Sunday, December 30, 2012

Watcha Gonna do When the Well Runs Dry

There's no question what is ailing the Thunderbirds right now. Their offense has gone stone cold. 74 shots in two games against Everett and just two goals; 0-for-9 on the power play since their return from the break. Since their six goal outburts December 14th in Spokane (a 7-6 SO loss), the T-birds have scored just five goals, on 131 shots, in their last four games. They are priming the pump, but the well has gone dry.
And while they are averaging 33 shots a game in those four contests, the shots just don't seem to be that dangerous. They seem to be overthinking things, looking for a perfect scoring opportunity and bypassing more shooting opportunities. Nowhere is that more evident then on the power play where hesitation and some not so perfect passing is leading to too many of their shots being blocked.

The lack of offensive punch, from a team that had been averaging 3.3 goals per game, is wasting some fine goaltending from Brandon Glover. Glover stopped 28 of 30 shots each of the last two nights. When your goalie limits the opposition to just two goals in two straight games, you should win most nights.

Seattle has to rediscover the scoring touch and stop the bleeding that has seen their winless streak stretch to seven games.
The Thunderbirds clearly are missing their leading goal scorer, Roberts Lipsbergs, who is in Ufa, Russia competing in the World Juniors for Latvia. It also didn't help that their leading point producer, Conner Honey, left the game Saturday in the first period with an injury and didn't return. But their should be enough leadership and offense to get this team through that adversity.

This might seem like deja vu' all over again; another post-Christmas swoon that costs the T-birds a playoff spot. There is just one difference this time around, at least that I see. Other then Portland, the rest of the pack in the Western Conference is not running away from Seattle. Despite the seven game skid the T-birds are still just eight points out of fifth place in the conference playoff race and they have plenty of games left with those teams directly above them. But it is gut check time. They need to put their finger in the leak and limit the damage now.

With the WHL trading deadline fast approaching, I also believe this skid will be the impetus for a trade of some kind. The losing streak has shown that this team still is a piece or two away from making serious postseason noise. So, in that regard, if it had to happen, maybe the skid couldn't have come at a better time.

It doesn't get any easier for Seattle with the next two games on the road against the league's best team, Portland, and B.C. Division leading Kamloops. But remember, it is always darkest before the dawn.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Juuuuust a bit Outside

There's outshooting your opponent and then there is shooting yourself out of a game. The T-birds did both last night in their 2-1 loss to Everett. Seattle was credited with 39 shots (to Everett's 30) but it was the shots Seattle had that didn't end up on goal that were the difference against the Silvertips.

First, the Thunderbirds must have had at least 10-12 shots from prime scoring areas that didn't even hit the net. Shea Theodore's gun sights must have been off because he put at least four shots wide of the goal. Secondly, how many shots did the T-birds pass up, especially on that 5-on-3 power play, looking for the perfect shot or the "cute" goal?

In those situations, you can't be too finicky. Just shoot the puck and go hard to the net and bang in a rebound. Until it was too late, the T-birds got very little traffic in front of Everett goalie Austin Lotz.

Once again, a bad defensive zone turnover (are there any good ones?) led to the winning goal. They've really got to cut down/eliminate these unforced errors inside their own blue line. They're killing them.

For the second straight home game the T-birds have a strong start but don't build off it, but rather fall off from it. Yes, they did finish the game with an unsuccessful flourish but that was desperation hockey after they fell behind. They need that mindset for 60 minutes.

Seattle has now dropped four in a row at home. After a strong start at home this year, Seattle is now just a game above .500 at the ShoWare Center. They have to do a better job of using the home rink to their advantage. Once again there was a big crowd on hand, waiting to explode, and the 'Birds didn't feed off of that. And while they were in it until the bitter end, you just got the sense they weren't doing enough things well to pull it out.

It was encouraging to see Branden Troock come out after a two and a half month layoff and play a, mostly, strong game. But late in a one goal game you can't take a two and a half minute shift, especially when the other team is getting fresher legs on the ice with quick line changes.
I'm sure after missing so much ice time, Troock just wants to contribute; do something to change the complexion of a game, but he has to stick to the systems and not go rogue. That said, I liked his first period. He did some good work on the forecheck and created a few scoring chances. If he can stay healthy, plus the return of Roberts Lipsbergs in a week or so from World Juniors, The T-birds will have four solid forward lines.

Meanwhile, fellow Edmontonian Conner Honey just keeps getting better and better. He now leads the team in scoring with 33 points (10g, 23a) and is on pace for a 66 point season. He's solid at both ends of the ice and compliments his natural skills with hustle and smart play. He's the prototype of what this team needs more of.

It was nice to have Steve McDonald, the brother of my late broadcast partner Bruce, sitting up in the booth for the game. Next time he'll need to bring a little puck luck with him.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

One Break Comin' Up

After a season best four game winning streak, the T-birds limp into the annual holiday break on a five game winless skid. It reached five games with Seattle's, 4-1, loss to Tri-City last night at the ShoWare Center.
It wasn't that the T-birds played poorly, they just ran into a very good goalie and were very undermanned. By the end of the game, that depleted roster took its toll as it appeared the 'Birds ran out of gas. But for most of the game, with some big guns out of the lineup and using a defenseman as their third line center, Seattle was right there with a chance to win. I was a little disappointed some of the young forwards didn't step up to fill the void but I'm not too worried. Seattle has already shown, when they are at full strength, they can beat the Americans.

Instead of dwelling on last night's loss, or the losing streak. Let's look at the first half of the season as a whole. I actually feel very good about the direction the team is going. The offense is ahead of where I think they need to be and will only get better through the second half. Seattle has scored 116 goals so far this season. They are averaging 3.31 goals per game. At different times during the first half that average was up to nearly 3.5. I stated before the season began that they would need to average three goals a game to be a serious playoff contender and they are ahead of that pace.

Maybe the biggest surprise is the special teams play, particularly the power play. Last season the T-birds finished 21st out of 22 WHL teams on the power play, scoring just 47 time on the man advantage over the course of 72 games. Seattle already has 32 power play goals in 35 games this go round. They've been a top five power play team throughout the first half, including a few weeks at number one. They enter the break ranked third. They've reached that ranking despite being one of the teams in the WHL that generates the fewest power play chances. Just by comparison, Portland has been on the power play 40 more times this season then Seattle yet the Winterhawks have just three more power play goals.

And while the Seattle penalty kill ranks just 11th in the league going into the break, the 26 goals they've allowed while shorthanded are among the fewest in the league. Remember, coming into the season Tyler Alos was going to be a huge part of the T-birds penalty kill. Of course, he played very little and then had to retire so the 'Birds are doing it without a key component they expected to have. More on that later.

Seattle's biggest issue at the midway point of the season is keeping the puck out of the back of their own net. We knew they had a young group of defensemen when the season started and we expected growing pains. While the offense is doing its part averaging 3.31 goals per game, defensively the T-birds are not holding up that end of the bargain. The Thunderbirds have surrendered 135 goals through the first 35 games (3.88 per game). They are on pace to surrender 280 goals this season, which is only slightly better then the 296 they allowed last year.

Defensively, they simply have to do better, from the goaltender on out. Why are they riding a five game losing streak at the break? Because they've given up 26 goals over the course of that skid. You just aren't going to win a lot of games giving up five goals a night. Know how many goals Seattle allowed in their recent four game winning streak? Just eight. That's right, just eight. It can be done. I had an observer at a recent game, watching Seattle play for the first time this year, ask "Why are they so non-chalant with the puck in their own zone?" They have to be more decisive with the puck inside their own blue line. They have to cut down on the defensive zone turnovers.

Seattle enters the break playing a game under .500 hockey. Is this an improvement over the past few seasons? From the naked eye I want to say yes, they seem to be playing at a higher level. But we know what has happened in the last three non-playoff years. The 'Bird have been slightly under or just above .500 at the midway point. Thus their fate has been decided in the second half, usually in the month of January. Over the past three seasons the Thunderbirds January record has been abysmal, winning fewer then 10 games combined over that span. That means in about 40 games worth of January hockey, the last three January's, the T-birds record is about 30 games under .500. A year ago they suffered through a lengthly losing streak in January. They can't have a repeat of that. January has to be at least a 6-7 win month.

This time around the T-birds have 13 January games. Seattle will play nine different teams over the course of January. Seven of those teams have winning records. At the moment, the combined record of their opponents in January is 169-110-8-13.

Still I like the Thunderbirds chances. They did some good things in the first half while still showing both need and room for improvement.

They played much of the first half of the season without two veteran players who they were counting on for big contributions this season; 19 yr old Tyler Alos and 18 year old Branden Troock. Alos' injuries forced him to retire and the T-birds haven't replaced him on the roster. Troock has been out since mid-October and there's no knowing when he'll be healthy enough to return. His potential hasn't been replaced on the roster either. And yet without them they played .500 hockey.

Alos would have been a huge component to team defense, just where the T-birds need help the most. Troock is a gifted offensive player and was conservatively on pace for a 20 goal season.

Both players would have helped cut down on the goals against in the first half and probably provided another 15 goals to the team on offense. I guess the question now is, will general manager Russ Farwell look to replace that lost production, or at least Alos' skill set, at the trade deadline? Or will he go with the hand he's been dealt and get the young players all the experience and hope to ride the current team into the playoffs and into next season.

Seattle also has the burden of playing Portland 12 times. They still have five games left against the WHL's top team. No other team, especially those teams Seattle will be battling for a playoff spot such as Victoria, and Prince George, has to face that.

So, enjoy your holiday season, then buckle in and get ready for a wild ride in the second half!

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lesson Learned?

Maybe on any other day, I'd be grossly upset with how the Thunderbirds squandered their 4-goal third period lead to Spokane and eventually lost, 7-6, in a shootout. but in light of the tragic events back in Connecticut, I'm just going to be tepidly disappointed. There's the game of hockey, and then there is the reality of life and that reality took precedence yesterday.

Let's accentuate the positive. Seattle played a tremendous road game for 45-50 minutes. For two and a half periods their penalty killing was phenomenal. With their physical play, they made Spokane, with one of the top records in the WHL, look pedestrian.

Another positive? Seattle has now earned 5 of a possible 6 points in their last three road games, all against U.S. Division teams. Third period collapse aside, I'll take 5 out of 6 points on the road every week. Furthering that point, in their last three road games, the 'Birds have scored 19 goals.

I really like the way Taylor Green played along side Mitch Elliot and Daniel Wray. Green, normally a defenseman, centered that fourth line and did a good job on faceoffs and in winning some puck battles in the offensive zone. Seattle is top heavy now with 17-year old defensemen.
If Green's move up to forward is permanent, it helps alleviate that logjam moving forward (no pun intended). If not, it still gives the coaches an option from game to game because they can use Green in a number of situations.

I don't want to dwell too much on the negative. Obviously getting only two shots in the third period was not good. They took silly, after the whistle, penalties. The last thing you should do when holding a four goal lead is give the opponent an easier opportunity to get back in the game.

The T-birds have to do a better job defending late in games. In their last three games Seattle has surrendered 18 goals and half of them have come in the third period, with the game still on the line. The T-birds have been outscored 8-2 in the third period during their current three game losing streak.

Lastly, learn how to win. When is the last time the T-birds had a 4-goal lead with almost 20 minutes left? This was almost a new experience for this group. I think there were some players who thought this game was over once they established that 4-goal cushion. Team play turned into individual play. They need to develop a killer instinct. When you have a team down, finsish them off.

In the end it wasn't anything Spokane did differently that turned the tide in that game. No, it was all the things Seattle did wrong that snathced defeat from the jaws of victory.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Royally Flushed

Well, that was just not a well played game by the Thunderbirds last night. They never found their mojo. They were very flat most of the game, especially after Victoria scored the two quick goals midway through the first period.

No, it was Victoria that played a near flawless game. After the first couple of shifts, in which the T-birds did create some sustained offensive zone pressure, it was the Royals who took over the game. They set the tone by being physical. They clogged up the neutral zone and made it difficult for Seattle. They won most of the 50/50 battles for pucks. And when the T-birds made a mistake, and unfortunately there were many, the Royals pounced on them.

Seattle's special teams, which have been very good for them, especially as of late, couldn't produce and had an off night. Yes, there was that big penalty kill at the start of the second period, when Victoria skated with a two man advantage for well over a minute, but Seattle couldn't even take advantage of that and swing momentum their way. Right after that, Seattle got three successive power plays and ended up with a power failure, going oh-fer. The 'Birds were just 1-for-7 on the power play Tuesday and surrendered three power play goals to Victoria.

Despite not playing their best, Seattle still had life after Connor Sanvido's goal closed the gap to 4-2 midway through the third period. But no sooner had the T-birds scored when they took an awful bench minor for too many men on the ice and Victoria quickly scored to end the suspense.
Sanvido by the way, with goals in the last two games, now has eight on the year and has surpassed both his goal total and point totals from all of last season. Sanvido currently has 19 points (9g,10a)in 32 games. A season ago he registered 17 points (8g,9a) in 58 games.

Hopefully it was just one of those games and the T-birds bounce back, They need to with three pretty tough divisional games on the schedule to close out the pre-holiday portion of the schedule. Seattle has road games in Spokane and Portland this weekend (T-birds are a combined 2-8 against those two clubs so far this season) before returning home next Tuesday to face Tri-City at the ShoWare Center.

Seattle was three games above .500 after their recent four game winning streak. Now they sit just one game over .500 after back-to-back losses. If they want to finish better then .500 going into the holiday break, they'll have to win two of those three games. Even more disappointing, they've lost their last two home games by a combined score of 12-4. Additionally, they had a chance to leapfrog past Victoria in the Western Conference standings had they won last night. Instead, it was the Royals who served notice with a solid road win that put Seattle a little further back in their rearview mirror.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

T-birds get Windexed; Streak Gone

The Thunderbirds win streak came to a halt at home. Did the T-birds play some good hockey Saturday night against Portland? Sure, there were some positives; a strong start, 37 shots on goal, another night of excellent penalty killing and some noteable shifts in which they got some sustained offensive zone pressure, but the good play couldn't overcome their mistakes and that is why they lost, 6-2.

Seattle has learned some lessons playing Portland and improved in some areas against the league's best team, but they haven't learned the most important lesson yet. You can't let up against that team for one second. Portland only has one gear in their motor and it's high octane, rev the engine and go hard and fast. You have to match that intensity. If you let your foot off the gas for one moment, they will race right by you. That's why Seattle is consistently getting beat by the Winterhawks by an average score of 6-2. Portland treats the ice like the racing oval at Daytona and runs hard until they see the checkered flag. Meanwhile the 'Birds are racing on city streets. they're still seeing stop signs, red lights and yield signs.

Give the T-birds an A+ for their start, they came out aggressively and it led to the early 1-0 lead on the Jesse Forsberg goal. But as soon as they ran into some adversity, and fell behind 2-1, you noticed that familiar doubt creep in. It was just enough that they started thinking too much and stopped playing the way they had played to start the game.

The Thunderbirds are still giving Portland too much respect, especially against the Portland penalty kill. Skating 5-on-3 for over a minute in the second period, Seattle got just one shot on goal. They were timid, passing up too many shooting opportunties. It seemed to me they appeared to be more concerned about a possible negative outcome, such as Portland blocking a shot and going the other way on a shorthanded breakaway, and showed less faith in their own potentially positive result (a power play goal). You can't play that way, you have to have confidence you can score.

Before the game I talked to head coach Steve Konowalchuk about Seattle's recent offensive success. During their four game winning streak Seattle piled up the goals and as a result they went into last night's game averaging almost 3.5 goals per game on the season. He said part of that recent offensive success was from a more concerted effort to go hard to the net. Then last night, it was absent. Portland goalie Mac Carruth is, well let's just say, very active with his stick. Players camping out in front of him are going to pay the price with a few hacks on the back of their legs. At critical times in last night's game, it seemed Seattle players weren't willing to pay that price. Far too many of Seattle's 37 shots came with little traffic in front of the Portland goal.

The one line that seemed not to be intimidated was the Elliot-Holub-Wray combo. They made the most of their ice time. They were physical. They finished their checks and if they got hit, they hit back. They were strong on the forecheck and as a result created some offensive opportunities. While they didn't score last night, neither were they scored upon. I like the physical example Mitch Elliot is setting for the two younger players. Wray and Holub definitely followed his lead.

Roberts Lipsbergs 11 game scoring streak came to a crashing halt. Not only was he held off the scoresheet, but he finished the game at dash three. It was a good streak while it lasted but last night he was nearly invisible.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I'm All Four it

Seattle made it a perfect 4-for-4 this season against the rival Everett Silvertips with a 5-1 win Friday night up at Comcast Arena. In the process they also ran their overall winning streak to a season best four games and pushed their season record to a high water mark of three games over .500.

It wasn't the prettiest of games for Seattle, but you don't always have to win with style points. No, this one may have lacked the emotional edge Thursday's comeback victory in Kennewick had, but it was an effecient win. You know, one of those games against a team below you in the standings that you need to beat if you want to be a serious playoff team.

These are the type of games on the schedule that can trip up a lesser team. Seattle had the strong performance on the road the night before against Tri-City. They had traveled much of the night to get back across the mountains. Everett was banged up, coming off an emotional loss in their last game and they were playing at home. The T-birds responded well enough to earn the win. TCBY, takin' care of business.

The clear cut star of this game for Seattle was goaltender Brandon Glover. Starting for the 12th straight game, Glover was clinical in goal. He seemed to be moving effortlessly from side-to-side. It looked like he was squared to every shot and rarely had to scramble or flop to make a save but when he did he got to the right spot quickly. He was 6.7 seconds away from a shutout when, with Everett on the power play, a puck was tipped behind him off his own teammate's stick. The sickest person in the building at that point had to be defenseman Jared Hauf. Hauf, trying to break up a pass across the mouth of the Seattle goal inadvertently deflected it past Glover.

Up to that point Hauf had played another in a string of strong games on the back end. he continues to be more physical but I know he feels bad for his goalie. Hopefully, he can buy him dinner as a way of apologizing. I know Glover won't be too hard on him.

We'll have to dig back deep in the T-bird annals to see when the last time a Seattle player had a stretch of play like the one Roberts Lipsbergs is having right now. With another goal last night, his team-leading 15th, Lipsbergs has now registered a point in 11 straight games.

Congratulations to Mitch Elliot on his first goal of the season. Elliot parked his large frame in front of the Everett goal midway through the second period last night and then pounced on a rebound, banging it home to give the T-birds a 3-0 lead.
Before the game, in his pregame radio interview, head coach Steve Konowalchuk went out of his way to praise the efforts of Elliot in recent games. Elliot is one of those players who does a lot of the dirty work without getting the public praise because he's not scoring highlight reel goals. Last night he rewarded his coach for believing in him.

No rest for the road weary as Seattle returns home tonight to the ShoWare Center to take on the WHL's top dog, the Portland Winterhawks. This will be the sixth of 12 meetings between the long time rivals this season. After winning on opening night down in Portland, the T-birds have dropped four straight to the 'Hawks, being outscored 25-7 in the process. If the Thunderbirds want to stretch their winning streak to five games, they'll need to bring their best effort to the ice.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Slaying Dragons

What has Brandon Glover accomplished in less then half a season with the T-birds that Calvin Pickard never did in his four seasons here? He won a road game in Kennewick as Seattle beat the Tri-City Americans, 8-4, Thursday night at the Toyota Center. It's the first meaningful win in that building since Seatte won a playoff game their in April of 2008. Here's another trivia tidbit for you; combined number of goals in the 'Birds last two road wins in Kennewick? Fifteen. The 'Birds won that 2008 playoff game 7-1.

This is not a slight against Pickard, far from it. Pickard had an outstanding WHL career with Seattle, one of the best to wear a Thunderbirds jersey, and did all he could to get Seattle a win in the Tri-Cities.

No, this just points out that the talent around Glover this season is deeper. Seattle had quality players on the roster in Pickard's time here, just not enough of them. You also have to take into account that the Tri-City talent pool is not as deep as it was the past four seasons, but that should take nothing away from Seattle's win last night, coming from two goals down late in the second period.

Most importantly though, there has been an attitude adjustment with this team and it shows in the way they have gone about winning three in a row over teams with a combined record of 57-23-3-4; teams that are a combined 17-8-1-1 in their last 27 games against teams other then the T-birds. Remember, on Sunday the T-birds snapped a 12 game losing streak to Kamloops that dating back to the 2009-10 season. To paraphrase the famous Peter Finch line from the 1976 movie Network, "The T-birds are mad as hell, and they're not gonna take it anymore!"

Thursday the T-birds were led by the line of Rouse-Swenson-Sanvido line that put up nine points (4g, 5a) and was +13. Seth Swenson came close to a hat trick and did a good job going hard to the net.
The 19 year old from Parker, CO has quietly reached the ten goal plateau. Swenson now has 17 points (10g, 7a) in 29 games. Those are the same numbers he put up for the T-birds in 34 games last year after being acquired at the trade deadline last January from Portland. In his last 63 games with Seattle he has 34 points (20g,14a). In his previous 132 games with the Winterhawks he had 21 points (5g,16a).

It's enjoyable to watch a different "hero" step forward each night, but it's even better to see multiple "heroes" putting their weight into each game. Thursday, four different players recorded two or more points. When is the last time Seattle had five players at +2 or better in a game? it happened last night.

With all the points being tallied up by the T-birds forwards it was two defensemen who really impressed me, especially in the second half of that game. Jesse Forsberg epitomizes the effort head coach Steve Konowalchuk wants from everyone of his players. He had a fabulous night at both ends of the ice. He finished at +2 with two assists.

Meanwhile, Jared Hauf just continues to get better. Last night, at times, he looked more like a steady 19 year old NHL drafted player then an NHL draft eligible 17 year old. His skating is improving, although there is still room for more improvement, but he's so much better using his size and reach then he was just two months ago. While Hauf didn't register a point, he was a solid +3 on the night.

Still, the heart and soul of this team is Luke Lockhart. He was the best player on the ice. What he lacks in "finesse", he makes up for with effort and hard work. If the rest of the roster is following his example, then this team is in a good place. In fact, Seattle's two 20-yr old forwards helped push the pace last night as Brendan Rouse finished with three helpers and was a +6.

Now, Seattle can't have a letdown. Travel in the WHL is tough. Seattle bused through the snowy mountain pass to get to the game in Kennewick. After the win, they bused right back through that pass to get home in the wee morning hours. Tonight they get back on the bus to make the short trip through rush hour traffic up to Everett to take on the Silvertips, who haven't played since Wednesday. No excuses though. Go out play hard.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tyler Alos Retires

The news we knew was coming was made official today; Tyler Alos has retired from playing competitive hockey. Doctors advised Alos, who has suffered multiple concussion over the past two seasons, against returning to the ice following his latest. Ironically, I believe this last one was suffered in a game against the Chiefs in his hometown of Spokane.

Alos had tried to return but was never cleared. As you may know players returning from a concussion have to pass a series of tests before they are cleared to resume playing. I don't know whether he passed those base line tests but the advice from the medical people was that it was in his best interest not to continue with his career as a player.

The good news is that Alos will remain with the Thunderbirds at least through the remainder of this season (and hoepfully beyond) as part of the coaching staff. Alos has been a geat ambassador for the Thunderbirds in the Kent community since joining the team as a 16 year old. This past summer he participated in the Kent Relay for Life to raise money and awareness for cancer, and to, in part, support longtime Thunderbirds broadcaster Bruce McDonald who passed away after a short battle with leukimia this past June.

Additionally he will start to utilize his WHL scholarship money by taking some college class work. Maybe, just maybe, we'll get him up in the broadcast booth to provide some expert analysis on T-birds broadcasts.

Alos finishes his career with 19g and 37a in 201 games, all with Seattle.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What in the Blazes!

Have the Thunderbirds finally hit their stride? Seatle played 3 of the top 4 teams in the Western Conference this weekend and came out of it with a 2-1 mark. They capped it with a strong, 3-1, win Sunday over the B.C. Division leading Kamloops Blazers. More importantly, Seattle's defensive zone coverage is improving. Overall this season Seattle has allowed 14 more goals then they have scored but this weekend they outscored the top three goal scoring teams in the league by a combined 9-8.

Brandon Glover came oh so close to his first shutout of the season versus the Blazers. Over the course of the weekend he faced 122 shots in three games and only allowed 7 goals. 115 saves, or an average of about 38 a game, and a GAA on the weekend of 2.33. He was good and his team played well in front of him.

If you've listened to my interviews with head coach Steve Konowalchuk, you've heard him preach about getting all the players on board; everyone buying into the systems they want to play. I think this weekend we saw more players buying tickets to get on board the Konowalchuk Express. I think it started Friday in Portland. Despite the loss they played hard for 60 minutes. That carried over into the two wins at home against Kamloops and Kelowna.

Prior to last Tuesday's game against Everett I did a radio interview with Roberts Lipsbergs (whose English is much better then he wants you to believe). Since then he's exploded for 7 goals. Before Sunday's game against Kamloops Lipsbergs was trying to convince his teammate and good friend Alex Delnov to step before the mic. Maybe he believes I've brought him good luck! Lipsbergs' personality is so engaging, I thought I should just give him the microphone and audio recorder and let him interview Delnov in Russian. In due time Alex, in due time!

As good as Lipsbergs was this weekend, I was just as impressed with the play of Justin Hickman who now has a 6-game point streak in hand.

Over that span the Kelowna, B.C. native has put up 4 goals and 5 assists. It comes from a renewed emphasis on going hard to the net and committing to a strong forecheck. Hickman, who had 22 points (12g, 10a) in 71 games last season, already has 15 points (7g,8a) in 28 games this go-round.

Eight games from the official midway point of season (36-games) Seattle sits one game over .500 at 14-13-1-0. But let's put that record under the microscope. Half of Seattle's losses so far this season are to two teams; Portland (4) and Spokane (3). They have two losses to Kamloops as well. So 9 of the T-birds 13 losses at this point in the season are to three teams with a combined record of 62-18-3-2. They just happen to be the three teams with the three best records in the Western Conference. Those three teams have 3 of the top 4 winning percentages in the entire WHL. Seattle has also beaten each of those teams once. So, they've played the top three teams in the Western Conference 12 times (or just slightly under half their games played) and are 3-8-1-0. They are 11-5-0-0 against everybody else. By the way, They still have to play those three teams 13 more times this season, including 7 against the best team in the league, Portland.

Its' not an easy schedule but playing the best clubs so often early in the season just might be getting them battle hardened.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

I am Iron Man

Congrats to T-bird captain Luke Lockhart, who played in his 300th WHL game last night (all with Seattle)in the T-birds 4-2 win over the Kelowna Rockets. With 45 games left in the regular season Lockhart is on pace to finish his Thunderbirds career second all-time in games played, behind only Glenn Goodall (399) and just ahead of Tyler Metcalfe (333). To mark the occassion last night Lockhart chipped in with an assist on Seattle's second goal.

Lockhart probably logs more minutes each game then any other Thunderbirds player. In addition to his regular shifts, he's also part of the T-birds power play and penalty kill. Late in close games he'll be on the ice, usually double shifting when the coaches shorten the bench. He battles every shift and takes a physical pounding. Yet, I rarely see him in the trainer's room before the game. Even if he does need treatment, he doesn't let it keep him out of the lineup.

It was a good win for Seattle last night against a very good Kelowna team that came into the game riding a 5-game winning streak. In fact, the Rockets had won 13 of their last 17 games. I didn't like how, for the second straight home game, the T-birds lost a multiple goal lead. Remember, they were up 3-0 on Everett before the Silvertips came back to tie that game last Tuesday.

It just seemed the T-birds lost their way a bit in the second period and the early part of the third. They stopped being aggressive and the forecheck wilted. In both cases, Seattle could have lost the lead if not for some stellar goaltending by Brandon Glover. The good news is they responded with a strong finish in both games and pulled out a win.

The news swirling around is that Tyler Alos may be shut down for the season due to his upper body injury. That would be unfortunate because Alos had such a strong start to this season. The T-birds have played a month now without both Alos and Branden Troock. Together they've missed a combined 37 games. That's a lot to miss from two players expected to be big contributors to your club this season.

If that's the case, who steps up to fill Alos' role? Well, it appears Connor Sanvido is ready to grab the bull by the horns. Sanvido's reputation coming into the WHL was as a point producer and it seems he's starting to fulfill those expectations.
A year ago Sanvido produced 17 pts (8g,9a) in 58-games. Already this season in just 27 games he accounted for 13 pts (5g,8a). But aside from the offensive production he's playing more physically then he did in the past and is also proving to be a reliable penalty killer.

Speaking of penalty killing, the Thunderbirds have been a perfect 10-for-10 on the PK this weekend. That will need to continue tonight against the Kamloops Blazers who are ranked 4th in the league on the power play at 24.4% but have scored the 2nd most power play goals with 33. Only Medicine Hat, with 36 has scored more.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Power Failure

No question last night in Portland the T-birds inability to capitalize on their many power play chances, especially in the second period, kept them from getting a better result. Seattle ended the game just 1 of 7 with the man advantage. They essentially had four straight power plays to begin the second period but scored only on #3.

Really, the credit has to go to Portland's penalty killers. They came into the game #2 in the league on the PK and they showed why. They were getting their sticks to T-bird passes quicker then the T-birds were. They aggressively challenged Seattle's point men. As soon as a puck got near a 'Birds player in the slot they were physical with those T-birds players.

Brendan Rouse hadn't been on the scoresheet too much lately but last night he chipped in with an assist on each of Seattle's goals. They were both a couple of beauties. Rouse showed good vision and very good decision making on both assists. Seattle needs more of that from him.

Say what you will about the Portland situation this week but that team is well coached. Yes, they are very talented but the players have also bought into that program hook, line and sinker. They run their systems to near perfection. And I also know this, it is what Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk wants from his players too; 100 percent commitment. Want? Heck, he should demand it. It's how he played. To my way of thinking, that starts upstairs, between the ears. You have to mentally committ yourself to the team's plan. That means leaving it on the ice every shift, playing with purpose every moment and worrying about your effort, not the opponents.

Seattle's effort against the Winterhawks last night was much better then the last three times they played. They seemed more committed to playing 60 minutes. After giving up a couple of goals early in the third (that turned a one goal game into a 4-1 Portland advantage), we could have seen a case of "oh no, here we go again". You know, those moments from Portland games in the recent past where the Winterhawks pulled away, the T-birds stop skating and before you know it Seattle is facing a 5-6 goal deficit. That didn't happen last night. Seattle got the game back to within two because they kept playing hard.

That was a big learning moment for this team last night. Sure they didn't push back all the way and eventually lost, 5-2. but they didn't slink away either. Let's hope they take that into the two home games this weekend against Kelowna and Kamloops, the top two teams in the B.C. Division.

Jerret Smith had a good start to his rookie campaing with the T-birds. But lately I hadn't noticed the defenseman on the ice. He wasn't playing poorly, he just wasn't making some of those positive plays that made him standout earlier. Last night I thought he stepped up and had a positive impact.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012