Saturday, October 12, 2013

Road Tested T-birds

Last season the Thunderbirds won a total of 11 road games (out of 36 games). The 26 points they earned away from ShoWare Center during the 2012-13 season was third fewest in the entire WHL. Now, already this season, in seven road contests they've won five games and earned 10 of a possible 14 points. They are on pace to earn slightly over 40 points on the road this season.

The clich├ęd formula for most team sports has always been to win the majority of your home games and split on the road and you'll be a playoff team and a title contender. Well, at the moment, the T-birds are doing just that. It's still very, very early in the season and there are still 29 road games to go but so far Seattle is creating that formula for success that says good teams win no matter where they play.

After dropping the first two of their just completed six straight on the road, I think most who follow this team would have been happy if the club had split the remaining four games, especially after they were outscored 13-4 in those first two games. Instead the 'Birds won all four and did so by competing hard for sixty minutes. Three of those four wins were won in the third period or later. Twice, against pretty stiff competition, the Thunderbirds fell behind by two goals but came back to record the win.

The Thunderbirds power play hasn't gotten going just yet, which makes their 7-2 start all the more remarkable. But there is just too much skill and fire power on the team not to get it unleashed at some point. I still expect their power play to be in the upper half of the league when the smoke clears. They should have had a power play goal last night, if not for a quick whistle by a referee who lost sight of a puck the T-birds were about to score on. It is hard at times to remember that this is a development league for the officials too and they will make mistakes from time to time. Why does it seem that time always comes up when it affects the Thunderbirds adversely though??

The T-birds fast start is no fluke and neither is the fact that its happened with the team playing three 16 year olds extensively and in key situations. Watching the games you would never know that Mathew Barzal, Ethan Bear and Keegan Kolesar are freshed-faced newbies. Whether it's the power play, the penalty kill or late in the third period of a close game, all three are getting plenty of ice time.

Can we put to rest the notion that the T-birds goaltending is their weakness? In each of their last starts, Danny Mumaugh and Justin Myles have faced about the same number of shots (Mumaugh 39 vs. Kootenay and 40 for Myles in Kelowna) and come up with big performances including late game saving saves. They were each integral to the team's recent road success. Throw out one stat-skewing game down in Portland and the M&M boys have done exactly what's been asked of them; give the team a chance to win.
Myles played his best game in his brief T-birds career last night against the Rockets. He showed tremendous puck control and was the team's best penalty killer as Kelowna went just 1-for-7 with the man advantage. I've never seen this guy rattled. On or off the ice he displays a calm, ice-water-in-the-veins demeanor.

It's amazing how often the T-birds and Kelowna have played past regulation recently. But maybe all the close overtime battles shouldn't be too surprising as it seems the two Western Conference rivals are constructed in similar fashion. Both have a good, young corps of puck carrying defenseman with a solid group of two-way forwards, not to mention a good one-two punch in goal.

I heard or read a few questioning the trade of Griffin Foulk to Lethbridge in exchange for Adam Henry. I too was sorry to see Foulk go as he had made huge strides in his game over the past year and was off to a solid start this year with the 'Birds. But if Friday night in Kelowna was an indication of how he'll play the rest of this season, fans are gonna like Adam Henry. He came advertised as a good puck moving, offensive defenseman but he was solid at both ends of the ice. He showed some physicality in the d-zone but was definitely not afraid to jump up and join the rush, almost scoring his first T-birds goal in the third period by going hard to the net. He really seems to have a lot of hockey smarts.

Tonight the T-birds play the team that handed them their last loss. It was two Tuesday's ago that the Americans blanked the T-birds, 3-0, over at the Toyota Center. Should be a good battle tonight at the ShoWare Center in the return match.

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