Monday, January 5, 2015

Oh Captain, My Captain.

To steal the first line from Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities"; it was the best of times it was the worst of times. The Seattle Thunderbirds are getting their leading goal scorer back from each of the past two seasons with the return of Roberts Lipsbergs. But the reason they are bringing him back is because they've lost their captain, and this season's second leading scorer, Justin Hickman, who will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. And oh by the way, in order to add Lipsbergs to the roster they had to release Austrian Import Florian Baltram.

Hickman was actually initially injured back in September, during training camp/preseason. It is why he missed a chance to go to camp with the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL and why he missed the first six games of the season. It is remarkable that he was able to play the first half of the year with the injury and register 28 points (9G,19A) in 31 games, second only to Ryan Gropp on the team in that department. He was serving his second season as the T-birds captain. It's unfortunate the last thing he did for Seattle was receive a two-game suspension for a spitting incident down in Portland because that is so out of character for him. He's been a great leader for such a young roster. But just like that, his T-birds career comes to an end.

But in the end the surgery is the right way to go. As much as he was playing through the pain, as much as he was contributing to the success of the team, in the end they had to do what is best for his future. He's only 20 and can still earn a pro contract once he completely heals.

As for Lipsbergs; each of the past two seasons he was the leading goal scorer for the club with 33 in 2012-13 and 30 last year. He's particularly deadly on the power play where he has registered 38 percent of his goals so far in his WHL career. Lipsbergs is a left wing so I will be curious to see what line he is on. With Hickman gone and Matt Barzal out with injury, the T-birds are down two of their first line centers.

It's a tough break meanwhile, for Florian Baltram. The native of Vienna, Austria worked hard. He really picked up the physical part of the game well. He just couldn't find his scoring touch and Seattle was in need of offensive punch, something Lipsbergs has a history of delivering. I think we forget that Baltram is just 17, a rookie and playing away from his native Austria for the first time in his life. I think he's good enough to play at the WHL level. He just needed more time to get going; time the T-birds unfortunately did not have to give once Hickman's fate was determined.

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