Sunday, October 28, 2012

Winning Weekend

It may have ended on a slight down note, with the overtime loss to Kamloops, but that was a great weekend of hockey by the Thunderbirds. Earning 5 of 6 points is nothing to sneeze at, unless you're allergic to winning. More importantly the T-birds are making their home ice at the ShoWare Center a tough place for opposing teams. After dropping their home opener to Portland back in September Seattle has now gone 3-0-1-0 at the Sho, earning 7 of 8 points in the process. With a schedule that has more home games on the back half, that's good news.

Through their first 13 games the T-birds have played opponents who have a combined record twenty games over .500 at 59-39-3-3. To be above the break even mark themselves facing that opposition is another positive. Seattle has already played five games against the two teams with the best winning percentages in the WHL, Kamloops and Portland, and earned three points in the process.

You can quibble about getting a two goal lead on the Blazers Sunday only to give it right back, but Kamloops came into the game averaging five goals a game. They had the top three scorers in the league and the #1 power play. They can score goals in bunches. The 'Birds played them even for 60 minutes. I'm not going to look into nooks and crannies to find fault with their effort. They played a solid hockey game against the league's top team at the end of a busy weekend and deserved the point they earned. Quite honestly, except for about a 5-7 minute span the first time the two teams met back in early October, the T-birds have played the Blazers even up.

Shea Theodore's unassisted goal in the second period was more then an end to end rush. He picked up the puck just inside his own blue line, skated behind and around his own goal and then all the way down the left wing before scoring. He must have covered 260-plus feet on the goal.
Brandon Glover, with 16 third period saves, was a big reason why Seattle gets that point. He also survived an early barrage at the start of the game when the Blazers had eight shots about four minutes in. Just doesn't feel right putting a loss on his record after a performance like that.

Seattle now heads out on the road for seven games beginning Tuesday in Spokane. The T-birds aren't back home until November 16th when they host Jacob Doty and the Medicine Hat Tigers.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Given an Inch They Take a Myles

Congratulations to Justin Myles on earning his first WHL win. And I do mean earn it as he turned aside 27 Silvertips shots, including many quality chances in the waning seconds of the game as he preserved the T-birds 3-2 road win before a packed house at Comcast Arena in Everett.

Myles could just as easily be 3-0 as 1-2 (his current record). he played well in his previous two starts only to lose by a goal, 4-3, in Prince George and then 2-1 in Spokane. All three of his starts have been on the road before a hostile environment and that's a tough task for a seasoned WHL goalie let alone a rookie. Myles even alluded to the fact, in a postgame inteview, that nerves may have gotten the best of him early in Everett as he gave up an early goal before settling down.

I'm guessing he's never played before a crowd of that size before last night. His early numbers though show he can handle whatever the WHL throws his way. As I said, he's had three starts but also played in parts of two other games. His stat line reads: 5G, 1W 2L 2.74 GAA and a .907 SV %. Last year's backup, Daniel Cotton got only 8 starts all season. I think it is safe to say Myles should at the least double that, playing behind the 20 year old, Brandon Glover.

Right winger Conner Honey was rightfully dumbfounded when he received one of the three stars in Friday night's home win over Tri-City. He played well against the Americans but had no points and his +/- was zero.

Just call it a clerical error! There was no shock when he was awarded the first star Saturday up in Everett as the Edmonton native scored twice, including the game winner agains the 'Tips. He came dangerously close to attaining a hat trick. His two goals were both things of beauty, of the proverbial highlight reel variety. He now has nine points (5g,4a) and is on pace for 54 pts.

A lot has been made of the tall Seattle defensive corps, which averages 6'3". But it was the two shortest players on the roster who made a big difference in last night's win. Center Conner Sanvido, listed at 5'10", made a nifty chip pass off the boards to set up Seattle's second period shorthanded goal from Alexander Delnov. Meanwhile 5'11" right winger Riley Sheen may have been the hardest working T-bird all night and by jumping up in the third he helped keep 'Tips goalie Austin Lotz honest, opening up just enough space for Honey to score the game winner.

Speaking of size, the T-birds get a tall task tonight at home as they face the red-hot Kamloops Blazers. The Blazers have yet to lose in regulation, sporting a 14-0-0-1 record and boasting the top three scorers in the league. They score in bunches. Seattle can attest to that having lost to the Blazer, 7-2, up in Kamloops back on October 5th. They average just under five goals a game (4.93). But they are pretty stingy too, giving up just 2.2 goals against per game.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Busy Stretch Starts with a Bang

Seattle gets a busy two week stretch of hockey off on the right foot with a 3-1 home win over the Tri-City Americans last night at the ShoWare Center. This was a blue print of how this team must play to win. They used an aggressive forecheck, were active with their sticks in the passing lanes, won a good number of battles along the boards and had a decided edge in the neutral zone, using their speed and crisp passing to move up ice or disrupt the Americans.

Maybe being down in the southwest corner of the arena, I don't have the best vantage point, but I just didn't see 45 shots on goal by the Ams. I did see 8 or 9 times when T-birds goalie Brandon Glover would play a puck that was wide of the net, but I didn't see them as shots on goal.
Or maybe it's just the calm way in which Glover makes his saves. His approach makes a lot of shots seem, well, not so dangerous. In nine games I don't recall him flopping, twisting or diving to make a stop. He always seems to be in the right position. And last night he did a heck of a job disrupting the Tri-City power play by getting to rimmed shots or dump ins, behind the Seattle goal. That was just as important as the saves he was credited with.

You got the feeling that this would be a low scoring game. Tri-City has a solid defense and top goalie and have been very stingy in the goals against department, allowing on average just 2.4 goals against per game. If Seattle was going to win they were going to have to make the most of scoring opportunities. One way to do that is by going hard to the net and scoring those greasy goals and that's exactly how the T-birds scored their first two of the night.

Brendan Rouse and Seth Swenson both did a very good job last night of taking the puck to the net. Both were rewarded with a big assist on the winning goal. Swenson seems on the verge of breaking out offensively. Look, he ain't doin' too shabby right now at 3g,4a and +1 but there have been a number of times in the early going this season where he beats the defense only to see the puck roll off or elude his stick on the way to the goal. He seems to have a deceptive burst that gets him around defenders so now it is just a matter of finishing those chances.

Jared Hauf had one of his best games as a T-bird last night. I hope fans don't just remember the late game gaffe that put the Americans in prime position to tie the game. It was an unfortunate bounce as Hauf looked to pass behind the Seattle goal to Shea Theodore only to see the puck deflect off the glass right out in front of the T-birds goal. Fortunately Glover came up with the save of the night.
Other than that Hauf was a primary reason why Seattle killed off all four Tri power plays. I counted at least 5 times when it was Hauf winning a puck battle and clearing the defensive zone when the 'Birds were shorthanded. I like the way he used his long frame to get down to close off passing lanes, keeping the Ams from getting the puck into that prime scoring area in front of the Seattle goal. He just seemed to play at a level of confidence I hadn't seen from him previously. While he didn't end up on the scoresheet with a goal or an assist, he was +2 for the night. Unfortunately on my Three Stars ballot, I scribbled so fast that apparently it looked like "Honey" instead of "Hauf" because Hauf was my third star. I'll start working on my penmanship.

Anyone else notice how smart of a player Kevin Wolf seems to be for just a 16 year old? He seems to always make the simple play and the right play without hesitation. That's a very coachable d-man. He did miss on the one clearing shot that kept the puck hemmed in the Seattle zone late in the first period, but it was the right play; just not executed. With his tall, thin frame and mop of blond hair, he's built like a Q-Tip but once he gets to some serious offseason training and adds muscle, he'll be a solid blue liner on a group of d-men who are going to be together for 2-3 years.

You know what's great about the WHL? You get to watch a goalie like Carey Price and you think you'll never see another one like that. Then you get to watch every minute of Calvin Pickard's career and you are wowed by his talents and think, "one of the best", then no sooner is he gone from the league you get to watch Eric Comrie. There is always great talent in the WHL pipeline.

Three straight wins at home, all against divisional opponents, is a good sign. Time now to get back to winning on the road tonight in Everett.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lost Weekend

Seattle left for a two game road trip last Thursday having just scored 15 goals during a three game winning streak. They then lost both games on the road and mustered just two goals total against Spokane and Portland and generated few scoring chances in either game.

Both games were frustrating. The game in Spokane was very winnable. Seattle led much of the way, 1-0, and even after the Chiefs tied the game, and again after they took the lead, there was ample opportunity for Seattle to respond.

There just wasn't much response. Instead they wasted a solid effort in goal by Justin Myles who came up with 34 saves to give his team a chance. Myles has had two starts and played well in both but has nothing to show for it other than an 0-2 record.

Head coach Steve Konowalchuk called his players "stubborn" after the game. The T-birds had beaten Spokane with a six goal effort at home on Tuesday. Maybe they thought it was going to be a similar game Friday in Spokane. But the Chiefs adjusted and tightened up defensively. Seattle didn't adjust and kept trying to do the same things that worked Tuesday. When you have success, teams will study the game video and look to take away your strengths. The T-birds have to learn to adapt.

Saturday in Portland the Thunderbirds started the game with the best first shift I've seen from them this season. It was a relentless fore check that kept the Winterhawks pinned in their defensive zone and led to a number of Portland turnovers that eventually led to an early Luke Lockhart goal and a Seattle lead. It should have established the formula for how Seattle had to play the rest of the game.

Instead, Portland adjusted and I never saw that same effort from Seattle again. In fact, for much of the rest of the game, Portland turned the tables on Seattle. Then it appeared there were too many T-bird players who, after Portland scored to take the lead, gave less than a full effort.

The Thunderbirds are still a work in progress. After three years of losing, non-playoff hockey, they are still learning what it takes to be a winner. A three game winning streak will get the attention of other teams. As a result, when you have some success, you have to work harder to keep the success going. You adapt and adjust. I saw both Portland and Spokane do just that this weekend and both teams earned their wins as a result. Time for the T-birds to do the same.

Lockhart probably had as frustrating a season as you can have last year. You want to improve your numbers each season in the WHL, but instead he went from 48 pts (21g,27a) as an 18 year old two years ago to 37 pts (16g, 21a and -37)last season at age 19. Things are looking better in his final season in the league.

So far this season he's already leading the team in goals (6) and is on pace for 57 pts. I think that pace will improve though. After a slow start he has now scored in 4 of the last 5 games. He's probably logging the most minutes of any player on the team as he is a key component of the T-birds power play and penalty kill units.

One player who did standout for Seattle in this lost weekend was Roberts Lipsbergs. The 18 year old Latvian usually gives it his all on every shift and is a pesky fore checker. He has four assists but he's still waiting for that first WHL goal. He almost had it in the third period down in Portland but was robbed on the doorstep by Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth.

This weekend begins a busy stretch on the schedule for Seattle with three games in three nights, beginning Friday at home versus Tri-City. It's the start of a two week period in which the 'Birds play 10 games in 16 days. 8 of those ten on the road including a seven game road trip.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Goal Darn it!

One of the reasons, and there were many, the T-Birds missed the playoffs each of the past three seasons was a lack of offensive production. Over the past three seasons Seattle averaged just 2.5 goals per game. You can't win many games, and Seattle didn't, averaging just 2.5 goals per game, especially when you give up an average of 3.75 goals against per game as Seattle did the last three years. I've said coming into this season if the T-Birds are to be a playoff team, they have to get the offensive numbers up. I estimate that just to be a .500 team they need to average at least 3 goals per game.

Well, it's early but through eight games Seattle is averaging just under four goals a game at 3.85. They are still giving up 3.75 goals per game, like they did each of the last three seasons, but they are winning because they are scoring. Over their last three games, all wins, Seattle has tallied 17 times or 5.66 goals a game. In their five wins so far this season they are scoring an average of 4.8 goals per victory. It will be hard to keep up that kind of pace but I think we can anticipate the offense being consistently better then it was between September 2009 and March 2012.

They still have their lapses defensively. There still are those 4 or 5 minute stretches in a game where they lose their pace and the opposition scores 2 or 3 quick goals. That has to improve but for now at least, the offensive production is bailing them out and who thought we'd be saying that.

Different night, a different set of heroes. Versus Everett it was Honey and Theodore, up in Vancouver Holub and Rouse and last night versus Spokane it was Sanvido and Delnov. But there has been one common denominator running throughout each game and that is Luke Lockhart. I'd like to see a better plus/minus from the captain (he's currently at -5) but I still think he's been the most consistent forward, game-to-game, in the early season. I think it's the amount of minutes he plays and all he's asked to do that sways that plus/minus to the negative side.

If that's what Branden Troock can do with a little rust on, after missing a few games due to illness, I can't wait to see him get going when he's 100 percent. He was strong on the puck all night. His patience and smart play along the wall as his team was changing, created the T-Birds third goal and his assist on Sanvido's second goal was breathtaking. He finished the night with just one assist but he contributed much more and was a solid +2. I think we've all been waiting for him to breakout (we've seen glimpses) and last night's performance may have just been the game he needed to get going.

A season ago Connor Sanvido tallied 17 pts (8g, 9a). A good chunk of that came late in the season after he had been sent home for a week by head coach Steve Konowalchuk for disciplinary reasons. Maybe that was a wakeup call, because since coming back from the coach's doghouse Sanvido has been a different player.

He's more focused. He came into camp this year in great physical condition. He's always had good hands and the potential to be an offensive threat but now we're seeing that actually come to fruition as the former #1 draft pick has 6 pts (2g, 4a) and is +2 through eight games. He's on pace for 54 pts which would more than triple his output from a year ago.

I felt a little bad for Justin Hickman last night. One of the reasons Seattle's power play is off to such a good start is that Hickman parks himself in front of the net where he takes a lot of punishment as he occupies the goalie and defensemen. He was nearly rewarded for that hard work when a loose puck came free in front of a wide open net. Unfortunately he fanned on the shot so his second goal of the season will have to wait. While he didn't show up on the score sheet last night, I'm sure in the locker-room, the coaches and his teammates appreciate the work he is doing.

The Thunderbirds 2-for-Tuesday promotion is in its third season. It's been a pretty good way of drawing in crowds for a mid-week contest and Seattle has had some well attended Tuesday night home games as a result. Last night's crowd may have been the best. The attendance was announced as 4,145. There may have been a few slightly larger Tuesday crowds over the past couple of years but I don't remember any being as involved in the game as they were last night. The game had something to do with that. It was entertaining as the T-Birds and Chiefs traded goals and leads, especially in that second period. The crowd seemed to recognize that they were witnessing a pretty good battle, but maybe they also recognized the significance of the game for the Thunderbirds. Since the ShoWare Center opened back in January of '09, it seems no team more than Spokane has made a habit of beating the T-Birds on their own ice.

Fourteen Spokane wins in 18 games at the Sho' over that span. It's part of the culture of losing that the Thunderbirds are trying to change. The players are aware of it and I think the crowd was too and they were ready to help affect that change. So now, coupled with a home win over the Chiefs late last season plus a win in Spokane late last March, the T-Birds are riding a 3-game winning streak over their division rivals. They'll try to make it four in a row Friday night when they face the Chiefs at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

I understand Mitch Elliot has been cleared medically to resume skating. That means he's ready to get back in the lineup after missing the last two games. So, who sits? Everyone who is playing is contributing. What a problem to have if you are Konowalchuk, the Pete Carroll of the Seattle hockey scene, who has created an "always compete" atmosphere for the T-birds.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

They Might be Giants

After all the scoring corrections are completed from Friday night's 6-4 win over the Giants in Vancouver, the scoresheet should show that at least five, and probably six T-birds players had two points each on the night. This comes one game after five players had two or more points in the 5-2 win at home last Saturday over Everett. Balanced scoring equals depth and that's what Seattle has shown the past two games; depth.

And like the Everett game, the T-birds accomplished this with a couple of seasoned veterans, in this case Branden Troock and Mitch Elliot, out of the lineup. It's one thing to just fill a vacated spot in the lineup when another player is out injured, it is quite another to step in and take ownership of that ice time.

Specifically that describes Michal Holub, who earned his first two career WHL points with a goal and an assist. It also speaks in general terms of a 3rd or 4th line player moving up and excelling on the first or second line. It's a Jared Hauf standing up for his team captain when Luke Lockhart is on the receiving end of a bad hit along the boards or a Roberts Lipsbergs getting under the skin of Giants defensemen David Musil and Wes Vannieuwenhuizen even though he gives up four or five inches in size to either player.

It was the perfect road game but not a perfect performance. Perfect in that Seattle built a three goal lead after the first period, took the crowd out of it and forced the Giants to play catch up. Imperfect in that Seattle was a little soft at times after building that lead, allowing Vancouver to hang around and make a game of it.
Seattle is a team that didn't win many games the last three seasons so they are still learning how to win the right way.

We should give the Giants credit though for battling. There are some quality players on the Giants roster who can get them back on track. Cain Franson is a tough guy to play against as evidenced by his two goals and multiple scoring chances. Marek Tvorden is going to start scoring, but they do need to solve their goaltending situation which has been a big problem area for them to start this season. For all the offense in the game (a combined ten goals) there were some quality saves by the goalies. But the only goalie to make a game changing save last night was Seattle's Brandon Glover, who stoned Franson on a break away in the midst of the Giants comeback attempt.

If the Giants continue to falter, they have some significant chips and could be major players at the trade deadline. It's way too early to speculate but players like Tvorden and David Musil will be very intriguing. Franson could actually be the best value but I'm not sure they'd want to trade him and I'm guessing both Jackson Houck and Bret Kulak are off limits.

It's nice to wake up on a Saturday morning, early season or not, and see the Thunderbirds power play tops in the league. It's more impressive when you consider how few power play chances they've had through seven games. So they are making the most of the few opportunities they are getting. No team has had fewer power play opportinities then the T-birds 28, and half of those have come in the past two games. Compare that to Edmonton which ranks third on the PP and has 38 PP chances. Prince Albert has had nearly double the PP chances as Seattle yet has just one more PP goal.

Seattle still needs to tighten up the penalty killing though. After a great start in that department to begin the season, The T-birds have allowed their opponents to go 5-for-7 on the PP in the last three games. The only positive to that is Seattle has been fairly disciplined over that span, taking few penalties.

Good to see Brendan Rouse get going on the scoresheet last night. Rouse had just one point, an assist, through the first six games but came through with a three point effort against the Giants (2g,1a). His assist on Luke Lockhart's power play goal in the second period was a thing of beauty,
just slightly more impressive then the power-play goal he himself scored four minutes earlier. As a 20-year-old Rouse provides a steady presence on the ice but the team needs him to kick in some offense as well. Against Vancouver the T-birds two 20-year-old forwards (Rouse and Lockhart) were 3g 2a 5pts +1. That needs to be the rule and not the exception.

The line of Holub, Riley Sheen and Tyler Alos had a hot and cold night. They combined for 2g, 3a +1 but also had a few shifts where they struggled to get the puck up ice. I think part of that is, that line combination hadn't played together yet this season so their chemistry was up and down. But two shifts from that line probaby were the difference in the game. They notched the late goal at 19:58 of the first period that stretched the Seattle lead to three, then forced the turnover that led to the early second period goal that pushed that lead to four goals. With that late first period goal, Alos gets his second of the young season and he is just one goal away from tying his entire goal output from a season ago.

Through seven games, Sheen leads the team in scoring with 8 pts (2g,6a), just over a point a game. If you are wondering, Jacob Doty, the player Seattle traded to Medicine Hat to obtain Sheen, is pointless and a -4 through nine games with the Tigers. This isn't meant as a slight on Doty. Rather it all comes back to finding the right players to fit into coach Konowalchuk's system. Sheen's style is a fit, Doty's wasn't.

The Thunderbirs look to stretch the winning streak to three games when they host Spokane Tuesday night. It's early in the year but there is a lot of importance to this game. One, Seattle has struggled against Spokane, especially on home ice the last three seasons. Two, no matter the opponent the T-birds need to start winning more consistently at the ShoWare Center. The win over Everett last weekend was a step in that direction but they need to be kings of their own castle every night.

Finally, for the first time since I've been doing the T-birds broadcasts (12 years now!) I had a player approach me about coming on the air and partnering on the broadcast. Mitch Elliot knew before we boarded the bus yesterday afternoon that he would not be in the lineup last night because of a health issue. This was all Mitch's idea. He came to me with the request. He had never done anything like this before but he wanted to take the opportunity, while he had it, to honor the late Bruce McDonald by sitting in and doing what Bruce had done the past 15 seasons. This wasn't surprising since Mitch drove 12 hours non-stop from Prince George in late June to be at Bruce's memorial service.

Mitch wasn't trying to fill Bruce's shoes, he was just paying tribute to Bruce in a special way. Mitch did a terrific job and provided unique and excellent insight to the on ice action. He did himself proud and Bruce would have been proud of him. In fact, Bruce would be honored that Mitch chose to do this and then Bruce would have said something about what a tremendous job Mitch's parents did in raising their son the right way. Well done Mitch.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Homing in on a Win

Seattle evens up its home ice record at 1-1 last night with the 5-2 victory over Everett. Even at that, it wasn't easy. I wonder if their struggles at home over the past three seasons (26 games below .500) had as much to do with their scoreless first period as Everett goalie Austin Lotz and the 'Tips penalty killers did. It just seemed to me the guys were a bit tight despite getting four power plays, 1:27 of a 5-on-3 and a penalty shot. Maybe it was bus legs. Afterall, the 'Birds traveled through the night from Kamloops while Everett was home snug in their beds, having last played on Wednesday. That's life in the WHL.

Good to see that there was no point in the game where the T-birds fell off the wagon for a stretch of time. That has been an achille's heel for them in every previous game this season, win or lose. This was the most complete sixty minutes of hockey they've played. In a game that was tied going into the third period, one misstep in the first or second period, and the result could have been different

When was the last time the T-birds has so many different players with multiple point nights? Five players with two or more points, led by Shea Theodore (2g 1a). Frankly I thought Riley Sheen deserved a third assist on Seattle's last goal. Maybe that gets reviewed. Even without that assist Sheen is averaging a point a game through six games with Seattle.

If you are keeping score at home, so far that trade is one-sided as former Thunderbird Jake Doty is pointless in seven games with Medicine Hat. I'm sure the Tigers weren't counting on Doty for his offense but early on his PIMs in the Hat are fairly low too.

If he had stayed with Seattle going into camp this year, there would have been no role for Doty this season with the Thunderbirds. Even he recognized that and was looking for a change of scenery. That the T-birds were able to flip him in a trade for someone with the offensive upside of Sheen is a credit to the T-birds scouting staff.

I can't remember a time over the past decade when an Everett team was as undisciplined as they were last night and it was mostly their older players getting whistled. Those were eight legitimate power plays Seattle had. Sour note? Seattle has surrendered four power play goals the last six times they've been shorthanded. Gotta tighten up the PK, although killing off the Everett PP at the start of the third period was huge.

I'm not sure how much longer Ryan Murray will be with Everett but it's a joy to watch a player who does everthing on the ice so well that it looks effortless. It's an easy comparison to make, but he reminds me of Thomas Hickey. Like Hickey did in his time in Seattle, Murray logs a lot of minutes on the back end for the Silvertips but there is no drop off in his play from the first shift to the last.

Raise your hand if you loved seeing 16 year old Michal Holub flying all over the ice last night, shooting the puck at will and hitting anything in a Silvertips jersey, moving or not. That means you, over there in the corner, raise your hand! If I was an older T-birds 3rd or 4th line winger, I'd be a bit nervous about now. Holub is looking for ice time and he's showing the coaches he deserves it.

What I like about Holub's game is that he creates offensive opportunity. I watched him through training camp and the preseason but didn't realize how quick he is on his skates until the last three games.

The word I hear is that Brandon Troock should be back in the lineup soon, maybe by the home game against Spokane on the 16th. What I liked about the last two games, without one of their best scoring threats in the lineup, is that the T-birds were competitive and had a chance to legitimately win both games and they went 1-1. The coaches and scouts have done a very good job of raising the compete level on this team. Drafting players like Holub and trading for a player like Sheen has made Seattle a better team because of better depth. Troock goes down and Conner Honey steps up while Holub nicely fills in Honey's spot on the 3rd line and the team doesn't miss a beat. In the past an injury or illness led to consternation, now it leads to opportunity.

Seattle looks to get back over .500 when they travel north Friday to face the Vancouver Giants. For the second time in a week they'll also play in the spotlight of Canadian TV. Friday's game from the Pacific Coliseum is going to be broadcast on Rogers Sportsnet, a Canadian sports cable channel.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Hiccups Can Hurt

What the Thunderbirds are finding out here in the early going of the season is you can't let your gaurd down for not even a moment, you can't take a shift off and you can't rest on what you just have to build on it.

Last night in Kamloops the T-birds had an okay effort in the first period. A bad penalty led to a Blazer power play goal, a bad turnover led to a controversial video reviewed goal but down only two they put themselves in striking distance. By the way, I think the WHL needs to scrap video review. I've seen too many instances where the decision of the video review judge has me and others scatching our heads.

Seattle was a little slow out of the gate to start the second but then they started controlling the play, putting the Blazers back on their heels a bit. Unfortunately they didn't take full advantage. They scored one power play goal but could not convert on a penalty shot and missed on a few other scoring chances.

But they were back in the game and when they scored early in the third to tie it at 2-2, you had to think momentum was now on their side. But once again they stopped doing what they had done well in the second period. Chief among that was keeping the slot, right out in front of their goal, clean. They had used their sticks and their positioning to break up Kamloops passes. But for ten minutes in the third period they stopped doing that and it cost them big time as they Blazers exploded for five goals to pull away.

Don't put the onus of this loss on the young defensemen. This comes back to the forwards back checking. Don't turn the puck over in the neutral zone or the offensive zone and you won't be scrambling to get back on the back check. Seattle has shown they can skate with any opponent in the league, now they have to show they can beat them by eliminating the self inflicted errors.

Too bad it came in a loss but I think that was Conner Honey's best game since joining the T-birds midway through the 2011-12 season.

He showed a new gear while skating and was more tenacious then in the past. I thought he and Alexander Delnov played well together.

16 year old defenseman Kevin Wolf made his WHL debut last night. I thought he acquitted himself fairly well. He showed a willingness to shoot the puck and his defensive zone coverage was decent. He did take a hooking penalty that led to a late Kamloops power play goal. Not to look too far into the future but the more I see them play the more impressed I am by this group of young 16 and 17 year d-men.

Another youngster who is earning ice time is 16 year old right winger Michal Holub. The 2011 third round bantam pick out of Mission, B.C. is a smooth skater, handles the puck well and already has enough size to play a physical game.

Tonight the T-birds look for their first win on home ice this season. It is just the second game at the ShoWare Center since the games started counting but Seattle has to own their own ice. Over the past three seasons the T-birds are 27 games under .500 at home. That needs to change.