It's a Saturday in early February, the races for the postseason and playoff position in the WHL are in full swing, and the T-birds have the night off? Strange schedule but I'll take it. Not sure what to do with this rare Saturday night off. Maybe I'll re-introduce myself to the wife and kids!
Heck of a week for the Thunderbirds, going a perfect 3-0-0-0 and outscoring the opposition 11-3 in the process. As a result their lead over Spokane for fourth place in the Western Conference is now eight points and they finish the week just one point out of third.
It's been 154.04 minutes since the T-birds last allowed a goal. Seattle's team goals against average over the past 14 games is 1.54. The Thunderbirds have a lot of offensive weapons but it is their team defense that is winning them games. It starts in goal with Taran Kozun who has posted four shutouts since joining the team January 10th.
Kozun has put together three straight shutouts against Spokane, not easy to do when you're facing two of the league's top goal scorers in Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani. But while Kozun certainly deserves the majority of the credit, the team has done a tremendous job of clamping down on that pair. It starts with Seattle's shutdown line which usually features a combination of Jaimen Yakubowski, Sam McKechnie, Scott Eansor, Russ Maxwell or Mitch Elliot.
When Seattle beat the Chiefs Wednesday over in Spokane it was their 34th win of the season and also guaranteed they would have their first winning season since the 2008-09 season when they finished three games above .500. Now at 35-16-2-3 the next milestone is the 40 win plateau. The last time the T-birds reached 40 wins was six seasons ago, 2008-07, when they finished 42-23-5-2. To get to that point that season, the T-birds had to win seven of their last ten games. To reach 40 wins this season, Seattle needs to finish 5-11.
While the focus is on the present, the Thunderbirds future is also on display. Mathew Barzal has nine points in his last five games while Ryan Gropp has eight points in his last seven. Meanwhile defenseman Ethan Bear continues his season long steady play from the back end. Those three players, all eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, are a combined +28 in 128 games this season. Somehow the officials found a way to steal a goal from Bear Friday night, when a curious "incidental contact with the goalie" call waved off what would have been his fifth goal of the season. When the goaltender initiates the contact well outside the crease, is it really incidental?
The T-birds have a rare Monday matinee game on the schedule when they travel up to Kelowna to take on the Rockets. My source, T-birds captain and Kelowna native Justin Hickman, says it's Family Day, a new holiday. Cool idea, but had this holiday been scheduled one week earlier I would have put up a large protest. See, the team will leave Sunday for that Monday afternoon game. Had this been last Sunday with the Seahawks in the Superbowl I don't think I would have been on that bus! Somehow, I think the folks up in Canada knew this!