Sunday, November 25, 2012

We Shall Overcome

Hockey is by nature a fast game. It is played on ice. The players move up and down the ice by wearing skates with sharpened steel blades. But if you're not moving those skates, the game can slow down. And if one team isn't moving their feet in those skates and the other team is well, it gets ugly. That's what happened last night for the T-birds versus Portland.

Seattle fell behind, got frustrated and stopped moving their feet. Portland on the other hand kept moving...and moving, up and down the ice, seemingly at will. It was like a swarm of bees buzzing around a garden of statues. Unfortunately, it is becoming a recurring theme when these two teams get together. And not just this season but over the past three seasons. This is supposed to be one of the best rivalries in the WHL, but it is not a rivalry when one side consistently dominates the other.

I'm sure we've all heard the expression, "Fight fire with fire". So don't try to beat the bees by standing there flailing your arms, trying to swat them away. Instead, buzz right back. You have to match their intensity. You have to match their all out effort on every shift. You can't wait until the third period to say, "okay, enough is enough", you have to have that mentality from the opening puck drop and if there is a little adversity along the way, you don't hang your shoulders, you fight through it. It has to start by believing you can win, not hoping, believing.

The T-birds were still in the game, even trailing by two goals at the end of the first period. There should have been a re-focusing of their effort during that first intermission. Instead they came out flat in the second period and gave up a couple of early goals and that's when they stopped moving their feet. That's when they got too casual with the puck inside their own blueline. Before you know it, that 2-0 deficit is now a 6-0 debacle. I don't know if it was frustration or if they started feeling sorry for themselves but there is no place for either in this game.

That's when the words of my late broadcast partner, Bruce McDonald, start ringing in my head. Sitting there in his wheelchair, unable to lace on a pair of skates, he would say repeatedly over the years in situations like this, "What I wouldn't give to be able to go on the ice and give it 100-percent every time."

A few weeks back Kamloops came to town. The Blazers had yet to lose a game in regulation. The T-birds were motivated to be the first to knock them from that perch. They came at the Blazers and grabbed the lead and each time Kamloops tied it up, Seattle came right back. They were focused and even though the 'Birds eventually lost that game in overtime, they played the top team tough. It was one of the better games this season, against one of the top teams in the league.

Last night I'm sure Seattle's plan was to do the same against Portland. The difference though was Seattle fell behind early. But good teams fight through adversity. You're not always going to play the game with a lead. Champions overcome obstacles, they don't shrink from them. This is a lesson the T-birds are still learning.

The Thunderbirds are now four games into their five game homestand and their record is 2-2. During the homestand though, the T-birds have been outscored 18-14 and half of the goals they scored came in a 7-4 win over Kootenay. You won't win many games, home or away, giving up over four goals a game. Seattle has got to do a better job defensively. So far this season, only Brandon and Vancouver give up more goals per game then Seattle and the T-birds numbers are trending downward. Yes, the T-birds corps of defensemen is young, but defense is a team game and everyone is culpable, the forwards, the goalies...everyone.

Griffin Foulk, acquired in a trade from Everett late in the week, made his T-bird debut last night. The Broomfield, Co native is described as a skilled defenseman, someone who can handle the puck and make a good first pass out of the defensive zone. I saw glimpses of that from him last night. Tough game to make your first appearance with your new team. By my recollection, Foulk becomes the first former Silvertip to play a regular season game for Seattle.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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