Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Final 'Bird Battles

Because I went on an Alaskan cruise to help my in-laws celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, I've missed all of the T-birds exhibition season. So, I haven't seen the team since training camp. Now, here we are with just over a week before the season opener and some difficult roster decisions are coming up for the organization's brain trust. I'm guessing the coaching staff has an idea of what direction they will go with final roster decisions, but performance in the final two preseason games this weekend versus Everett could be a deciding factor.

The biggest battle looming is which two netminders, of the four goalies on the roster, will still be around on opening weekend? Is there a possibility that three will be retained, at least initially? At the moment, I think a trade for a goalie is probably just a remote possibility. A number of veteran WHL netminders have been traded or became available this offseason and the T-birds had the assets to acquire one of them but chose not to. I think they are confident in the goalies they have in the system. Their only drawback right now is inexperience.

Let's remember that a season ago Justin Myles won the number two job out of training camp and was poised to probably get a minimum of 20 starts behind 20 year old Brandon Glover while being groomed to take over the number one role this season. Unfortunately Myles was injured in November and missed the rest of the season. It should be noted that this was a non-hockey related injury, dispelling the thought that Myles is an injury-prone player. In the brief playing time he got last season, Myles went 1-3 with a 3.90 GAA and an .865 save percentage. Those are fairly respectable numbers considering he was getting on the ice every 5th or 6th game. The GAA and save percentage are a bit inflated because he had one clunker of a game, giving up five goals in Regina.

So far this preseason Myles has been sharp. Appearing in four games he is 2-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .923 save percentage. It's just my opinion, but I think the number one job is his, albeit the T-birds might go with more of a platoon in goal with a 1a and 1b sort of arrangement. I'm just of the school of thought that you don't lose your job to injury unless your replacement clearly outperforms you and I haven't seen that in regards to Myles.

Danny Mumaugh actually is the most "experienced" returning T-birds goaltender, having appeared in 18 games a season ago, after replacing Myles as the #2 goalie in December. Mumaugh compiled a 1-7-2-1 record with a 4.11 GAA. His one win was a big one though as he defeated Tri-City in a game that clinched a playoff spot for Seattle. In fact it was practically a "must-win" situation for Mumaugh. If you recall, Glover was suspended for that game so Mumaugh had to rise to the occasion and handle the pressure well and he did. His three OT/SO losses also helped the club earn three crucial points in their playoff chase.

A hand injury has limited Mumaugh to just one game of preseason action so far, playing 31 minutes and allowing two goals on 17 shots and posting a 3.92 GAA. Mumaugh should see plenty of playing time this weekend to shake off more rust and help the coaches evaluate the goalie situation.

The elder statesman of the group, 19 year old Devon Fordyce, was added to the goalie mix this past spring by way of the 10th round of the WHL Bantam draft. Fordyce previously played 18 games in the WHL over parts of two seasons with the Prince George Cougars compiling a record of 2-8 with a 4.30 GAA. So far in preseason Fordyce is 1-0 with a 4.30 GAA. He's also faced the most shots of any of the goalies in the exhibition games; 63 in 98 minutes of action. That's a lot of rubber, but he has put up a solid .889 save percentage. I guess the question is, has Fordyce shown enough in training camp, practice and preseason games to supplant either of the two "returning" goalies?

The wildcard in the goalie battle is 16 year old Logan Flodell. Flodell was a third round pick (47th overall)in the 2012 Bantam Draft, the highest the T-birds have selected a goalie in the draft since Calvin Pickard was chosen in the second round, 38th overall, back in 2007. By comparison, Myles was a 5th round pick (92nd overall) in 2010 and Mumaugh was a listed player signed out of Colorado. If his development stays on its current path, Flodell is the future in goal for the Thunderbirds, but could that future be now? Flodell certainly is making a case to stick with his preseason performance. He's sporting a 1-1 record but he's allowed just three goals on 59 shots over 87 minutes and sports a gaudy .949 save percentage along with a 2.06 GAA.

The questions the T-birds brass are asking themselves is whether Flodell's development is best served here this season with the T-birds as the number two guy, playing 20-25 games or less while practicing against WHL talent, or would he be better off going back to Regina and being the number one guy at a slightly lower level of competition?

It is, as they say, quite the conundrum. Four goalies, ages 19, 18, 17 and 16, fighting for two spots. One school of thought on a trade; I've heard lots of speculation that Seattle needs to deal for a veteran 20 year old goaltender but could it go the other way? Do any of these four netminders have more value to the club as a trade asset? Makes for an interesting weekend.

Meanwhile the T-birds currently are carrying 14 forwards and 9 defensemen. While it is not uncommon to see 14 forwards on a roster, I'd be surprised if we begin the season with 9 defensemen. It's easier to mix in the young forwards and get them ice time on the 4th line. It's harder to get enough ice time for 9 defenseman when you rely so heavily on your top six who are all 18 or older, occasionally giving a 7th d-man 2-3 shifts a game if you even dress seven.

Seattle goes into the two preseason games this weekend with 27 players still on the roster. There's a good possibility they keep 25 of them to start the season but they'll probably play the majority of the season with a 23 or 24 man roster. It appears the completion in camp and preseason has been fierce and some tough decisions lie ahead.

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