadership.

His backchecking is was led to the Colin Jacobs goal that gave Seattle the 3-0 lead in the second period. He's the kind of player this team needs more of and the type of player this team needs to build around. Conner Honey, once he gets comfortable here, is going to be the same type of player and along with Branden Troock, Seattle has a solid trio of 17 year old forwards.

When Colin Jacobs arrived on the scene a few years ago I took the first syllable from his first name and the first syllable from his last name and nicknamed him CoJac, similar to the Kojak character Telly Savalas played on the TV detecive show from the 1970s.

The other day T-bird defenseman Cason Machacek asked me, "Who's Kojak?" If I didn't before I now feel officially old around these players.

Once again the ladies were on the ice after the game, participating in the annual Fred Meyer Chrstmas Ham Puck shoot.

Congrats to all the winners!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Say Hey, Hay

Vancouver Giants head coach Don Hay may have cost his team a win and he wasn''t even at the game last night between the T-birds and the Giants. Hay is the head coach of Canada's National team, and he's away from the Giants preparing Team Canada to play in the World Juniors up in Alberta, right after Christmas, so he wasn't behind the bench for last night's game.
Hay and the coaching staff made the decision this past summer not to invite Seattle goaltender Calvin Pickard to the main camp. Picks is regarded, in most circles, as the best goalie in the WHL and thus, one of the best in all of junior hockey, yet no invite for him this season after being in Team Canada's camp a year ago.

Maybe Hay should have checked the schedule. With Calvin in goal last night, instead of at the tryout camp, the Thunderbirds shutout his Giants, 3-0 as Pickard made 37 saves. Calvin has nine shutouts now in his WHL career, including two this season, but circumstances may have made last night's blanking just a tad more sweeter than the other eight.
This effort reminded so much of the other shutout that Pickard and the T-birds registered this season. That was back on November 18th at home when, ironically they blanked the Tri-City Americans, 3-0. In that game as in last night's game the T-birds were physical, finished their checks and wore down their opponent. They played solid team defense as well.

Brendan Troock's game winning goal was a thing of beauty. Just a great individual effort and an off-balance shot that seemed to catch Vancouver goalie Adam Morrison by surprise. Up to that point, with about four and a half minutes left in the game, Morrison was matching Pickard nearly save for save. I do think Troock is still frustrated that his offensive numbers aren't trending upward and as a result I think he tries to do too much on his own. He certainly has the talent to put up big numbers but I think he just needs to let the game come to him and not force the issue.
With that goal to break the scoreless tie coming so late in the game, I wondered if the T-birds would go into a defensive shell to protect the one goal lead. That was answered just a minute later when Chance Lund made an aggressive move into the offensive zone, skating hard to the net with the puck, eventually leading to Luke Lockhart's rebound goal and a 2-0 Seattle lead. Lund had been aggressive all night and three or four times he had made similar strong rushes up ice. His perseverance was rewarded with that huge assist.

Lund has to be intriguing some NHL scouts with his size, speed and hard work. Hopefully it pays off with, at the very least, an invite to an NHL training camp next fall.
As nice as the shutout win over the Giants must be for Pickard, he and the T-birds still have an albatross hanging around their necks. Pikard has never beaten Tri-City at the Toyota Center in Kennewick during his time in the WHL; three and a half seasons. Sometimes it has been rotten luck but more often it's because the better team wins. Picks gets another crack at winning over there when the T-birds travel to Kennewick Friday in the final road game before the Christmas break.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Alos At Last!

I think if you met Tyler Alos just walking down the street, and didn't know he was a Seattle Thunderbird, I think you'd like him. He's a pretty humble guy, even self- deprecating at times. More importantly I think he's a team-first, not a me-first, kind of guy and that makes it easy to root for him.
So his struggle to score a goal, any goal, the first half of the season was frustrating...for him, for the fans, heck probably even for the Zamboni driver. You really want a guy like that to succeed.
I don't think anyone picked Game #28 or December 10th in the office pool as the first time he'd score but now that the task is out of the way, let's hope he relaxes a bit and more goals start coming his way. Nice that it came on a night when he also contributed with a big assist and the T-birds won the game.
The team certainly doesn't want to make a habit of losing a 3-goal third period lead and having to win in a shootout, but when you're riding a three game losing streak you don't care how you win, just as long as you win.

It was a night of firsts for the T-birds. Conner Honey earned his first WHL point and Like Alos, Colin Jacobs scored his first goal as well. CoJac sure doesn't look like the time off for surgery and rehab affected his game. He looks to be in mid-season form.

Don't blame Calvin Pickard for the three goals the Royals scored on that 3-minute power play. Those were some well placed shots through screens. Once again Picks was fabulous in goal and made some huge saves once momentum had swung in Victoria's favor.

You may not have been happy that the Royals were awarded that 3-minute power play (I thought the Walker penalty deserved more than two minutes. I don't believe the hit was with malice but its the kind of play the league and hockey are trying to eliminate) but if the T-birds are better than 1-for-9 on their own power play chances, then it's all a moot point. Even knowing the results of that three minute advantage in which the Royals scored thrice, I'm not going to criticize Justin Hickman for sticking up for his teammate, and the team's leading scorer, Burke Gallimore.

Back to Connor Honey for a moment. Two games is a small sample size (I don't think he's had a chance to practice with the team yet, basically off the plane and into the lineup) but I like his physical, attacking style. I think its only a matter of time before he pots his first WHL goal.

Connor has a twin brother Curtis, who is a goalie (he's on the protected list of another WHL team so unless there is a trade we won't have Honey, Honey playing for the 'Birds). Connor says they are not identical twins, so if they were side-by-side you'd be able to tell them apart.
When Honey was playing for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL earlier this season he billeted with a local Green Bay family that had season tickets to the Packers. So, while he was there he got to go to a few NFL games at Lambeau Field. There are a lot of envious Packer fans as those tickets are hard to come by.
I doubt he mistook the Packers for his hometown Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL but they do sport the same green and yellow color scheme.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cougin' It

The up and down, hot and cold streaky team that is the Seattle Thunderbirds are down and cold again. The offense that seemed to be coming around has disappeared once more. The effort Friday against Prince George was okay. The problem is that a just okay effort isn't going to win you a lot of games. you need a very good effort every night in this league if you want to win.
For the second home game this season against the Cougars the T-birds let the opponent dictate the flow of the game. The result was predictable; a Prince George win, the same result as two weeks ago.
Seattle needs to find a way to get more shots on goal. Too many of their shots were blocked again. They need to improve their passing through the neutral zone and do a better job of puck possession once in the side the opposing team's blue line. Also, adopt a shoot first ask questions later attitude. And when they get a shot, please put the puck on net!
Good to have Colin Jacobs back in the lineup. He didn't look rusty after missing the first two and a half months of the season. I also liked what I saw from Connor Honey in his first game as a T-bird. He brings an aggressive offensive game to the table. Most importantly, he was not afraid to shoot the puck. The T-birds now have three 17 year old forwards on the roster (Hickman, Honey and Troock) who should be able to score at this level. With their young defensemen (Hauf and Theodore) they have something to build around, but if they want to find success this season they'll need more from a group of players struggling to score right now. Guys like Lockhart, Alos and Sanvido are struggling in that department. They all need to find away to fight out of their personal slumps.
All that said, I'm impressed with this young Prince George team. They battle for every puck and they work hard every shift. They earned this win and I have a feeling in the next season or two they'll be earning a lot of wins

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

What's the old line? If you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all? Something along those lines. Well, following that rule I won't be penning much about the T-birds 7-1 loss Saturday night in Portland.
I will say I liked the way Justin Hickman responded to Steve Konowalchuk's "pep talk" at the bench after Portland had gone up by three goals. Hickman actually came out with a little fire in his belly on his next shift. Too bad it didn't wake the rest of the team up.

Konowalchuk is quoted as saying his team showed Portland too much respect and I'd agree with that assessment. At times it seems like they were standing around watching the game rather than participating.
And while Calvin Pickard didn't have his best game, he was good enough. He shouldn't have to bring his A++++++ game every night in order for this team to win. His teammates need to remember that they need to bring their A game each time out as well.
Linesman Ryan Gibbons, the former T-bird player, had too be cringing inside to see his old team lose the way they did. Gibby did a very nice job. He has big feet though and I do remember on one occasion where his big boot got in the way of a puck. Other than that he looks to be a solid addition to the WHL officiating stable.

Okay, I've seen it all now...a wedding ceremony on the ice AFTER the game started. The couple was united at center ice while the Teddy Bears from the teddy bear toss were being collected off the ice.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Home Cooking Burnt on the Stove

The T-birds saw their streak of earning at least one point in five straight home games snapped Friday night with a, 4-2, loss to Tri-City. In my opinion the streak should have been kept alive with at least a point earned if it had not been for a controversial 5-on-3 power play chance awarded to the Ams in the 2nd period. Tri-City would use that 5-on-3 opportunity to tie the game at one.
Still the T-birds could have overcome that had they again not failed to get to second chance scoring opportunities, or had they been better with their own power play or if they hadn't taken a penalty just seconds after they tied the game at 2-2 in the 3rd period. Their inability to get more than 12 shots on goal over the final 40 minutes was big too, especially after they had 13 shots on goal in the first period.

Seattle played well, just not well enough. They didn't have the same finishing effort they had Tuesday in the come-from-behind win over Swift Current. Still, considering they are missing one entire line (Rouse, Troock, Jacobs) they were the equal of the Americans for most of the game. It's a positive sign.
Loved the gritty effort all game of Sean Aschim. He's a hustle player and was rewarded for that with a two point night (1g, 1a)