The T-birds began a three game road trip into the British Columbia interior by stumbling out of the blocks but rebounded with a nice sprint to the finish line. After dropping a 4-3 decision to Kamloops last Wednesday, the T-birds bounced back with a pair of convincing wins in Prince George, outscoring the Cougars 12-2 in the process.
You rarely win hockey games, at any level, by playing just one good period. Wednesday against the Blazers Seattle had a very strong second period. The problem was their first and third periods were fairly dormant. Too many penalties, listless play and players being individuals rather then teammates all added up to a disappointing road loss. I'd put that effort right up there with their 6-2 loss back in November in Moose Jaw. Similar play, similar result.
Fortunately, those types of games have been few and far between this season. Seattle jumped out of that funk with two strong efforts over the weekend up at the CN Centre. Friday night they got 13 different players on the scoresheet with a 9-2 win. After the dust settled from a slew of scoring changes Keegan Kolesar (2g,2a), Roberts Lipsbergs (2g,2a) and Matt Barzal (4a) led the way with four points each. For Barzal those were his first points since returning from his nearly three months of inaction due to a leg injury. It was, I think, a glimpse of what we can expect from him the rest of the season.
The last game of a road trip can always be the toughest, especially when it comes less then 24 hours after putting the previous game to bed. As a result, there was no nine goal explosion, but the T-birds played a solid game, capitalized on their chances, and behind a 20 save effort from Taran Kozun, posted a 3-0 win.
Calvin Spencer may have been sad to see the lights of Prince George fade in the rear view mirrors of the team bus. In four career games at the CN Centre he has recorded three goals, including a game winner in Saturday's shutout. Once again head coach Steve Konowalchuk showed his knack for finding line combinations with chemistry. He paired Spencer with Donovan Neuls and Nolan Volcan and together the trio logged six points (2g, 4a) and were +4 in the two games against PG.
The WHL got it right when they approved the offseason sale of the Cougars to Greg Pocock. Pocock, is a local businessman and he and his partners are already putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to upgrading the Prince George club both on and off the ice. Pocock understands it will take time to get the on ice product back to a consistent competitive level but he has the patience. And while the crowds aren't back yet, when they do return he's giving them a top notch game night presentation and not cutting corners.
After a road heavy January which featured only 4 of 13 games on home ice and just one home game in the last eight, Seattle will hit the ice at the ShoWare Center nine times in February beginning with a two-game set this weekend. In fact it sets in motion a stretch of four games in five nights starting Friday versus Portland followed by a Saturday matchup with Vancouver. After a Sunday off, the Thunderbirds travel to Vancouver to face the Giants in a Monday matinee affair before returning back home Tuesday against Kelowna.
My T-birds Three Stars for the past week:
Third Star: He didn't record a point in any of the three games but defenseman Jerett Smith finished on the plus side all three nights, including a +1 in the loss in Kamloops. In the three games he was +5 and continues to be a steady presence on the back end.
Second Star: A year ago as a 16 year old rookie, playing in 60 games, Keegan Kolesar netted eight points (2g,6a). That was good enough for 21st on the team in scoring. So far this season in just 50 games, he has 33 points (17g, 16a) and is second to Ryan Gropp in scoring on the club. Friday night in PG he had his first four point game.
First Star: Mathew Barzal. He has played at a good level in each game back from his long layoff because of the knee injury but Mathew Barzal was finally rewarded for his efforts with a four assist Friday in the 9-2 win. He followed that up with another assist Saturday. He gets the highlights with his through-the-eye-of-the-needle passes but he is becoming a consistent player at both ends of the ice. He was a point a game player before the injury back in November and six games back in the lineup, he is again a point a game player with 23 points (7g, 16a) in 22 games.