Monday, January 12, 2015

Shall We Play a Game?

Remember the early 1980's Matthew Broderick movie "War Games"? Remember the scene near the end of the movie when they let the computer, the WOPR, simulate all the different scenarios for a nuclear launch? What is it professor Falken says as the computer speeds up faster and faster through all those scenarios and everyone in the war room believes World War III is about to commence?

Professor Falken is asked by Broderick's character, "what is it (the computer) doing?" To which professor Falken replies, "It's learning." I remember that scene as I watch the Thunderbirds play since coming back from the Christmas break. Seattle has been missing players and not just any players but key players. The fear is that putting the young, untested players on the ice will lead to bad results. Why? Because you fear the unknown. But how do you know if you don't play it out?

So because of the circumstance; players injured, suspended or away at international tournaments, the T-birds put the young players out on the ice. And guess what? They didn't falter. They haven't been perfect, but as Professor Falken would say, they're learning. They've learned how to compete night in and night out at the WHL level. They've learned to play as a team and for each other. Most importantly they've learned what it takes to succeed in this league. They've learned how to win.

And now, slowly, the team is getting those top end players they've been missing, back in the lineup and putting them together with those young players who learned so many valuable lessons the first half of the season.

Over their last 16 games, the T-birds are 11-4-0-1. In the eight games since their return from the Christmas break, they are 6-1-0-1. They just got Shea Theodore and Alexander True back from World Juniors. They lost captain Justin Hickman to season-ending surgery but replaced him with last season's leading goal scorer, Roberts Lipsbergs. This year's leading scorer,Ryan Gropp, is back after missing four games. They used a late round draft choice to pick up some veteran depth up front with the acquisition of 19 year old winger Cory Millette. By next weekend they should get Calvin Spencer back in the lineup and then in a few weeks, Matt Barzal. Just maybe then, we'll finally get to see what this team can do with a full roster available. Something that hasn't happened yet this season.

It's never a good thing to have your best players out of the lineup but for Seattle, there is a silver lining. It helped speed up the development of those ten rookies on the roster. And now, as they battle for a playoff spot the second half of the season, they are a better team for it.

My T-bird Three Stars for this past weekend:

Third Star: Nolan Volcan. It wasn't just his goal in the Sunday win that I liked. It is the energy he brings to every shift. He flies around and throws the body but never seems out of control. He's hard on the puck and on numerous occasions this weekend I saw the 16 year old from Edmonton win puck battles against bigger and older opponents. He plays with no fear.

Second Star: Taran Kozun. Continues to do what your number one goalie needs to do; give his team a chance to win every night. He never makes any save look complicated. Continues to lead the league in GAA at 2.24, third in save percentage at .918, yet hasn't posted a shutout yet. It's called consistency.

First Star: Shea Theodore. Two games back from winning gold with Team Canada at World Juniors and all he's done is register five points on three goals and two assists. He's put the power back in Seattle's power play. To top it off the coach's named him team captain, replacing Hickman who is lost for the season.

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