It is disappointing to take a game down to its final minutes before falling as the Thunderbirds did Saturday night in that 6-4 loss to Kelowna. It is usually in those close, last minute defeats that you have a much more critical eye when reassessing every aspect of the game and possibly over magnifying the mistakes made or chances missed.
But you know what? I'm gonna leave that, fine-tooth comb critiquing, to the coaches. After all, that's there job. Yes, the loss was disappointing but putting that aside for the moment, I'm really enjoying watching this young team compete. We are five games in to a long 72-game season and Seattle is routinely putting nine rookies, and five second year players, out on the ice each game and they are competing to the point they have had a legitimate chance to win each of those five games. That's essentially 70 percent of your roster each night with well under two years of experience at the WHL level but they just don't seem intimidated by the situation.
The T-birds are playing good, competitive hockey and two of their better players, Justin Hickman and Shea Theodore, have yet to see a second of ice time. Seattle already has the youngest roster in the league and with those two WHL veterans unavailable because of injury, their game night roster is even younger. But it hasn't mattered because these young players all seem to have the same high compete level. Are they making mistakes? Sure, but early in their Major Junior careers they are doing more right then wrong out on the ice.
There is still a lot of hockey to play but if I was handicapping the race I would say the Western Conference is the Kelowna Rockets to lose. There's a lot of very good talent on that roster, a roster that includes a lot of players who have experienced back-to-back 50 plus win seasons and deep playoff runs the past two years. And yet Seattle hung right with them, basically until the final minute of the game.
If you are wondering, the referee did not miss the high stick that caught Seattle's Lane Pederson right before Kelowna's game winning goal. He just ruled it was on the follow though of a shot/play of the puck. If that was the case then, by rule, that is not a penalty. In real time, it didn't appear that way to me but it happened so quick it's very possible. I think after the game I was more frustrated with the charging call levied against Evan Wardley early in the third period that led to the Rockets game-tying 4th goal. I just think Wardley's reputation as a big hitter drew that penalty more then the actual play.
Two games into his T-birds career and I think Seattle got an absolute steal in Turner Ottenbreit in that deal with Saskatoon for Adam Henry. I really love the way he attacks the game. Meanwhile, watching him in his first two training camps with Seattle in 2013 and 2014, Donovan Neuls was just another face in the crowd, an 8th round bantam pick who really didn't stand apart from other prospects I was watching. But somewhere over the past 12 months, he has elevated his game to where you have to take notice of him out on the ice every shift.
The T-birds stay at home was a brief one. They're back on the road for two games next weekend beginning Friday in Spokane before another trip down to Portland Saturday.