The Seattle Thunderbirds and Kelowna Rockets have met on the ice nine times, going back to last spring's first round playoff series. Seven of those games have gone past regulation. While the previous five games of bonus hockey were decided in overtime, the last two have taken a shootout to determine a winner, including last night, a game in which the Rockets prevailed, 4-3.
So, through the first two games of the four game regular season series it has been a bit of tit for tat. Back in October the Thunderbirds got the shootout win, ironically, by the same 4-3 final margin. Through 170 minutes of hockey this season each team has scored six goals. I'm not a big fan of the shootout. I think it diminishes what both sides did as a team over the course of the game and five minute overtime period. But, that's the way things are set up to decide regular season games. Someone has got to be a winner and someone has to take the loss although I'm sure a lot of you were probably thinking it was a shame either team had to lose last night. Sometimes, I'm okay with a tie.
If every game during the season was played that way; a good, intense, well played affair by both team I'd be satisfied no matter the result. I'd be disappointed if my team lost but if that effort was given each night, I wouldn't complain....too loudly. That was just a very entertaining hockey game. Neither team was perfect but both sides put out the necessary effort on every shift.
Wasn't it great to see the Thunderbirds power play come to life? Two goals scored and against the WHL's top penalty killing unit no less. That's three power play goals for the T-birds in their last two games and they've come against the top two penalty killing teams in the league (Victoria is #2 behind Kelowna in that department). The biggest difference is better, quicker puck movement and no hesitation to shoot the puck. Sometimes shots get blocked, but guess what? Sometimes those blocked shots come right back to you.
I don't know if Danny Mumaugh has put a stranglehold on the job as the team's number one goalie but he has started the past three games and has looked very sharp in going 1-0-1-1 in that span. His goals against average over those three games is a paltry 1.94 and his save percentage over his last three starts is .944. He's allowed just six goals in just under 186 minutes while making 103 saves. In the process he's lowered his season GAA to 3.14 and raised his save percentage to .916.
They will still need to get Justin Myles minutes though. Myles has just gotten into a funk recently, being pulled in each of his last two starts. He's surrendered seven goals in just under forty minutes of work. But we saw earlier this season that he is a very capable goalie. The only way to get him out of his funk is to give him a start or two.
Ryan Gropp scored on the very first shift of his very first game in the WHL back on October 25th. He then went eight games before he scored again, registering a goal in last night's shootout loss. What a goal it was too!
I don't know if Roberts Lipsbergs will be suspended for the hit that injured Kelowna's Mitchell Wheaton. In my opinion, he shouldn't be because there was nothing malicious about the hit. Sometimes players receiving hits put themselves in a vulnerable position and injuries can happen as a result. Probably not the best analogy, but when a pedestrian stumbles off the sidewalk into oncoming traffic, do you blame the driver who hits him with their car? Lipsbergs was making a hockey play and it was no more egregious then the dozen or so similar hits I see during the course of a game.
Still, I understand that player safety is paramount and they are trying to police certain types of checks out of the game. I just didn't see this as one of those cases where Lipsbergs did anything blatantly wrong. It was similar to a check that cost Justin Hickman a five minute major in a game back on November 8th. At that time I didn't think that hit looked anything out of the ordinary and after the league reviewed it, Hickman did not receive any further discipline. It wasn't warranted in that case and it isn't warranted in this instance either.
I thought Damon Severson was outstanding for Kelowna last night and I voted him one of my three stars. The good news for the rest of the league is with the way he's playing this is probably the last year in the league for the New Jersey Devils prospect. I'm starting to get the same feeling about the Thunderbirds Branden Troock who continues to be one of the best players on the ice the past 2-3 weeks. Dallas, are you watching?