What an interesting week that has played out so far for the Seattle Thunderbirds. And it's not over yet.
For that matter neither is the season. Yes, the Thunderbirds did something rare last night....they lost! Losses are gonna happen. They can be great teaching lessons at this level. It's good to have high expectations after the team gets off to such a great start. But remember last night was just one game out of 72 and the season is just 11 games old. We knew the winning streak was going to end at some point. I just don't think we like the way it ended with the team not giving an optimal performance.
Guess who's expectations are probably higher then yours or mine? The team's. From the coaches to the players, no one was happy with what transpired Wednesday in Kamloops. There's been a common theme in the three losses the T-birds have suffered so far this season. They were out-worked each night. Maybe the Thunderbirds were going to lose last night regardless but it goes back to what head coach Steve Konowalchuk asks of his team every game. Give your best effort so that even on night's when you're "off your game", you still give yourself a chance to compete for a win.
If you are the hardest working team on the ice you put yourself in a good position. Last night, Kamloops was the hardest working team on the ice. They won the game. Seems simple doesn't it?
Now you might say, Seattle wasn't the hardest working team on the ice last night, but a little better performance on the power play and they could have pulled that game out. Maybe they didn't deserve it but they were in position to possibly pull out the "W". Well, that is because of the talent on this team's roster this season. But talent alone is not going to win you games every night. Talent + effort = winning opportunity. It's a formula they've proven works eight times thus far. It's the formula they need to get back to this weekend.
This is not to say there weren't players out there giving maximum effort last night, Riley Sheen and Keegan Kolesar really stood out for me. But, it's like a train and when one car goes off the tracks, it's hard for those cars still on the tracks to pull the rest of the train into the station.
Here is something the T-birds will have to get used to; having a bullseye on their back. A day before the game the WHL was abuzz with the T-birds signing of Ryan Gropp, then hours before the puck dropped the BMO CHL Top Ten Poll for the week was released and Seattle was ranked at number six. You don't think that was extra motivation for a Blazer team coming off a big win just two days ago?
Now, to the Gropp situation. Remember those lines from the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler? "You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run..."? Seattle G.M Russ Farwell must feel a bit like The Gambler. He drafted Gropp in the first round of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft fully expecting Gropp to come play for the Thunderbirds. But I'm sure he also knew, in the back of his mind, that Gropp might go a different route. There are always options for high end talents like Gropp and after attending rookie camp that year, Gropp left before main camp and was a no show at camp this fall.
When Gropp started leaning toward the NCAA, Farwell still kept the lines of communications open between the Gropp family and the T-birds. This summer when Gropp announced a verbal commitment to the University of North Dakota, Farwell didn't say he was washing his hands of the Gropp matter. Instead, he basically said that Gropp made a decision, we respect it and now we're going to concentrate on the team we have for the upcoming season. But he never closed the door, he never "folded" his hand. He "walked away" but he didn't "run". Because as Kenny Rogers said and Farwell knew, "You never count your money when your sitting at the table, they'll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done".
In the interim, I heard a lot of fans clamoring for the T-birds to trade away the rights to Gropp. I hear a lot of trade ideas from fans. Some sound sensible, others are pie-in-the-sky. There is a time and a place for trades in the WHL. The Marcel Noebels trade a few years ago was a no-brainer. A minor deal for a player like Adam Henry should work because it brings in a player who fits your coach's system, much as the Sheen deal did last offseason. But folding your hand before all the cards have been played out doesn't make sense. Farwell was dealt an ace when he drafted Gropp. In order to make that ace worth holding onto, he needed to acquire a few more good cards. I'd say since then he's acquired another ace, and a few kings, so it was pretty smart to hold on to that first ace he got when he selected Gropp. I don't know if he now is sitting with a pair, holds a straight or is in position for a royal flush, but I like the cards he's playing with.
Winning teams at this level are built primarily through the draft and Seattle now has a lot of top end picks currently on their roster, including seven first rounders. Five are from the Bantam draft (Troock, Hauf, Gropp, Barzal and Kolesar) and two are from the Import Draft (Delnov and Lipsbergs). Other high picks from recent drafts also dot the roster; Hickman, Theodore, Douglas, Holub and Bear were either 2nd or 3rd round picks. Add in some solid selections from middle and late round picks (Myles, Wardley, Wolf, Elliot, and Folk) and you have a nucleus for a competitive team. Toss in some solid listed players such as Smith, Mumaugh, Eansor and Honey with your trade acquisitions (Swenson, Sheen and Henry) add a dab of veteran experience in Benoit and now you're cooking with Crisco!