The one thing about playing Tri-City, these headlines write themselves!
One thing that Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk has stressed since taking over behind the bench two seasons ago has been consistency. In other words, no matter the venue, no matter the opponent, players need to get into the habit of giving their same, best effort in each game. If you consistently give 100 percent every night, then on nights when you're not at your best, you still give your team a chance to win.
During this five game winning streak the T-birds are playing consistent hockey, giving their best effort from shift to shift and line to line, night to night. It's why they've been able to win the close games, the overtime games, the shootouts and the come-from-behind games. Consistency.
Saturday, in their first home game after six straight on the road, they gave that same best effort against Tri-City. But they were also playing at a high level, especially in the first period. Their forecheck was relentless from the opening faceoff. They pinned the Americans deep in their own zone and were forcing the Ams into turnovers that were creating quality scoring chances. If not for Tri-City's goaltender Eric Comrie, this could have been a 4 or 5 goal lead by the midway point of the first for Seattle.
The reality though, is it was still a scoreless game. But even so, the way the T-birds started the game, Americans head coach Jim Hiller used his one and only timeout early in hopes of breaking the T-birds momentum. I think Hiller had no choice but the timeout and a couple of Seattle penalties only slightly slowed down the T-birds attack. Eventually they got it rolling again and by period's end they had potted two goals and it seemed inevitable that this was going into the win column for the 'Birds.
Not that a two goal lead with 40 minutes to play is a comfortable, insurmountable advantage. But the way Seattle is playing right now, with the leadership on the ice and behind the bench, you knew they weren't going to let the effort fall off and try coasting on that first period lead. You knew they were going to continue to give their best effort until the final horn sounded. See, once you let off the gas, or flip the switch to "off", it's hard to flip it back on again. Tri-City fought to keep it interesting late in the third so the T-birds had to keep playing hard and they did. It was a tremendous way to return back home after such a long stretch on the road.
By no means was this a perfect game for the T-birds. There will always be parts of their game they will work to improve upon, such as cutting down on the penalties and being more consistent on the power play, but the fact is they haven't reached their peak performance yet and they're 8-2. With the exception of one night, they still haven't had their complete healthy roster available.
The headlines Saturday went to the line of Lipsbergs (2g), Barzal (2a)and Hickman (2a) and deservedly so. They were Seattle's best line all night. Danny Mumaugh gets some praise for another solid night between the pipes with 27 saves and Shea Theodore's goal, the eventual game winner, was an NHL caliber score. Don't overlook the play of Jerret Smith though.
The Bear watch: For those keeping count, the T-birds with Ethan Bear in the lineup, 8-0, with Bear a healthy scratch, 0-2. Just sayin'! Meanwhile, newcomer Adam Henry must think he's died and gone to heaven. After suffering through a 1-5-0-1 start with his old team in Lethbridge, Henry is 2-0 with his new team and has been an immediate contributor to his new club, scoring a big goal late in the first period last night.
Seattle's fourth line provided some good energy last night. The trio of Holub-Eansor-Kolesar were especially good at stemming any momentum the Americans might have been generating. Yes, Eansor does seem to be taking too many penalties right now but much of that is due to his aggressive nature. I'm not overly worried about it because I think he'll learn, with the help of the coaching staff, how to channel that aggression more smartly as he continues his adjustment to the level of play in the WHL.
Until the win Saturday night, the T-birds hadn't won five in a row since February of 2008. Thanks to a loyal T-bird fan/season ticket holder for that tidbit (you can find him on twitter @mjs1980). Wednesday in Kamloops the Thunderbirds try to stretch the streak to six in a row when they take on the Blazers at the Interior Savings Centre.