Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Trip to the 'Tips

For the second straight week, the T-birds will begin the weekend with an important match up against the Everett Silvertips. Seattle travels up to Comcast Arena Friday night with 8th place in the Western Conference on the line.

The question isn't just who will be occupying 8th place when the game is over, but also who will be occupying the 8th spot when the game begins. Seattle currently holds down that position, despite having dropped two straight to Tri-City after their emotional home ice win over the Silvertips last Saturday. But Everett is home tonight (Wednesday) against Kamloops and if they earn a point they pull into a virtual tie with Seattle and if they pick up a win they will leap frog the T-birds.

In the eight plus seasons Everett has been in the league, these two rivals have never met in the postseason, and certainly won't this year. But considering what is at stake, these four head-to-head games in the final month are certainly having a playoff vibe to them.

Meanwhile, both The T-birds and Silvertips are still within striking distance of the 7th place Victoria Royals who, like the T-birds, are just 3-7 in their last ten games. The Royals lost at home last night to Spokane and host the Chiefs again tonight. They Royals also host the Vancouver Giants twice this weekend before traveling to Everett next Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Prince George Cougars are just four points back of a playoff spot after their loss at home last night to Medicine Hat. The Cougars are in the midst of a long home stand that has them facing the Tigers again tonight and hosting Spokane twice this weekend before they welcome the T-birds to town for a pair next Tuesday and Wednesday.

As for last night's 3-1 loss in Kennewick to Tri-City? I have no complaints about the effort. They could have easily wilted after the Americans broke on top, 3-0, after the first period, but they didn't. They kept battling and goaltender Daniel Cotton settled down and blanked the Ams the rest of the way. But the T-birds didn't do enough with their five power play chances, they didn't create enough scoring opportunities and when they did they didn't finish those chances.

Here's the update Pace to the Playoff standings:

7. Victoria on pace for 52.57 pts (9 games left)
8. Seattle on pace for 51.09 pts (10 games left)
9. Everett on pace for 49.93 pts (10 games left)
10. Prince George on pace for 46.45 pts (10 games left)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mixed Weekend

Well, the T-birds got the hoped for result Saturday night when they shutout the Everett Silvertips and thus opened a 3-point cushion in the Western Conference playoff race. But no sooner had they done that when the gap was narrowed back to a point Sunday when the T-birds lost to Tri-City while the 'Tips were shocking the seemingly unstoppable Portland Winterhawks with a 2-1 overtime win up at Comcast Arena.

Both Seattle and Everett have a mid-week game (The 'Birds are in Kennewick to face the Americans on Tuesday while Everett hosts Kamloops Wednesday), but another head-to-head game looms large. Seattle will be in Everett this coming Friday night.

The atmosphere in the ShoWare Center, especially in the second period, Sunday was not good. Almost turned ugly. The fans and the T-birds were having a hard time buying what the officiating crew was selling. I don't believe the outcome turned on what I thought was a substandard performance by the officials, but it certainly lessened the T-birds chance to mount any sort of comeback and it almost got the T-bird faithful so enraged I thought we might see them start littering the ice with chuck-a-pucks or debris. Fortunately T-bird fans just continued to voice the displeasure.

Seattle was legitimately down two goals after one period because they committed a bad turnover at their own blue line and took a couple very obvious penalties while mounting no offensive game. Still, after not playing inspired hockey through the first twenty minutes they were only down two goals with 40 minutes left. Early in the second with Tri already skating 5-on-4, Brad Deagle is hit with a cross checking penalty. I thought it was borderline but didn't see a reason to complain to vociferously, even after the Ams scored to build a 3-0 lead while skating with the 2-man advantage. The roughing penalty called on Evan Wardley though, that led to the Americans fourth goal, was hard to stomach and essentially rendered the last 28 minutes of the game moot and uncompetitive.

Wardley had just finished a clean hit on the Americans Brendan Shinnimin. It was probably about the third time he had done so in the game. Shinnimin apparently took exception to the physical play of the T-birds defenseman and came off the boards and gave Wardley a couple chops to the back. Wardley turned and they squared off, pushing and shoving at each other. Yet the only penalty assessed is the minor to Wardley. It should have been roughing minors to both players and 4-on-4 hockey. Instead Shinnimin remains on the ice and scores the power play goal. Look, there are four officials on the ice, four sets of eyes. When in doubt check it out. Ask the other ref or the two linesmen what led up to the altercation.

I'll give the ref the benefit of the doubt on the hand pass inside the T-birds defensive zone. From my angle it appeared Justin Hickman touched the puck before his skates entered the neutral zone, but maybe not. But later in the period Seattle has a goal waved off because of alleged goaltender interference. Even if you believe there was contact between Seattle's Brendan Troock and Tri-City goalie Ty Rimmer, it was clear in live action and on the replay shown in the building that Troock was bumped by an Americans player, nudging him into Rimmer. Meanwhile, Rimmer's over the top pratfall exacerbated the issue.

If a referee can't tell the difference between bad acting and goaltender interference, then there's a problem. No wonder so many players in the league embellish as much as they do to try and draw penalties. The T-birds aren't innocent in that department either. I cringe every time Colin Jacobs snaps hishead back at the slightest contact. I've seen a few other Seattle players overact (badly) at any contact in an attempt to draw a penalty. I think it is embarrassing and disrespectful to the game. In my estimation, it is a form of cheating; trying to get something you didn't earn through deception. Meanwhile, Tri-City is a very good team, they deserved the win because they were the better team on the ice, but there is no need for the theatrics, diving or embellishment. Until the league clamps down on it with harsher punishment though, it will continue.

Another thing, some teams have started doing choreographed postgame celebrations after a win. Kamloops last season and now Tri-City this year. If you weren't aware of what the Tri-City players were imitating (Bone Saw) you would have thought they were making obscene gestures to the crowd (in fact many in the crowd at the ShoWare Center thought that was exactly what they were doing). Players need to remember the game is not just about them, it is for the fans too. I may be old school, but here's a thought; act like you've been there before, congratulate each other and then get off the ice and save that celebration for the privacy of the locker room. Until you've won something, you've won nothing. There is no need for an over-the-top, on ice, postgame celebration after a regular season win.

Here is an update on the Pace for the Playoffs following Sunday's results:

7. Victoria on pace for 53.41 pts (10 games remaining)
8. Seattle on pace for 51.93 pts (11 games remaining)
9. Everett on pace for 49.93 pts (10 games remaining)
10. Prince George on pace for 47.21 pts (11 games remaining)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Goosin' the 'Tips

Solid shutout win for the T-birds Saturday night as they blank the Everett Silvertips 3-0 behind Calvin Pickard's 29 save performance. This just may have been the team's best effort of the season considering the stakes.

Brad Deagle returned to the line up after missing a couple of games and was the best player on the ice amid a number of very good performances. Deagle had two assists and it seems at least a dozen blocked shots. I think he really helped set a tone for the game with his play in the defensive zone. He's making a strong case to be back next season as a 20 year old.

Seattle used all three of their rookie defensemen versus the Silvertips and all three played strong games. Shea Theodore was at his most poised and confident in that game. Evan Wardley really stood out with a solid physical game plus an assist. I liked that pairing and it may have been the first time they've been paired in a game this season. Meanwhile, Jared Hauf probably saw the fewest minutes but he came up with a good effort.

Now the question becomes how many times over the last dozen games will the T-birds bring that same type of effort to the ice. Hopefully the answer is 12.

Meanwhile, here's a quick Pace to the Playoffs update:

7. Victoria on pace for 53.41 pts.
8. Seattle on pace for 52.8 pts
9. Everett on pace for 48.39 pts.
10. Prince George on pace for 47.21 pts.

Friday, February 24, 2012

ShoWare Showdown

Heading into Saturday's big home game with rival Everett, the T-birds have fallen back to 8th place in the Western Conference playoff hunt. Actually, considering the T-birds haven't played since Sunday while the three teams they are battling for one of those last two playoff spots each played twice, that's not totally unexpected.

In reality the only real change was Victoria moving two points ahead of Seattle after they defeated Prince George Friday night. But, since Seattle didn't play and the Royals played twice, the 'Birds now have two games in hand on Victoria.

So, here are the updated Pace to the Playoffs standings as of Friday night:

7. Victoria on pace for 51.93 pts (11 games left)
8. Seattle on pace for 51.25 pts (13 games left)
9. Everett on pace for 50.03 pts (13 games left)
10. Prince George on pace for 48 pts (12 game left)

The T-birds will face the Silvertips Saturday without Cason Machacek who has one game left to serve on a two-game suspension, and Tyler Alos who is out with an upper body injury.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Baker's Dozen

It's just coincidence that the T-birds have a baker's dozen (13 donuts) worth of games left after their shutout loss at home Sunday to the Spokane Chiefs.

Let me play the role of Carnac the Magnificent. I put the envelope up against my turban and say, "What is ten feet high and ten feet wide?" No, not the dimensions of a garage door. Rip open the envelope and the answer is...a T-bird attempt of a shot on goal! Is that not the most confounding thing? All game long against the Chiefs, and too often this season, the T-birds shooters put a puck so far off target on a scoring chance it make you wonder what it is exactly they are shooting at?

Notice how Spokane scored their first two goals? They put traffic in front of Seattle goalie Calvin Pickard and redirected shots, changing their direction and getting them into the back of the net. That is something the T-birds need to do more.

So after the weekend the race for the final two playoffs spots in the Western Conference has really tightened up. Only two points separates 7th place from 10th place. The reality is the race is even tighter then that and the four teams are separated by less then one point.

Here are the updated Pace for the Playoff standings going into this week's play:

7. Seattle on pace for 51.25 pts (13 games remaining)
8. Victoria on pace for 51.25 pts (13 games remaining)
9. Everett on pace for 50.89 pts (14 games remaining)
10. Prince George on pace for 50.52 pts (15 games remaining)

Seattle and Victoria are off until next weekend. Both Everett and Prince George have two games on the docket before the T-birds hit the ice again. The Silvertips have a pair of games in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans before they journey to Kent Saturday for that all important match up with Seattle.

Prince George is down in Portland for two games against the Winterhawks Monday and Tuesday before they head back home to face Victoria twice on the weekend.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Updated Pace Race Going into Sunday vs. Spokane

With Saturday night's results the playoff picture at the bottom of the Western Conference gets tighter after Everett and Prince George win and Seattle and Victoria lose.

7. Seattle on pace for 52.137 pts (14 games remaining)
8. Victoria on pace for 51.254 pts (13 games remaining)
9. Everett on pace for 50.896 pts (14 games remaining)
10. Prince George on pace for 50.526 pts (15 games remaining)

The T-birds are the only one of the four teams in action Sunday when they host Spokane so they have a chance to create a little space if they can beat the Chiefs.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Updated Pace Race

Victoria and Prince George were both in action Wednesday night and the results will alter the "Pace for the Playoffs" standings. Prince George picked up two points with their win at home over Red Deer while Victoria was losing at home to Calgary.

So here is the race for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference going into weekend play. The number immediately after each team represents the number of points they will finish the season with at their current pace. The number in parenthesis is the amount of games left on their respective schedules.

7. Seattle 54.00 (16)
8. Victoria 50.52 (15)
9. Everett 50.14 (16)
10. Prince George 49.7 (17)

Prince George's win over Red Deer put them on the heels of both Everett and Victoria. The Cougars win was also important because it was a game they had in hand on both Seattle and Everett. PG still has one game in hand on both those teams as well as two games in hand on the Victoria Royals. The Royals took a blow with their loss to Calgary because they have the fewest games remaining on their schedule.

All four teams are in action Friday as Seattle hosts Tri-City, Everett hosts Portland and Prince George and Victoria face each other on Vancouver Island.

Saturday The Cougars and Royals meet again in Victoria while the T-birds travel to Portland and Everett hosts Vancouver. Seattle is the only one of the four teams in action Sunday as they host the Spokane Chiefs. If the T-birds want to maintain their current pace and their four point cushion, they need to find a way to earn three points this weekend.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Plot Thickens

Last year at this time I started doing a weekly "Pace to the Playoffs". Basically I calculate how many points each team will earn by season's end based on their current point accumulation pace. For instance. Seattle currently has earned 40 points in 55 games. So, you divide 40 by 55 to get the T-birds current "points earned per game" which is .727. When you multiply .727 by 72 (the number of games in the regular season), you get 52.36. So the T-birds are on pace to earn 52.36 points this season. Now, you can't factor in strength of schedule into this rudimentary formula which is why you update it every week. Also we know no team will end up with a fraction of a point but that will all get rounded out in the end, after all games are played.

There are really two playoff spots up for grabs in the Western Conference heading into the final month of play so I'm going to concentrate on the four teams battling for those last two spots. As of today, February 13th, here is the current "Pace to the Playoffs" standings The number in parenthesis is the number of games remaining on that team's schedule:

7. Seattle 52.36 (17)
8. Victoria 51.42 (16)
9. Everett 50.14 (16)
10. Prince George 48.00 (18)

As you can see it is going to be a a tight fight to the finish. Head-to-head games become huge. Seattle has six games left against these teams, four against Everett (3 @home) and two at Prince George.
Everett also has six games against the other three teams, the four versus the T-birds and two home games against Victoria.

Victoria has six games against these the other three teams as well. In addition to the two in Everett, the Royals host Prince George twice and have two games up in P.G.
Prince George, of course, has six games remaining against these teams as well. The four versus Victoria and the two at home against Seattle.

Who has the tougher schedule outside of those games? Well, I'd say Seattle and Everett's remaining schedules are pretty similar. They both play Portland and Tri-City a combined seven times. Both play Kelowna once more. The Silvertips do have one game left against both Kamloops and Vancouver while Seattle has three against Spokane.

The Royals have Spokane and Portland twice at home, three games versus Vancouver (2 @ home) and single games left versus Calgary, Kelowna and at Kamloops.

Prince George's remaining schedule includes hosting Red Deer, traveling to Portland for a pair of games, home for two games each against both Spokane and Medicine Hat, a home and home against Kamloops, two games in at Tri-City and single game in Kelowna.

So, I'd rank remaining strength of schedule as follows (hardest to easiest):

1. Prince George
2. Seattle
3. Everett
4. Victoria

***UPDATE*** after Tuesday night's SO win over Kelowna, the T-birds are now on pace to earn 54 pts this season

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Home is Where the Heat is

It's a shame, a real shame. It's a shame the home crowd Saturday didn't get to see the team I saw on the road for three games last week. That team that played those three road games (granted they went 1-2) was a better, more competitive team then we saw at the ShoWare Center in the 7-2 loss to Portland. Look, part of it is the team the T-birds were playing. Portland probably has the most talented roster in the league. Are they the best team? I don't know, but they are certainly poised to make another deep playoff run.

Another issue is the schedule. I realize it is what it is and that's what you get at this level of hockey but three straight on the road, with a full day's bus travel in between the first two, then a mad dash back from Spokane late Friday night for a Saturday battle with arguably one of the league's best teams is a tough row to hoe.

I believe the Portland game(probably should say "games" since Seattle is 1-7 against the Winterhawks and are being outscored by an average of 5-2) are the exception and not the rule. Hey, there are no brownie points for coming close....unless you get to OT, I guess that is a brownie point. But outside two lopsided losses to that explosive Portland team, the T-birds have been in just about every game the last two months. The outcome of most aren't decided until late. The problem is Seattle is on the wrong end of too many of those close games.

The Thunderbirds are beginning to find some offense now. They scored 11 goals in the past four games and created enough chances to possibly score twice that. The real issue has been and continues to be team defense. The 'Birds have surrendered far too many goals recently; 19 in the last four games and that's even with a shutout thrown in.

Don't just automatically blame the defensemen. Look at what Cason Machacek has done the second half of the season. He's rarely on the ice when the opposition scores. He's doing his job. In the past two games the T-birds surrendered 12 goals and Cason's +/- rating was zero. He's been solid. He's been consistent. The rest of his team though has not. Players aren't putting together the same effort night after night. Too often a player is rock solid Wednesday then falls off the rails Friday.

I am liking what Colin Jacobs has done lately. I think him missing half the season led to some inconsistency in his game but recently he's shown better. Over the last four games he's picked up 4 pts (2g, 2a) with a +/- rating of zero. I still think he needs to get stronger but offseason shoulder surgery set back his offseason training program so this summer he needs to put a big focus on that.

Do I think the T-birds can make the playoffs? Sure I do. They control their own destiny. Like I stated they are playing better lately then they showed Saturday against Portland. It won't be easy. The schedule ahead is still a rocky road. Ten of their remaining 17 games are against Portland, Tri-City and Spokane. Four of those are road games.

First though, the T-birds have to start winning some of the close games. Too many potential points left on the ice in these one goal losses. Secondly, they need to win at home. There are nine home games left and anything less then 6-3 at the ShoWare Center could quash those postseason hopes. Finally, they need to win some of the so called "winnable" games; game versus those teams with similar records that they are battling for a playoff spot. Finally, it has to start right now, as in Tuesday against Kelowna.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

No Game of Horseshoes

What's the adage? Closeness only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades? The T-birrds found that out the hard way this weekend. It's got to be tough to play the top two teams in the league on back to back nights, match them shot for shot, hit for hit and stride for stride and still at the end of the day not earn a single point. That's what the T-birds did though in losses Friday in Kennewick to the U.S. Division leading Tri-City Americans and Saturday at home to the WHL leading Kamloops Blazers. Both games were there for the taking but Seattle just couldn't finish enough chances and in the end its two more heart breaking close losses. That now makes it 9 of the last 11 games essentially decided by one goal and the T-birds record in those games is 2-7.

Not to discredit the solid play of the opposition (Tri and Kamloops are at the top of the league standings for a reason), but in both cases I thought the 'Birds did more beating of themselves then losing to the opponent. That was especially true Saturday night against the Blazers. Too many scoring opportunities left on the door step to die, particularly in the first period, and then one egregious defensive zone turnover that ended up in the back of the T-birds net late in the second period. It also ended up as the game winning goal.

Hard to believe that just a year ago Seattle and Kamloops ended up tied for last place in the Western Conference, both with just 64 points and a .444 winning percentage. A year later the T-birds are still struggling to avoid the conference basement while the Blazers are the top spot in the league. reality is I thought Kamloops would be a better team then they ended up being last season but their defense and goaltending let them down. They always had the offense. Turns out I was just a year off in my prediction.

I bring that up because I think Seattle could be on the same path. I think the team has turned a corner late in this season. In my estimation, their play over the past two games is not an aberration, but rather a sign of things to come. I'm not saying they will do next season what the Blazers have done this year and vault from the bottom to the top of the conference, but I do see the chance to finish strong over the final month plus of this year and springboard that into a good 2012-13.

I'm reminded of something assistant coach Darren Rumble told me the first time I talked to him back in the first week of the season. We were discussing the team he coached for last season in the QMJHL, the now defunct Lewiston MAINEiacs and how they started out very slow under a new coaching regime but came on like gangbusters late and made it all the way to their confence finals. Rumble wasn't making a prediction and certainly wasn't saying the T-birds were going to make it to the conference finals. What he was saying is that they could be playing their best hockey at seasons end. Sometimes, when you make big changes, it just takes longer to get young players completely on board with what you are tying to accomplish with those changes.

One player who is on board is Conner Honey. He had a tremendous weekend and was probably the best T-bird on the ice both games. Twice he just about undressed a couple of Kamloops players with his stick handling. He never quits on the puck at either end of the ice and his energy level is something his teammates should feed off. The line combination of Honey, Branden Troock and Brendan Rouse is setting the pace. I said it earlier but sometimes you don't know what you've got until its gone and this team suffered when Rouse missed a month due to injury. His return to the ice is a big reason the team has found more game-to-game consistency.

Despite the good play this weekend, the Thunderbirds are still in a fight for their playoff lives. Playing well enough....just to lose, is not good enough. They have to start getting points. And they're going to have to do it against quality opponents. Of their remaining 21 games, 15 will be against teams with winning records. They'll also have to beat the teams chasing them from behind. Seattle has four left with Everett and two against Prince George.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Troock Shall Set You Free

Many times over the past decade I've seen a young player come into the Thunderbirds organization and thought to myself, that guy has a chance to be something special. It doesn't always work out that way though. For whatever reason some players never realize their full potential or they plateau at 17.

A few years back when I saw Brandon Troock play his first game for the T-birds I got that sense. It was a New Year's Eve game down in Portland and Troock was still just 15 years old, I thought this kid could be very good in time. Just about every shift he skated that night he camped out in the slot and made it his home. He was strong on the puck. I couldn't wait to see what he could do with a full season in the WHL as a 16 year old.

Well, the story has been told now dozens of times of how a nerve issue in his neck cost him his entire 16 year old season and nearly his hockey career. But Troock didn't give up and the T-birds didn't give up on him, sending him to specialist until a proper diagnosis was made and the right treatment prescribed.

Flash forward to this season. Troock, finally healthy, gets the green light to play in October. A year behind in his development he's inconsistent over the first half of the season and then has to deal with another injury scare in a game up in Kamloops that costs him more ice time. Still, the glimpses of what he can be as a player are there.

Troock wasn't originally scheduled to play in the Top Prospects Game in Kelowna on Tuesday. The missed playing time had him still a bit under the scout's radar. But a little irony changes the situation. Troock, a player who has missed a major portion of the start to his Major Junior career due to injury, is named an injury replacement and added to the roster for Team Orr.

In a script right out of Hollywood, not only does Troock play in the game but he scores the game winning goal in overtime and is named the Team Orr Player of the Game (he also figured in on Team Orr's goal in regulation and just missed a scoring chance back in the first period).

Troock will need to come back to the T-birds and continue to make progress in all areas of his game over the next month and a half but his play in that game Tuesday has probably dramatically improved his draft status for the NHL Entry Draft this June. He was the 90th ranked North American skater in the midseason rankings of draft eligible players. That's probably around 4th or 5th round status. It's very possible now though, that he could move up even into the 2nd round.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

2012 Take Two

I know, I know, it doesn't look good that for the third straight season the month of January has turned into a frozen pumpkin instead of a glistening sleigh ride for the T-birds. But let's be real here. It's not some sort of curse that will magically disappear with the dawning of a new month.

January is just an arbitrary page on the wall calendar. Turning the page to February isn't going to make the issues this team is having right now go away. Only hard work at correcting their problems is going to change the fortunes of this team. Still, five January wins over a 25 month period is not good.

There are some encouraging signs though. Of their last nine games, seven have been essentially one goal affairs (a couple games were two-goal losses because of last second empty netters). Only two, a 4-0 loss in Kennewick and the 8-3 loss this past weekend at home to Portland, weren't games within the T-birds grasp in the final minutes. Unfortunately, of those seven one-goal type games, the Thunderbirds only won two (3-2 @ Spokane and 2-1 @ Kelowna in a SO). More disappointing is the 0-6 home record in January. Outside that Portland loss on Teddy Bear Toss Night, Seattle was in position to win each of those home games. Right now they are doing just enough to lose those tight games as opposed to doing enough to win.

Effort is not an issue. The team isn't quitting when they fall behind. In fact often they've fought back and just ran out of time in the third period to compete a comeback, or in the case of the Spokane game Tuesday, they kept fighting back, then shooting themselves in the foot.

More encouraging to me is that we shouldn't have to wait until next season for some of the younger players to have an impact on a season. Guys like Conner Honey, Brendan Troock, Justin Hickman, Colin Jacobs and Seth Swenson can be key players over the final month and a half of the regular season. There is enough talent in that group, along with some of the older players to get this team into the postseason.

Honey has now scored in two of his last three games. Swenson (4g, 3a, 7 pts in 11 games) continues to provide offense since his acquisition from Portland at the trade deadline. The more I think about that trade, the more I like it...and I liked it a lot when it was made. I doubt Marcel Noebels, who went to Portland in the deal, would have better numbers over the past 11 games had he stayed with the T-birds and Seattle gets an extra year, maybe two, out of Swenson.

Troock meanwhile, seems to be getting to that level we thought he could attain when drafted in the first round a couple of years ago. I said to a colleague before the game the other night that if Troock can consistently get free in the slot he's back on his game. Sure enough he scored a beautiful goal that night from that area. He still needs to stop trying to do too much on his own but he's learning!

Kudos to four individuals, three player and one surgeon. It's not often at this level when three 18 year old players who have been in the lineup every night all of a sudden find themselves healthy scratches for multiple games. It's enough to make a player potentially re-evaluate their career or desire to stay with it. But Conner Sanvido, Mitch Elliot and Jacob Doty were consummate professionals. Inwardly they were probably not happy but outwardly they kept themselves ready to get back in the lineup when called.

Elliot not only was a healthy scratch but also was moved from forward to defense. He made his WHL regular season debut as a defenseman Tuesday against Spokane. He didn't have a heavy load as far as his ice time and while he wasn't a plus player, neither was he a minus player. Elliot actually says he came to camp with the T-birds as a defenseman when he was 15 years old, so the position is not completely new to him. With non 18 yr old d-men currently on the roster this move could help extend Elliot's T-bird career.

The other kudos goes to the surgeon who repaired Tyler Alos' lip. You may recall Alos took a puck to the mouth in practice a few weeks ago. It ripped a good portion of his upper lip almost completely off his face; it was literally dangling by a thread. Believe it or not it was a hand surgeon who sewed the lip back on and it is remarkable how good of a job he did. You have to look real close to even see the hint of a scar where the stitches were. Just in time for Valentine's Day!