Monday, January 19, 2015

Opposites Don't Always Attract

I'm so emotionally spent from that unbelievable Seattle Seahawks win Sunday. I almost forgot the T-birds played twice over the weekend as well. It was a weekend that started well for Seattle but finished with a thud.

I've seen a lot of post game commentary regarding the T-birds 5-2 road win over Kelowna Friday night. The gist of it is that Seattle was badly outplayed for 60-minutes and stole two points only because of the play of goalie Taran Kozun. Wrong! Kozun was the reason Seattle escaped the first ten minutes still in the scoreless game. Definitely could have been two or three to nothing had he not done what he did after Kelowna put the game's first ten shots on goal. Remember though, neither team had any shots on goal the first couple of minutes of the game. It was the Rockets first power play where they started to generate shots. But other then a glaring turnover right in front of the Seattle net that put the Rockets in on a 2-0 break that Kozun stoned, most of the shots were from the outside.

The bigger discrepancy for me was puck possession. It just seemed the T-birds didn't have their stick on the puck that first ten minutes. But after that first ten or so minutes the game balanced out. Seattle actually outshot the Rockets the second half of the first period, and most importantly outscored them 2-0. The rest of the game was fairly even. There were a few stretches where both teams were controlling play in the last two periods. The difference was Seattle took advantage of their scoring opportunities.

Remember, this was a Kelowna roster that features seven NHL draft picks, including two first rounders. Seattle features just one NHL draft pick in Shea Theodore. Seattle is still without Matt Barzal and it was their first game since losing Alexander True to his wrist injury. So it's possible the young T-birds may have been a little in awe when the game started. But once they settled in, they played a very good road game. So yes, the T-birds did get outplayed early, they did get a terrific performance from Kozun, but by no means was this a one-sided game with a fluke of a result.

Here's what WHL teams sometimes have to face over the grind of a 72-game schedule. Friday night road game with a late 7:45 start to accommodate TV. two and a half hour game. Finish game just after 10 p.m., shower, dress, load the bus then eat a post game meal at the arena restaurant. Depart the arena at approximately 11:30 pm. You now hop on board the iron lung for a four hour-plus bus ride to the border as you try to catch a few hours of sleep, either sitting up or lying on the bus floor. You stop at the border at approximately 3:30 in the morning. Everyone is awakened and herded inside the border station for a passport check while border agents inspect the bus costing you another 25-30 minutes of shut eye. You then pile the team back on the bus for the hour and a half ride to your next destination as you try to sneak in a little more sleep.

You arrive at the hotel at five in the morning for check-in, get room assignments and keys and head to bed while the training staff jumps back on the bus to go to the arena to unload the gear. You get a 9:45 a.m. wake up call for a team breakfast at the restaurant across the street after which you go back to your hotel room hoping to get a few more "z's" until a 1:30 p.m. pregame meal. After eating you hope to get in a quick nap before you board the bus at 4:30 in the afternoon and head to the rink for that night's road game. Your opponent meanwhile, has been snug in their own beds all night uninterrupted after playing a home game the night before.

That's what faced Seattle going into the Saturday game versus Everett. But Seattle knew this would be the case going into the weekend well before the weekend was here. And they actually played a very good first period. But once they got behind, they stopped moving their legs. They made too many defensive zone mistakes. The fatigue started to set in. I think the problem was that so many of Seattle's players have not gone through a travel weekend like that yet. It's a learning process. They spent a lot of emotion and energy in beating the Rockets the night before.

They need to learn to prepare their bodies physically and their minds mentally to be ready to go again less then 24 hours later with less then ideal rest in between. When you're 17 years old it is hard to hop on a bus right after a big win and get right to sleep. You're too jazzed up and the body is going on adrenaline and you don't want to shut it down, you want to spend time with your buddies and celebrate a big win. Your family and friends who just watched you on national TV are texting you.

Despite splitting the two games, I think in the big picture it was a successful weekend considering it was two games on the road against the top two teams in the Western Conference and in the end, Seattle did pick up two points in the standings on Spokane.

My T-birds three stars for the weekend:

3rd Star: Luke Osterman. The 17 year old Stillwater, Minnesota rookie, playing on the T-birds fourth line, doesn't get tons of ice time. But he makes the most of what he gets. It has gotten to the point where I don't worry when he, Nick Holowko and Kaden Elder are out against an opponents top line. They don't get overmatched and play a simple game. There were three or four times Friday night in Kelowna when Osterman was able to get the puck up ice, then get it deep into the Kelowna end so his team could make a line change. He didn't shy away from a tilt with Rocket's 20 year old Tyrell Goulbourne and while he lost the battle he must have a face made of concrete because there wasn't a mark on him afterwards. Saturday in the 6-0 loss in Everett he may have been the team's best and most consistent forward.

2nd Star: Roberts Lipsbergs. Rusty after having played so little with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL, the 20-year old Latvian is starting to get his game legs. When everyone else started slowly Friday he was the one player outside of Kozun who had a good start. It paid off as he scored the first goal and then made a beautiful saucer pass to Scott Eansor on the second. Brought in to pick up the slack for the absence of Justin Hickman, he's averaging a point a game (1g,4a) and is +3. On top of that he and another newcomer, Cory Millette, have developed instant chemistry.

First Star: Taran Kozun. Forget the game Saturday in Everett. Not his fault. Friday in Kelowna he stole the first ten minutes from the Rockets. That first ten minutes was like the first half of the Seahawks-Packers NFC Championship game. The Rockets had a chance to put that game away early but Kozun went all Legion of Boom on them and kept them off the board.

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