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!