Not since the spring of 2008, when Seattle won the first game of a second round playoff series behind players like Thomas Hickey and Gregg Scott, had the T-birds beaten the Tri-City Americans at the Toyota Center. That streak of road misfortune ended Friday night when the T-birds roared back from a three goal deficit to win a shootout, 4-3, at the Red Lion Hotels Preseason Tournament. That's a string of futility that reached back nearly four and a half years and 20-plus games.
Only time will tell if the T-birds have gotten the Toyota Center monkey off their backs. After all, it was a preseason game. Seattle has won at least one preseason game in that building in the past couple of years, it just wasn't at the expense of the Americans.
The way in which they came back to win the game though, could end up being a seminal moment as this team moves forward. After a first period in which they fell behind 3-0, were outshot 11-3 and didn't play particularly well, the T-birds were dominant over the last 45 minutes. They outshot the Ams 33-7 from the start of period two until the end of overtime. Seattle was relentless on the forecheck, strong along the boards, won most puck battles, played with speed and had very active sticks in the defensive zone. They went from lackluster to lusterous.
The question everyone is probably asking is, what was said in the locker room during the first intermission that lit a fire under the team? We may never know. The old saying "What happens in Vegss, stays in Vegas" applies to the locker room as well. After the game defenseman Jesse Forsrberg did give us a clue as to the tone of that between-periods conversation. In a postgame interview he told me the gist of the message was, "The losing stops now".
Who delivered the message? My guess is it was head coach Steve Konowalchuk. After watching him with this team last season, I think Konowalchuk is someone who can get his message across succinctly. But no matter who gave the intermission "chat" and what exactly was said, the key is that each and everyone of those players got the message and took it out onto the ice and elevated their play for the rest of the game. The next step is to take that effort with them out onto the ice for every game, every period...every shift. If the T-birds fortunes turn for the better this season, they may look back at a locker room chat, in the middle of a preseason game in Kennewick, as the defining moment.
Defenseman Jared Hauf continues to impress. He had a solid training camp, was good in his only game at the Everett preseason tournament and had two well earned assists Friday in the win over Tri-City. He looks so much more confident carrying the puck up ice and he uses his size and reach well inside the defensive zone.
Branden Troock may have spent his Friday night slumber tossing and turning wth visions of Ams goalie Brenden Fiebelkorn in his sleep. By my unofficial count Fiebelkorn robbed Troock of at least four possible goals. In fact, if not for Fiebelkorn, the T-birds could have easily won this game in regulation as he made some specatular saves on a few other Thunderbirds as well. Troock's luck got no better in the shootout when he beat Fiebelkorn only to clang his shot off the post. The way Troock played though, there are going to be better results ahead for the big power forward from Edmonton. His speed and size are going to be hard for some to handle.
17 year old goalie Justin Myles didn't face a lot of rubber once he entered the game midway through the second period, but he made a critical save late in the third period to preserve the 3-3 tie, then came up with a big save on Marcus Messier in the shootout. Myles is battling 18 year old Daniel Cotton and 16 year old Danny Mummaugh for the #2 job.
Alex Delnov's T-birds debut included a goal, a few more chances created and some tremendous penalty killing. Hopefully that was just a typical day at the office for the Russian winger and Florida Panther draft pick. There is a lot to like about both of Seattle's imports as both Delnov and Latvian Roberts Lipsbergs play with tremendous energy.
Speaking of non-stop motors, Luke Lockhart looked like the vintage Lockhart who is capable of setting the tone for the way this team needs to play. The problem is Brendan Rouse was pretty darn good Friday as well. Coach Konowalchuk had the two 20 year old forwards playing on the same line Friday night with young Daniel Wray. 20 year old goalie Brandon Glover was the starting goalie while 20 year old defenseman Brad Deagle got the night off. Tough decision coming on the overage front. Who's the odd man out?