Early in this new season the Thunderbirds are enjoying the home cooking. Seattle has earned 11 of a possible 12 points on home ice through the first six games at the ShoWare Center following Saturday night's 5-3 win over the Vancouver Giants. Not that it's been easy, with three of the first six games home games decided in the shootout, but you want to make your home ice a difficult place for opposing teams to play.
Saturday night's game maybe was a little tighter then it needed to be as the Thunderbirds built a 4-1 lead early in the second period only to see the Giants cut that lead down to a single goal, 4-3, by early in the third. For the second straight night the T-birds lost their momentum by taking too many avoidable penalties. As a result, Vancouver scored twice on the power play to make it interesting before Seth Swenson's empty netter sealed the deal in the game's final minute.
Vancouver came in to the game with the worst record in the WHL's Western Conference and after the loss still sit 10th out of ten teams at 3-9-1-1. That record is a bit misleading as the Giants have been plagued by multiple injuries, especially among their forwards. They are starting to get some of those players back healthy and it is improving their team. They had back-to-back wins recently before suffering a couple of close losses; Friday at home to Everett (6-5) and last night to the T-birds.
They are no pushover. In fact if you look at their roster, even with the players they are missing, they do have a solid group of older players led by 20 year old defenseman Dalton Thrower. Similar to Seattle, they have nine 19 year olds on the roster though a couple are out with injury. They also have six 18 year olds along with the prerequisite three 20 year old players. So this is not a young Giants squad. Overall their roster averages about the same age as the Thunderbirds. They might actually be slightly older on game nights because the T-birds use three 16 year old players extensively. If and when the Giants get their roster completely healthy, they are going to be a tough team to play against.
How tight is the U.S. Division through the first month of the season? One point separates first from fourth place and just six points separates first and fifth place after last night's results.
Speaking of tight, the fight for ice time for the T-birds is about to get tougher. Newcomer Jaimen Yakubowski got his first game action for Seattle in the win last night and I think we can expect Sam McKechnie to be ready to go Tuesday night against Brandon. With the addition of Ryan Gropp into the mix earlier in the week and the eventual return to the lineup of the injured Connor Honey, the coaches will have some tough decisions to make each night. Right now I don't see anyone among their 15 forwards who doesn't serve ice time. Problem is you can only dress 12.
Yakubowski may have been operating on pure adrenaline as he arrived in Kent less then three hours before game time. He wasted little time mucking it up, showing his new team he's here to compete and do whatever he's asked. he actually got stronger as the game wore on and he was at his best in the third period.
How do you keep 16 year old right winger Keegan Kolesar out of the lineup? He scored his first WHL goal against Vancouver and finished with 1g,1a and was the game's third star.
Meanwhile, the M&M boys, Thunderbird goalies Danny Mumaugh and Justin Myles, continue to play well as they alternate starts. This weekend it was a bit of "anything you can do I can do!" Friday night in Kennewick Mumaugh made 41 saves in helping the T-birds earn a road point in the 3-2 shootout loss to Tri-City. Saturday night at home, Myles made....you guessed it...41 saves in earning his 6th win of the season against Vancouver.
The Thunderbirds goaltending pair faced a total of 88 shots and allowed a combined five goals against in the two games. But consider this; three of the goals were power play goals (Seattle was shorthanded 14 times this weekend), including one scored 5-on-3. One was a penalty shot goal and the 5th goal allowed was just after a Seattle penalty expired, so while not technically a power play goal, it might as well have been. And that 5-on-3 power play goal? The T-birds inadvertently knocked it into their own net after the initial save had been made.
Prior to the start of this season the Thunderbirds goaltending tandem had played in a combined 26 games and both had earned just one WHL win apiece. This season in 15 games they have combined for ten wins.