WHL Hockey in May. Doesn't get any better then that.
Just some random thoughts to pass along after the Thunderbirds wrapped up the Western Conference Championship Wednesday night with a thrilling, come from behind, 5-4 double overtime win.
First, some advice; never take a pretty strong decongestant if you know the game is going an extra 30 minutes. I was fine if this had been wrapped in in regulation, but the time release decongestant I took at noon seemed to kick in right as overtime started. I had dry mouth the rest of the way. My tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I was chugging down water like a thirsty man after crawling through the desert. I woke up Thursday morning with no voice. Good to have a week off.
In a game that featured nearly 90 minutes of hockey 16-year old rookie, fourth line center, Matthew Wedman probably logged only about six minutes of total ice time. He needed just about, oh six seconds, to cement his place in T-Birds lore though. What a moment. Wedman sat right behind me on all those bus rides this season. He always has a grin, not a smile, but a grin on his face. He always looks like he's just pulled a prank on someone and is waiting for them to figure it out, like, did he just stick a "kick me" sign on my back? How can this kid be so up all the time? Then you realize that's it, he's just a kid; a big, grinning, 16-year-old kid. He should be happy and up all the time. And now he's scored one of the biggest goals in Seattle Thunderbirds history.
In a postseason full of his excellent goaltending, Tuesday night Landon Bow probably had his best game of the playoffs, posting 36 saves in a 3-1 Game 3 win. He kept the T-Birds in position to win the game in the third period. Wednesday night in Game 4 he probably had his least affective game of the playoffs, fighting the puck all night and surrendering four goals. Tuesday he had his team's back, Wednesday his teammates had his back. That's what it takes to win this time of the season.
Seattle had the WHL's best penalty kill during the regular season. They've kept it going in the postseason. Kelowna went just 2-for-17 on the power play in the Western Conference Championship. With the game on the line, the T-Birds killed off four Rockets power plays in overtime.
So impressed by Rodney Southam's actions after the game. With his team spent and utterly dejected and consoling each other while the T-Birds celebrated just to their right Southam, the Rockets team captain, pulled Wedman's game-winning goal out of the back of the Rockets net. Did he blast it down ice out of frustration? No. Did he chuck it away? No. He picked it up, skated it over to Jerret Smith and handed it to the T-Birds captain. Even in season ending defeat he recognized what an important souvenir that piece of vulcanized rubber was to Seattle. Class act.
Rocket's goalie Michael Herringer started the season as a 19-year-old back up. He ended it as Kelowna's best player in the post season. 70 saves. Wow.
Ethan Bear with his shot dialed in...dangerous. Best T-Bird player on the ice in Game 4.
Seattle's four NHL drafted players in Game 4: 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points and +6. That's your best players being the best players on the ice at the most important time of the season. After Games 1 and 2 I wrote about the game within the game between Matt Barzal and Kelowna's Rourke Chartier and how I gave just a slight edge to Chartier in the battle through the first two contests between what I considered to be the two best players in the series. After two more games Barzal clearly went ahead in that competition. Through the first two games each player had scored two goals. When the series was over Barzal added another goal and four assists and was +3 in Games 3 and 4. Meanwhile Chartier was kept off the scoreboard the final two games and went -5.
The T-Birds two overage defensemen so far in the playoffs, Jerret Smith and Jared Hauf, are a combined +27 without scoring a goal but logging a ton of ice time. Stats like goals and assists don't always tell the whole story about a player's importance to his team.
So far in the playoffs not one of Seattle's opponents has found an answer for the T-Birds second line of Scott Eansor, Donovan Neuls and Nolan Volcan. Buzz saws all.
Wednesday night was the first time in 13 postseason games Seattle allowed more than three goals. That's impressive. In fact, in the first 12 games they had only allowed three goals twice. Despite the four goals, of course, they still won.
Three Stars for the last two games of Western Conference Finals:
Third Star: Center Matthew Wedman. Just one goal but it was the biggest in franchise history since 1997. I mean, how can you not put him on this list based just on that. Remember too, he hadn't had a shift since early in the 3rd period, yet was ready to go when his number was called. Now has bragging rights over his two older brothers.
Second star: Center Matt Barzal. A goal and four assists in the last two games. He wants the spotlight and excels in the moment. Kelowna dedicated a lot of attention to him in the series and he still ended up with 3g, 4a, 7pts. and was a plus player in the four games.
First Star: Defenseman Ethan Bear. Winning goal in Game 3, a big goal to pull the team within one late in Game 4 then the primary assist on the tying goal that sent the game to OT. Clutch.