Monday, January 27, 2014

Special Delivery

After the frustration of the road loss in Kennewick on Friday, the Thunderbirds responded well by winning the last two games on the weekend. They topped off the busy stretch by defeating the Kelowna Rockets Sunday to push their win total to 31, the first time since the 2008-09 season that the T-birds have won more then 30 games.

The story of the three game weekend was special teams. Friday at the Toyota Center against the Tri-City Americans, Seattle failed to capitalize on a first period five minute power play, surrendered a shorthanded goal, and never recovered as they dropped a 3-1 decision. There were other missed opportunities in the game including two more ineffective power plays but giving up the shorty in the first set the tone for the rest of the game.

Saturday at home versus Everett was the complete opposite as Seattle went 4-of-5 with the man advantage in their 4-3 overtime win against the Silvertips. The Thunderbirds also managed to kill off 3 of 4 Everett man advantages as they got back in the win column after their seven game win streak had been snapped the night before.

Sunday it was more of the same. The T-birds scored twice against the Rockets on the power play in their 4-1 victory. But the key to the game was killing off a four minute Kelowna power play chance in the second period with the score still tied at 1-1. Seattle's penalty killers did an excellent job of blocking shots and getting sticks into shooting lanes and also deflecting passes. Less then 30 seconds after the penalty kill the 'Birds scored what turned out to be the game winning goal.

As a result, Seattle's power play, which has languished towards the bottom of the league through much of the season, has risen to ninth in the WHL at 21.3%. In fact, the T-birds 50 PP goals are the third most scored in the league to date. Only Portland (57) and Brandon (51) have scored more power play goals then Seattle. The statistical oddity? Seattle is #2 in the WHL at home on the power play (28.6%) but just 20th out of 22 teams in the league on the road with the man advantage (15.4%).

Meanwhile the T-birds penalty killing has been fairly steady all season and at the moment ranks 10th but is #2 on home ice. This weekend in three games Seattle killed off 10 of 11 shorthanded situations. Sam McKechnie was like a Tazmanian Devil on the PK for the T-birds. He and Scott Eansor bring so much energy and pressure to the ice when killing off penalties.

After taking a knee-on-knee hit in the first period Friday in Kennewick it didn't look like Jaimen Yakubowski was going to be back on the ice any time soon. He spent the rest of the game against the Ams up in the Toyota Center stands with his knee heavily wrapped. But there he was Saturday, taking his regular shift against Everett. Very fortunate not to have suffered a significant, long term injury. It wasn't a dirty play by the Tri-City player that led to the hit, just a bit reckless. Sunday Yakubowski was being a pest and appeared to get under the skin of the Rockets. He finished off the weekend with the empty net goal against Kelowna. Not bad for someone who was on crutches just 48 hours earlier.

Talk about making the most of your opportunities, Seattle's Mitch Elliot has just three goals in 45 games this season but two of them are game winners. He had an overtime game winner back on October 4th in Medicine Hat and got what turned out to be the game winner Sunday in the second period against Kelowna. Elliot has shown his versatility this season playing both on the wing and at center. He's been on the team's 3rd and 4th lines, gets time on the PK and even spent one game back on defense. Elliot knows that his role is as the team's enforcer and he does it very well. He doesn't have to lead the team in PIMs. Opposing teams are very aware that he's there.

How good has goalie Taran Kozun been since being acquired from Kamloops at the trade deadline? Six games, six starts, six wins. Sunday he stopped 33 more shots and was a shorthanded break away goal away from his third shutout with Seattle. He has posted a 1.29 GAA and .955 save percentage since joining the team. A nearly under the radar trade deadline deal, it may end up being the best any WHL team made.

After starting the month of January with a boatload of injuries and going 0-3, Seattle has now gone 9-1 over their last ten games, relying on their depth to get them through. The injuries started piling up in Mid-December but during that stretch Seattle has still managed to go 12-6-1-0. Again, they are slowly getting healthy but don't we all salivate just a little wondering what this team can do with Branden Troock and Connor Honey back in the lineup? Soon, hopefully soon.

The busiest month of the regular season concludes Friday night in Everett when the T-birds once again meet the Silvertips. It has been years since the Thunderbirds have posted double digit wins over one month of hockey but a win against the 'Tips would be Seattle's 10th in January.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

There were lots of similarities between Seattle's 3-2 overtime win Tuesday night and their win this past Saturday up in Kamloops. The biggest similarity, of course, is that each game resulted in a win and two points helping the Thunderbirds stretch their current winning streak to seven games. That's one shy of their season-best eight game winning streak from late November to Mid-December. When is the last time the T-birds had two winning streaks in the same season of at least seven games?

Like the game Saturday in Kamloops, Seattle got out to an early two goal first period lead against Moose Jaw and looked like they were going to skate the opponent right off the ice. But as in the road game against the Blazers, the T-birds found it difficult adding to that lead Tuesday against the Warriors. And as in the game in Kamloops, the T-birds took a late third period penalty that led to the opposition being able to pull the goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage that resulted in a late goal.

Saturday up in Kamloops the 'Birds held on for a 3-2 win in regulation, Tuesday night at home Seattle surrendered the late tying goal and had to win it on Shea Theodore's shootout goal. It was the second time this season that Theodore had provided the T-birds with a shootout game winner (Oct. 11 in Kelowna was the first time). While neither win will qualify as a work of art, the bottom line is the T-birds got the win and that makes it a beauty. In other words, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; the beholder of the two points!

Seattle's offense struggled to play add on last night because, for one, their rhythm was disrupted by too many penalties. Hard to find continuity from shift to shift and roll four lines when your top players are spending too much time on the penalty kill. Most of those penalties were avoidable. Seattle relies on physical play but it has to be disciplined. Only Moose Jaw (879 PIMs) has been penalized more this season then Seattle's 875 PIMs.

Secondly I thought last night, much like Saturday in Kamloops, some of Seattle's forwards got away from team play...gotta stick to the systems.

Third, I really think they're missing Branden Troock's offensive production as he missed his 8th game due to injury. Meanwhile Mathew Barzal is not yet back to 100-percent, which is limiting his ice time. The fact they are winning without those two contributing right now is a good sign. Once again Seattle got offense Tuesday from a couple of rookies who before the game had combined for just five goals on the season. Last night Scott Eansor (his 3rd) and Ethan Bear (his 4th) were the T-birds goal scorers.
Can you get a better immediate return from a trade deadline deal then what the Thunderbirds have received from the Taran Kozun acquisition? Four games, four starts, four wins a 0.96 GAA and a save percentage of .966. Even before last night's stellar effort in goal, Kozun was honored as the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week. His play in net, along with better team defense, is a big reason why Seattle has allowed just eight goals in their last six games. Seattle felt they needed to add a goalie at the trade deadline. I'm sure there were plenty available. They got the right one at a reasonable price.

One of the drawbacks of only playing the teams from the Eastern Conference once per season is you only get one opportunity to see players like Brayden Point in person. Terrific player, lots of talent and he works hard every shift. After the game you say, fun to watch. Then you realize the damage he can do and you're glad you only play against him once per season.

The last four Januarys (2010-2013) the Thunderbirds had a combined total of 8 wins. This January they already have seven with four games to go, including three this weekend. Meanwhile, there are now just two dozen games left for Seattle in the regular season. Only one of those, February 16th versus Prince George, is against a team currently below .500.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

T-birds Finding Their Stride

That was a pretty good week of hockey, don't ya think? Two shutout wins, two road wins, only two goals allowed and three wins overall while climbing up into fourth place in the Western Conference, just a point out of third. As a result the winning streak is now six games and remember, they're doing this while still not at full strength.

While players are slowly returning back to the lineup from the doctor's office, Seattle still accomplished their six game winning streak while losing another 21 man games to injuries. Branden Troock, over a point-a-game player and third on the team in scoring, has missed the last seven games. Because of injury, rookie Mathew Barzal, the team's fifth leading scorer at just under a point a game, hasn't registered a point in over a month.

While the T-birds have been absent a couple of their top scorers, the offensive production has been down slightly but they've tightened up the team defense. During the winning streak the 'Birds are allowing, on average, just 2.16 goals against. But that is misleading because seven of the 13 goals scored against them over the past six games came in one contest. That was the 9-7 win in Prince George that started the streak, with call-up Logan Flodell in net. Over the last five games Seattle has allowed just six goal, or just 1.2 goals per game.

Meanwhile, during the streak, Seattle is getting offense from both the expected and the unexpected. Top scorers like Roberts Lipsbergs (5g, 5a), Alexander Delnov (4g, 6a), Ryan Gropp (4g, 5a) and Shea Theodore (10a) continue to do their part while youngsters and rookies like Scott Eansor, Calvin Spencer and Kevin Wolf have chipped in with a combined three goals.

And congratulations to Wolf. the St. Paul, Minnesota native registered the first goal of his WHL career Saturday night in Kamloops. Wolf, normally a defenseman, has seen a lot of ice time as a winger recently due to injuries. He was playing up on a forward line against the Blazers when he potted his first goal. I don't know if that will become a permanent switch of positions but Wolf seems more aggressive and much more physical when playing on a forward line. Wolf should buy teammate Mitch Elliot a steak dinner because Elliot did all the hard work to set up that goal. I think I can say without reservation it was one of the prettiest goals I've seen this season.

Elliot broke in behind the Blazer defense after scooping up a loose puck at center ice. It looked for all the world that he would take a shot at his third goal of the season on the breakaway but somehow, out of the corner of his eye he saw Wolf jump up to join the rush. He made a nice backhand pass over to Wolf that fooled the Kamloops goalie and all Wolf had to do was put the puck in the empty net. Not just a pretty play, but a very unselfish one by Elliot.

Taran Kozun went nearly eight periods into his T-birds career before allowing his first goal, a span of 161.58 minutes. Even at that, the only two goals the T-birds trade deadline acquisition has allowed were power play goals, one of them scored 6-on-4. Over the past five games Seattle's Mumaugh-Kozun goaltending tandem has a 1.15 GAA and a .957 save percentage while posting a 5-0-0-0 record.

Nice to see a Justin Hickman shot go off the post and IN for a change! Hickman has lost a few goals recently thanks to the post or cross bar. This time he banged away at a rebound, had it hit the post, the goalie and trickle in for what turned out to be the game winner. That was one of those greasy goals that results from going to the front of the net. Seattle had two like that in the win over Kamloops. I don't know if Hickman has uncovered a new found gear but I'm expecting the Thunderbirds captain to pot a few more goals off the rush. he's been beating defenseman down the right wing with more regularity lately.

January is the busiest month on the schedule for the T-birds. When all is said and done they will play 14 games over 31 days. So, while they've played a lot of hockey over the last 16 days (9 games) they still have five more to play in an 11 day span before we turn the calendar to February.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Koz Kozun Kan

And for an encore, new Seattle goalie Taran Kozun will juggle chainsaws while blindfolded and balancing on a beach ball!

Seriously though, you couldn't have asked for a better debut from your new netminder then what the Thunderbirds got from Kozun Tuesday in Spokane; a 28 save shutout in a 1-0 overtime win. Felt a tad sorry for Kozun's counterpart Eric Williams. The Spokane goaltender was having himself a pretty good game too, until that Ryan Gropp shot bounced over his right pad for the game winner with just 44 seconds left in extra time. Again, just a tad sorry. Mostly, pretty happy.

What really struck me about Kozun is how well he handles the puck. Some goalies are better at it then others and he was very good in that department Tuesday. When you don't see a goalie that much over the course of his career in the WHL, you don't get a good opportunity to analyze his strengths and weaknesses. That certainly appears to be a strength for Kozun. A goalie who can handle the puck as he did against the Chiefs makes it so much easier on the defensemen. It's like having a third d-man out on the ice. So many times during the game Kozun disrupted the Chiefs dump ins.

In the last three games, Seattle's two goalies (Kozun and Danny Mumaugh)have compiled a 3-0-0-0 record with a 1.25 GAA and a save percentage of .951.

Want to know why a veteran 20 year old like Seth Swenson is expendable at the trade deadline? Look no further then Ryan Gropp. More and more, Gropp is getting to play in all situations as he gets more comfortable playing a 200 foot game at the WHL level. Every time he touches the puck now, you think there is a scoring chance. He's becoming that dynamic. In his last four games he has earned seven points (4g, 3a) and is +5. For the season the 17 year old Kamloops product has 21 points (11g, 10a) in just 32 games and is +1. Swenson, in 43 games before he was traded to Lethbridge, had 20 points (8g, 12a)and was -5. In a development league like this, the ice time usually goes to the younger, developing player.

There were expectations in Lethbridge, before the season started, that the Hurricanes could make the playoffs out East. Of course things went sour almost from the get go and the 'Canes are sitting dead last in the league with a .245 winning percentage. But seeing the former 'Canes players who are now suiting up for the T-birds, it is easy to see why Lethbridge had playoff aspirations back in September. All four players Seattle has obtained via trade from the Hurricanes are hard working, sixty minute players. The latest acquisition, Russell Maxwell, epitomized that in the third period against Spokane when, without his stick, he blocked or deflected away three Spokane shots while the Chiefs were on the power play. Gutsy, gutsy effort.

Once again the T-birds were determined to shutdown Spokane's big two, Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani. Once again they succeeded as those two top scoring players were held off the scoresheet...except they did go a combined -1 and took six minutes in penalties. The Holmberg/Aviani duo is now a combined -9 in five games this season against Seattle. They are a dangerous combo out on the ice so it takes a concerted effort to shut them down. The T-birds have consistently worked hard to keep them from stealing games and that's a big reason why the T-birds are 5-0 against the Chiefs so far this season.

Matt Barzal took warm ups before the game in Spokane. Hopefully that means he's close to returning to the lineup. The hope too is that Branden Troock is not that far out from returning from injury as well. Then there is Conner Honey, who has not played since October 6th.

So, Seattle has compiled their 26-14-2-3 record and have only had a complete, healthy roster for two out of 45 games (when he was still a part of the T-birds at the start of the season, Jesse Forsberg missed a number of games due to injury, only suiting up twice prior to being traded to Moose Jaw). Over the last month alone the T-birds have lost players to injury for a combined 55 games yet have still managed to go 11-5-1-0 in that span. That doesn't even take into account three players who missed a combined 15 games while away at international tournaments during that same time frame. So, 70 man games lost and they're still six games above .500. On the season T-birds players have missed over 100 games due to injury, suspension or tournaments yet are still 12 games over .500. It's nice to have depth, but wouldn't you like to see what this team could do with a completely healthy roster?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Let's Play the Match Game

Let's play a multiple choice game regarding last night's 4-3 overtime win versus Spokane, shall we?

A. Seattle was very fortunate to earn even a point, let alone two. They were their own worst enemy last night with multiple defensive zone gaffes and ill-timed penalties.

B. Seattle actually deserved a better fate. They were dominate with their forecheck for good stretches of the game and a couple bounces of the puck here or there and they should have won in regulation.

C. A win is a win is a win. It may have not been their best sixty minutes of hockey, but when all is said and done they don't ask you how, just how many.

While A and B are good choices, I'm going with "C". This is a results based business. The bottom line is they won the game. It took a strong effort to come from behind three times, mainly because they had to overcome their own miscues, but over the course of nearly 64 minutes of hockey, the Thunderbirds were the better team. You hate to give up a point to a team you're battling in the standings for playoff position, but after their recent struggles to start the month the T-birds have now won three in a row and they are slowly getting players back from the list of walking wounded.

In 38 games against the rest of the league, the Spokane combination of Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani have combined for 137 points (70 g, 69a.)and are +49. In four games against Seattle they have combined for five points (3g, 2a)and are also a combined -8. Based on those numbers, is it any surprise that the T-birds are 4-0 against the Chiefs this season?

Everyone wants that blockbuster deal to bring in a superstar player at the trade deadline as their team sets up for the second half of the season and the playoff push. But, sometimes it is the under-the-radar move that makes the difference. I doubt most Seattle fans had heard about Russell Maxwell before Seattle GM Russ Farwell picked him up from Lethbridge on Thursday. While Maxwell didn't register a point in his Thunderbirds debut Saturday night, you couldn't help but be impressed with his effort. He was solid on face-offs, made crisp passes, was a pest on the forecheck and is a top line skater and puck handler.

The only question now is what line will he end up playing on? He's a plug and play type player, meaning he could skate with anybody. Last night he was out there mostly with Justin Hickman and Ryan Gropp but as the team slowly gets back to full health it will be interesting to see what line combinations head coach Steve Konowalchuk goes with. In the end, don't be surprised if Maxwell ends up on a line with his former Lethbridge teammates, Sam McKechnie and Jaimen Yakubowski. Yakubowski returned to the ice last night for the first time since early December. Having not practiced much, his ice time was limited but once he's back to full strength, that line combination's familiarity with each other makes sense.

Funny what a little rest and time off between games can do. Out of necessity (injuries to the back up) goalie Danny Mumaugh was overused on the T-birds recent 5-games-in-6-nights road trip and his GAA took a big hit as a result. But given time off and a chance to rest between his last two starts, he's played nearly 130 minute of hockey and allowed just four goals, compiling a 2-0-0-0 record with a 1.88 GAA and a save percentage of .926. Those are numbers pretty much in line with what he did most of December when the 'Birds were going 7-2-1-0.

In the absence of Branden Troock and Mathew Barzal, the Seattle combination of Roberts Lipsbergs and Alexander Delnov have picked up the offensive mantle during this current three game winning streak. Dating back to Tuesday's 9-7 win in Prince George the two players have combined for 16 points (7g, 9a) and are +3.

Who's next out of the hospital ward? With the return of Yakubowski to the lineup Saturday, Seattle still awaits the return of a healthy Troock, Barzal and Connor Honey. Not sure we'll see any of those three players Tuesday when the T-birds travel to Spokane for the rematch with the Chiefs, but I do expect to see the debut of new goaltender Taran Kozun.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Age is Just a Number

There was lots of speculation after the Thunderbirds traded away 20 year old Seth Swenson to Lethbridge on Thursday, that the team would use Friday's trade deadline to fill the overage void. Afterall, the departure of Swenson left the T-birds with just one overage player, left winger Mitch Elliot. But when the trade deadline arrived, Seattle did not add any 20s, instead picking up a 19 year old goalie instead.

The T-birds now have 11 1994 born players (19 yr. olds)on the roster. With the exception of newly arrived goalie Taran Kozun who will share goaltending duties with 17 year old Danny Mumaugh, all will play every night when healthy. So the reality is, there was no room on the roster for anymore 1993 born players. The team didn't feel like adding a 20 year old just for the sake of filling two open overage spots. I'm sure Seattle GM Russ Farwell inquired but my guess is he found the price a bit too steep. I would imagine teams looking to trade off a high end 20 year old were asking for one of Seattle's core of young players and Farwell wasn't willing to sacrifice the future.

You might recall earlier this season in an interview Farwell said other teams had inquired about 16 year old prospect Lane Pederson. At that time Farwell said Pederson was not available. Well, if he wasn't willing to deal a player not yet on the roster, then it is an easy leap to conclude he wasn't going to trade away any of the young talent currently playing with the team or other young prospects in the pipeline.

For now, you might as well look at these 11 '94 born players as "overagers" because only three will be with the team next season. Swenson, while a tremendous teammate was being used in a dimished role. After accumulating 63 points in his first 106 games as a T-birds (.60 pts. per game), he had only picked up 20 pts. in 43 games this season(.47 pts. per game), playing primarily on the 4th line. It isn't that Swenson is less capable of scoring points then he was a year ago. The fact is he lost time on the scoring lines because younger players (Barzal, Gropp) were filling that role. When you have a younger player capable of giving you the same or more production then an older player, in a development league such as the WHL, the younger player usually gets the ice time. In Lethbridge Swenson will probably be asked to take on more of an offensive role.

Swenson came to Seattle from Portland in the Marcel Noebels deal two years ago. He helped turn around the culture in the T-birds locker room after three non playoff seasons. I'll remember him for the diving pass from behind the net that set up Luke Lockhart's tying goal, in the waning seconds of Game Seven, of last springs playoff series with Kelowna. If he had one flaw, it was that he is a Denver Broncos fan.

Some would have argued that Seattle needed to obtain a 20 year old goaltender. To that I would answer, what 20 year old goalie was available that was an upgrade over what Seattle currently has? Corbin Boes? He went to Portland but even his numbers don't jump out at you; not at the cost of a 2nd round draft pick. Instead Seattle traded for Kozun, surrendering seldom used defenseman Austin Douglas and 18 year old goaltender Justin Myles.

The emergence of the 17 year old Mumaugh made Myles expendable. With 16 year old prospect Logan Flodell waiting in the wings, one of Mumaugh or Myles was not going to be here next season. Mumaugh just outplayed Myles the first half of the season. His effort Wednesday in Prince George, making 28 saves on 29 shots in a 2-1 shootout win cemented his spot with the team.

As for the acquisition of Russell Maxwell from Lethbridge. I call it the further Konowalchuk-ization of the roster. Maxwell sounds like the prototypical player head coadh Steve Konowalchuk likes on his bench. A hard nosed, gritty, two way player in the same mold of Sam McKechnie and Soctt Eansor; hard to play against and able to play in all situations.

Finally, Michal Holub gets his wish. Farwell granted his request for a trade by sending him to Lethbridge in the Maxwell deal. The 17 year old Holub had left the team in early December over a lack of playing time. I like Holub, I think he has the chance to be a solid power forward in the WHL. I think Seattle would have preferred to keep him. Certainly Holub has to think about his future, afterall, this is his draft year. But personally, I was disappointed he didn't stick around and fight for, and earn, his ice time. He would have gotten plenty of it over the past month. He could have been part of a dynamic group of young forwards here next season along with the likes of Barzal, Gropp, Eansor, Calvin Spencer, Pederson, Kaden Elder and Nolan Volcan. Still, I wish him the best with the Hurricanes.

So, the T-birds roster is now set. They still need to get a few players back from injury, but I like the looks of this club going forward.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Did You Think We Were Going Away for Good?

Doom and gloom, right? Woe is us, correct? The beginning of the end, yes? No, no, no! The T-bird's left on their five-games-in six-nights road trip in 5th place in the Western Conference standings, then three losses and they slipped to 6th! But guess what? by the time their sojourn out into the bitter cold and snow north of the border was over, Seattle was in 4th place!

Seattle has had two hiccups this season. One was the 0-5-1-0 skid at the start of November. They just didn't play well during that stretch. No excuses for that. It wasn't their best hockey. Now, during this second skid in which they went 0-4-1-0, yes, they didn't play well, but playing 11 straight games (seven on the road)without a full roster, sometimes dressing two skaters under the limit, didn't help. After treading through the first six games of the injury plagued stretch, and going 3-1-1-0, it caught up with them and they stubbed their toe, badly.

The T-birds aren't looking for any sympathy. They realize injuries are part of the game. Isn't it funny though, that as the T-birds started to get a few players back in the line up, they won back-to-back games up in Prince George? At this level, you might be able to survive one or two injuries but 5 or 6 and most long term? That's a tall order.

In their four losses the T-birds actually played well early on. They were down just 2-1 after the first period New Year's Eve at home to Kamloops. In Red Deer they held a 1-0 lead after one. In Edmonton the T-birds were only down, 2-0, midway through the game and in Calgary Seattle was outshooting and possibly outplaying the Hitmen until a couple of crucial mistakes in the final few minutes of the first period doomed them. As each of those games wore on, Seattle's thin bench couldn't keep up.

Seattle is not out of the woods yet. They still have four key players listed as out with injury on the WHL Weekly Report. But as the saying goes, what doesn't kill us make us stronger and the T-birds didn't die on the vine out east. They should come out of this stronger because young players like Kevin Wolf and first year players such as Calvin Spencer, and Austin Douglas got more ice time. Rookie Ryan Gropp took on a more increased role in the team's offense while a veteran such as Sam McKechnie asserted himself even more on the ice.

The T-birds have made one trade so far ahead of Friday's WHL trade deadline. Seattle acquired center Russell Maxwell from Lethbridge in exchange for Seth Swenson, Michal Holub and a 4th round draft pick. Always tough to see a guy like Swenson get traded away. It is the tough part of this business because you're not dealing with commodities here, you're dealing with human beings.

You learn to appreciate these young men, not just for their skills on the ice, but their qualities off it. Swenson was always upbeat and always seemed to carry a friendly smile and positive attitude, no matter the situation. I wish him the best.

I'll have more thoughts on the trade deadline after it passes tomorrow and we learn whether or not the T-birds have made any further moves.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

No Seventh Heaven

2014 went out with a bang for the T-birds. Unfortunately it was them getting banged up over the last few weeks of December, then getting banged around New Year's Eve by the Kamloops Blazers by the tune of a 7-1 drubbing.

At first blush one might be tempted to blame this loss on all the injuries and absences that have affected the roster the past six games. Afterall, the list of walking wounded got even longer before the clash with the Blazers when Scott Eansor was added to the injury list and was a no go Tuesday night as the 'Birds played their 6th straight game with a short bench as a result, dressing under the limit again. No Eansor, no Barzal, still no Honey or Yakubowski and Bear and Kolesar still away at the U-17 Hockey Challenge. Then early in the second no more Wardley after he was assessed a five minute major. The Thunderbirds were so short of bodies, they employed two seldom used defensemen, Kevin Wolf and Austin Douglas, as forwards on their 4th line.

But, this game was lost in the first period when Seattle didn't take advantage of their own aggressive start. A couple of good early shifts led to penalty trouble for Kamloops. Seattle was outshooting Kamloops to the tune of 10-2 and short bench or not looked like they were ready to skate the Blazers off the ice. The Blazers were back on their heels and an early T-birds goal would have put doubt in their minds.

Unfortunately, Seattle passed up too many shots when on those early man advantages. Then, when Shea Theodore's stick self-destructed like the Jim Phelps tapes in Mission Impossible, leading to a turnover right in front of the Seattle net and a short-handed goal for Kamloops, you started to get the sense this was not going to be the T-birds night. It snowballed all the way down hill from there, culminating with another turnover while on the power play in the third period that led to the Blazers second shorthanded goal of the night.

There really was no phase of the T-birds game that was good New Year's Eve, well except for the penalty kill which did a commendable job killing off about 10 minutes of Blazer power play the first half of the second period. The problem was it was after that when the affects of the short bench became evident. All that time on the PK and Seattle didn't have enough bodies left on the bench to recover from it. Shortly after, the Blazers scored the third goal and that was all she wrote.

Look, I watched my beloved Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions, and once again one of the favorites to win the Cup this season, fall just a few nights back, give up a seven spot to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It happens to even the best. The Blackhawks have since bounced back and just recently blanked the L.A. Kings, 1-0.

So, while the loss stings, it will be the T-birds response in their next game Friday in Red Deer that will be important.