Sunday, February 10, 2013

Twisting the Night Away

I liken the T-birds right now to someone trying to get that pesky lid off the jar of pickles. You know the process it takes to do it, you try hard and you almost get it. Maybe you're missing a step though. Then someone else comes along and gives it a twist and off comes the lid. It's frustrating to put in the hard work and not get rewarded.

Last night was another great example of what the T-birds are capable of doing when they bring their "A" game against one of the top teams in the league. For much of that game against Calgary, the Thunderbirds dictated the tempo and controlled large stretches of play, primarily due to their strong forecheck. It led to a number of Calgary turnovers. It led to a dozen quality scoring chances. For the fifth straight game, Seattle outshot their opponent. I'm guessing Seattle didn't outshoot the other team much more then five times all last season.

But that's only step one in the process. The T-birds need to finish on those chances. Against the Hitmen they hit a couple of posts and Calgary goalie Chris Driedger was excellent in goal but the T-birds still need to do a better job of putting the puck in the net. The same was true the night before against Red Deer. There were a couple of chances in the first period for the 'Birds to score a few more times against the Rebels and possibly change the complexion of that game but it didn't happen.
Defensively, Seattle was much better Saturday against Calgary, then they were Friday against Red Deer, in their defensive zone coverage. They seemed to make a more concerted effort against the Hitmen to clog up the slot and get sticks to pucks in the passing lanes. They were better inside their own blue line winning those 50/50 battles along the boards. They took quite a few icing calls in clearing the puck but they were doing a good job of winning defensive zone face-offs, especially Luke Lockhart, so the icings alleviated the pressure.

The line combo of Roberts Lipsbergs-Alex Delnov-Conner Honey was back together Saturday and they produced by coming up with 2g, 4a 6pts +3. Seattle needs their top point producers to take the lead down the stretch run for the playoffs, so that was good to see. Riley Sheen also had a productive weekend with two goals and was dangerous on the puck both nights.

Meanwhile Jarret Smith was good at both ends of the ice.
The rookie 17 year old defenseman played smart, he played physical and he played much more confidently in the offensive end, especially against Calgary. He's getting more and more power play time with the second unit and that is going to pay big dividends in the future. Again, I don't want to be looking too far off into the future but with what we're seeing, although not consistently yet, from the likes of Smith, Hauf, Theodore and now Danny Mumaugh, I see something building with this group.

Calling next weekend a big one for Seattle's playoff hopes is the understatement of the year. The three games in three nights are all what you would categorize as "winnable" games. In fact, you can say that about the next five games coming up on the schedule. It doesn't mean all the T-birds have to do is show up though. They have to bring the same "A" game effort they showed Saturday against Calgary or in earlier games they won against Portland and Kelowna. When you're 19-32-5-1 you can't take anyone lightly. The T-birds need to dictate how well they play, not the opponent and they have to be consistent. In other words just because the team lining up against you is 14-40 instead of 40-14 doesn't mean you bring less effort. Don't play down to the opposition!

Sure you play them one at a time, but Seattle has to be greedy. The playoffs are on the line. They need to be thinking about earning ten points because after this stretch of five games, eight of their final ten games will be against teams with winning records and half of those will be against the current top three teams in the league; Edmonton, Kelowna and two against Portland to end the regular season.

Finally, it was an enjoyable Parents Weekend, no matter the results on the ice. It's always a pleasure to meet the parents of these young men. Just as much as the players, these parents also give so much of themselves emotionally to the Thunderbirds organization. The highlight was interviewing Luke Lockhart's dad, Guy, on the radio Friday night as his mom and brother looked on. Just as much as their son, they've been members of the T-birds for five years. Then Saturday I interviewed Brian Mumaugh, who's son Danny's journey has just begun. Such is the cycle of life in the WHL.

Im memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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