The first weekend of preseason hockey is complete as the Thunderbirds left the tournament in Everett with a 2-1 record. Seattle will now turn its attention to Kennewick and a pair of preseason games next weekend at the Toyota Center. First up is a Friday afternoon date with the Kootenay Ice followed by a Saturday evening tilt with the Tri-City Americans.
It will be a significantly pared down roster when Seattle travels east. Nine T-birds are headed to NHL camps this week and Elijah Brown, the 15 year old first round Bantam Draft pick this past May, departed for his Edmonton home. Brown is not eligible to play with Seattle this season. Meanwhile the team could also be without Donovan Neuls who was injured in Sunday's 5-2 win over Spokane. The severity of his lower body injury is not yet known. If he can't go it will leave the T-birds with just eight forwards and five defenseman for the two games in Eastern Washington. At least the young players can't complain about a lack of ice time!
It is difficult to gauge the results from the Everett preseason tournament games. All six teams participating put out a different lineup each game, sitting veterans and mixing and matching line combinations and defensive pairings. This is a tournament where youth is definitely served as young players get their first taste of the WHL. The Spokane Chiefs for example have made it a habit of leaving their oldest players at home when they come to Everett each year for this tournament and this season was no different. The Chiefs have four 20 year olds listed on their roster and not one played in any of their three games.
Seattle lost the tournament opening game Friday, getting blanked 2-0 by Tri-City. This was a scoreless game, with both teams looking like it was their first real game action in a while, until The Americans scored a shorthanded goal with just over three minutes remaining. They added an empty net goal late to seal the deal. The Thunderbirds were sloppy all game long with their shots as a majority of them missed the net while at other times they showed a propensity to try and be too cute with the puck. My biggest take from this game was the play in goal of Taz Burman who was stand up solid in making 32 saves.
Saturday afternoon against Victoria was a more focused effort. For one, they were much better in the physical play department as they exhibited a strong forecheck. Keegan Kolesar, who missed all the training camp scrimmages and looked a tad rusty in the opening game versus Tri-City, was much better against the Royals and finished up with three assists in the 5-3 win. Kolesar played the first two games on a line with Alexander True and Gustav Olhaver. That is an intriguing combination with an average physical dimension of 6'3" and 212 lbs. Also on Saturday, defenseman Sahvan Khaira showed he's ready to tackle more ice time this season, contributing a goal and an assist. Goalie Ryan Gilchrist got his first taste of the WHL and posted 27 saves to earn the win.
Sunday was more of the same against Spokane. Ryan Gropp last saw game action in Game 6 of last spring's playoff series versus Portland but he showed no ill affects from a minor injury that kept him out of training camp scrimmages, combining with his linemate Mathew Barzal for five points (2g, 3a). Meanwhile Seattle's other top line of Nolan Volcan, Scott Eansor and Jamal Watson ended with a similar line on the stat page (2g,3a) to finish off a strong weekend for that trio. In goal Logan Flodell didn't face many shots, picking up the win with a 16-save effort.
I mentioned in a previous post that the jump from a 17 year old to an 18 year old in this league is a significant one. Defenseman Ethan Bear falls into that category. If what I saw this weekend is any indication, he's ready to move his game to the next level. Most significantly what I saw from him in the two games he played in Everett was a more physical player then what I remember from the past two seasons. I think that comes from being more confident in your ability and he seemed to play more confidently.
Of course as I wrote earlier, this is a tournament where young players get a good deal of the ice time and Seattle's youngsters took advantage. Unlike what will happen during the regular season, the young players get significant time on the power play and penalty kill. This tournament is a great chance to see these players in all game situations. One young player really jumped out at me. Just as I was during the training camp scrimmages, I continue to be impressed with the play of 16 year old Matthew Wedman. He pays attention to detail. Most importantly, by playing both ends of the ice, he gets himself in position to affect the play. He's going to earn himself significant playing time.
After a sluggish training camp I thought Wyatt Bear picked it up and was solid in the two games he played. He is listed at 6'1" 227 lbs. He still needs to refine that body but he can be a very physical player. Last season he got in to three games with the T-birds as a 15 year old and didn't look out of place. Like Wedman, time on Seattle's 4th line shouldn't be a problem for the Manitoba native.
Two other rookies who should figure into Seattle's plans this season are a pair of defensemen; 17 year old Brandon Schuldhaus and 16-year old Jarret Tyszka. I would figure these two will rotate into the team's third defensive pairing with Khaira. At the moment, Schuldhaus is the more physical of the two and plays a more conservative, steady game while Tyszka offers a bit more of an offensive upside. Tyszka still has some growing to do to fill out his lanky frame but you can see his potential as he develops over the next couple of years to be a high end, offensive defenseman. All three; Khaira, Schuldhaus and Tyszka, had good and not so good moments this weekend but their growth will have Seattle's back end in good shape for the next 3-4 years. The common denominator to all three? They are not one dimensional players. They have the skills to be good at both ends of the ice.
Overall, it was a good weekend for the Thunderbirds.