Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Dilly of A Dely

In the Thunderbirds dressing room before Friday night's game against Saskatoon I joked with Alexander Delnov that I had brought him good luck. Before the previous home game against Portland I had conducted an interview with Delnov for that night's broadcast. Delnov then went out and produced the winning goal in overtime against the Winterhawks. Then a few nights later, up in Red Deer, he picked up an assist on the winning goal as Team Russia defeated the WHL in the Subway Super Series. He was interviewed on ice after that game too.

Well apparently that luck has a good shelf life because Delnov's hot hand produced a five point night (2g,3a, +2) Friday in the 6-2 win over Saskatoon. With his offensive outburst the Florida Panthers draft pick has pushed himself up to third on the team in scoring with 23 pts. (11g, 12a). But last night it just wasn't about his point production. Delnov was all over the ice, backchecking, forechecking, poke checking. If his recent play keeps up, I'm thinking of doing a nightly feature, "Dialogue with Delnov".

I do think there was extra motivation for Delnov last night, going up against his fellow countryman Nakita Sherbak. The draft eligible Sherbak is generating a lot of attention for his hot start (16g, 21a +8) with Saskatoon. But an even better reason for Delnov's recent success is his linemates. Ever since head coach Steve Konowalchuk put him together with Branden Troock and Ryan Gropp, Delnov and his linemates have been producing, highlighted by last night's nine point performance (4g,5a, +5). All three have good size, handle the puck very well and are quick on their feet. Against the Blades Friday it was a lethal combination.

While that line was grabbing the headlines, don't think the lack of point production from the other lines meant they had an off-night. The Lipsbergs-Barzal-Hickman line seemed to have the puck on their sticks for long stretches inside the attacking zone. Meanwhile the Yakubowski-Eansor-McKechnie line did exactly what they were tasked to do; shutdown the Blades top scoring line. That is back-to-back games now that the Eansor line was given the assignment of putting the clamps on the opponents top line and they passed the test each night with flying colors. They were rewarded when McKechnie's relentless forecheck created a turnover and he scored the night's final goal.

At some point you have to believe Connor Honey will make his way off the weekly injury report and back into the lineup, right?. How is this for a fourth line? Swenson-Elliot-Honey. Until that happens that fourth line isn't too shabby with Keegan Kolesar or Michal Holub in Honey's place.

We've talked about the team needing an adjustment period while they worked recent acquisitions into the lineup; players like Gropp, McKechnie and Yakubowksi. It appears they have found the right "chemistry" for those players. The same can also be said for defenseman Adam Henry. Henry was actually the first player the T-birds acquired during the season, coming to Seattle from Lethbridge back on October 9th in exchange for Griffin Foulk.

Over the past week my opinion is that Henry has been the team's best overall defenseman, playing well at both ends and sparking a resurgence in the team's power play. Paired up with 16 year old Ethan Bear they have helped steady Seattle's back end. Henry's start with the T-birds was a bit up and down and there was a recent stretch when his D-partner was out with injury, but he seems to have dialed it in. Let's hope he keeps it up so he can get the +/- on the right side of zero.

Speaking of working players into the lineup, while the T-birds were taking care of business on the ice last night, off the ice they were confirming what had been rumored the past 24 hours; the signing of 17 year old Champlin Park, Minnesota native Calvin Spencer. You know, with Twitter, there's no keeping a good secret anymore! Spencer, a 6'2, 192lb winger is a player the T-birds recently listed. He came out from the Twin Cities a few weeks ago and practiced with the team. Apparently he liked what he saw and earlier this week made his decision to commit to Seattle and the WHL.

Outside the T-birds organization, there's not much known about Spencer by those of us on the periphery. The little tidbits that are out there say he is a physical player with some offensive upside. Spencer was playing with Team Northwest in the Upper Midwest Elite (high school) League. If you are not familiar with that level, think Shattuck-St. Mary's, the Faribault, MN. program that has produced so many quality hockey players. Current Medicine Hat Tiger Tommy Vannelli played for Team Northwest last year. I think this signing fills the void in the '96 born forward group left open when the T-birds traded Carter Folk to Lethbridge in the Yakubowski-Mckechnie deal.

Now though, Seattle has a dearth of forwards on the roster (15). They are also still carrying eight defensemen. WHL teams are allowed to carry a 25 man roster but most seldom do. With the addition of Spencer, Seattle is at 25 right now but you have to believe more moves will follow at some point. With the T-birds losing players to December tournaments though, I wouldn't expect further moves of significance until after Christmas.

Had the opportunity to spend a few minutes chatting with new Saskatoon head coach Dave Struch before the game. Really liked his message; the way he talked about his team (coaching staff). He has a plan for the long term but is still is focused on this season, despite working with a team transitioning from a Memorial Cup host to a younger club. Remember, this is a team with new ownership as well but the Struch hire seems to be the right move.

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