Saturday, September 15, 2012

Are We There Yet?

In less then one week, the T-birds will open up the regular season for the 2012-13 WHL season. Before they get to that point they need to finish off the six-game preseason schedule. Game six is tonight, Saturday, up in Everett versus the Silvertips.

Because of a previous commitment, I won't be able to attend the last preseason game. I did though, attend Friday night's home preseason game against the 'Tips, a 3-0 Seattle win behind a 27-save effort from goalie Brandon Glover.

Glover was rarely, if ever, seriously tested in this game. Still, I liked his demeanor in the crease. He was very much what you want in a 20-year old netminder; very calm, composed, never rattled and always in position. More importantly he was very communicative with his defensemen. This is going to be important since the T-birds have a number of young first and second year d-men on the roster this season who will play significant minutes.

Seattle came out wih a very dominating first period, scoring three times and, until a late power play, stifled the Everett attack. Three of the Silvertips four shots in the first period came in the last two minutes with that man advantage.

For me, the tone setter in that period was third year player Justin Hickman. Hickman was strong in all three zones. I've seen that strong play from him in each preseason game he's skated in and that bodes well for the Kelowna, B.C. native and the Thunderbirds. A stong season from Hickman will help the T-birds realize their goal of a postseason spot next spring.

20 year old defenseman Brad Deagle sat out last night's game. That meant Seattle went with a young crew of defenseman. Among the blueliners in blue last night only 19 year old Jesse Forsberg had more then one year of WHL service. The young d-men responded well. Taylor Green opened up the scoring with a nice shot from the point. And last night was the best I've seen so far in this preseason from 16-year old Kevin Wolf.

Mostly I was impressed with how two 17 year old defensemen played, and played together. I think we all expect a big season from 2nd year player Shea Theodore but I thought rookie Jerret Smith delivered some solid passes all night long. Smith has shown throughout the preseason that he can be an offensive minded defensemen but last night he showed some physical play inside the T-birds blueline.

The game denigrated a bit in the second period and became chippy with too many penalties and that took Seattle away from what they were doing so well in the first period; good puck posession, crisp passing and moving up ice quickly. One thing Seattle has to learn this season is to not let the opponent take away their momentum.

The third period was a little better and if not for a few posts, the 'Birds may have tacked on a few more goals. Another potential issue? When you have a comfortable lead and it seems the game is well in hand, don't go off game plan looking for individual glory. I thought the players did a very good job of staying focused and not going away from what the coaches want from them for sixty minutes.

Just a couple of other players who had good nights. Seth Swenson, if not for a crossbar in the third period, it would have been a three point night for the Parker, Colorado native. He is poised for a big season. If the stars align, he could have 35-40 goals in his stick.

Alexander Delnov, didn't score last night but it wasn't for a lack of trying. I believe he too hit the post or crossbar in that third period. Delnov is a very crafty player and a quick skater who it appears can create scoring chances for himself. But last night he made a couple of gorgeous passes that led to quality scoring chances for his teammates. The Russian missed most of training camp with visa isssues so he is still getting used to his teammates. When he does, he'll be fun to watch.

What's the old saying, speed kills? Riley Sheen isn't the biggest player on the ice. Most nights he might be the smallest. But he uses what he's got and what he's got is great speed and that speed caused Everett some problems last night on the forecheck. It will be interesting to see if he can do that consistently and against bigger and more experienced WHL defensemen.

20 year old Luke Lockhart was on the doorstep for a couple of scoring chances. Regular season, those are chances he'll have to finish and he's very capable. Last night though, on the rare ocassion when Seattle ran into some trouble it seemed Lockhart or Forsberg were there to bail them out. That's what you want from your veteran leaders.

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