Most weekends, getting three out of four points will be an occasion for celebration, but I get the feeling the Thunderbirds aren't happy letting the game slip away from them Saturday night and getting just a single point.
The T-birds were fairly in control of the game against Everett, leading 2-0, and hadn't taken a penalty all night, when all of a sudden they were whistled for three infractions in the final six minutes of the second period. No penalties before, and none after. The Silvertips cashed in by scoring twice on the man advantage to get back in the game. The two teams traded goals in the third period. Seattle could have had more as they dominated most of the action in the final period but could only capitalize the one time despite 21 shots on goal.
The T-birds were equally as strong in the overtime period but unfortunately a pretty pedestrian shot beat Seattle goalie Danny Mumaugh and Everett left with the win. I'm sure Mumaugh we'll be the first guy to admit he should have had that one. Just an unfortunate bounce. Mumaugh's been very good the last month. I'll take him winning five of every six starts any time and twice on Sunday. This just happened to be that one game. Instead of taking four points on the weekend Seattle settled for three. But I think it is the two they gave up in the loss that smarts the most.
As we've mentioned many times before, the WHL is a developmental league for these players. The task is to prepare the players for the next level. Part of that preparation is developing good habits. Hockey is a team sport, it's 25 players sticking to the game plan and working as a unit. You can't stray from that concept if you want to advance to the next level. You can't worry about your ice time or individual stats, only team goals. I applaud Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk for instilling that idea in his players, even if it means sitting one of your better players in the third period of a tight game, against a division rival. It's not to prove a point, it's a teaching moment.
Despite the overtime setback, it's an incredible month and a half of hockey the T-birds have gone through. After that 0-5-1-0 stretch at the beginning of November, the T-birds have put the engine back on the rails. They've earned points in 14 of their last 16 games. That's 26 points going back to their overtime loss November 15th in Victoria. With the exception of the 5-2 loss November 22nd in Vancouver, they've been in position to win 15 of those 16 games. Even more impressive is everyone of those games, save one, was against a team with a winning record and all but one have been against a Western Conference opponent.
Ten of those 16 games have been versus their U.S. Division rivals, arguably the best division right now in the WHL. It is currently the only division in the league where every team is .500 or better. In those ten games, Seattle is 8-1-1-0 and half of those eight wins have been earned on the road. In their last five games the T-birds, because of injury and players away at international tournaments, haven't been able to field a complete team yet they've still managed to go 3-1-1-0.
Congrats to Calvin Spencer on earning his first WHL point with an assist on Branden Troock's third period goal. And while we're at it, kudos to GM Russ Farwell for jumping on this prospect, getting him in and getting him signed in a matter of a week's time. I like Spencer's game more every time I see him. His skillset fits this roster. A very good pickup.
So, as frustrating as the loss Saturday night was, let's keep our eyes on the big picture. You're not gonna win them all but over the long haul this team is proving it not only can win more then it loses, it also can beat the best the WHL has to offer, and that's because they are one of the best. Despite the overtime loss, Seattle still owns the 5th best winning percentage in the WHL. They tasted adversity with that six game winless streak, fought through it, learned some hard lessons and ended up a better team as a result. Outside of that early November skid, the T-birds are 22-5-1-3. That's not a fluke. that's almost half a season, enough of a sample size to say this team is a contender.
Most importantly, no one can say this team is not getting better as the season moves along. They need to get through this stretch of injuries and absences but once they are whole again, I like the makeup of this roster. Roles have been defined and players are buying into those roles. We're half way through the season and I believe the best is yet to come.
First things first, the Thunderbirds need to finish off a very solid month of December. So far it has been one of the best months of hockey this team has had in a number of years. With one game to go before the calendar turns to January and 2014, Seattle is 7-1-1-0. Up next is Kamloops on New Year's Eve. No one knows more then Seattle you can't take any opponent in this league lightly; the T-birds fell to the Blazers back in mid-October, 3-1 up in Kamloops. Seattle is a different team now then they were back then but you can't overlook the Blazers, especially with a five game road trip coming up to start the New Year.