Sunday, October 2, 2016

T-Birds Raise Banners, Now time to Raise Their Game

It was a mixed bag weekend for Seattle. The Thunderbirds picked up their first win of the season, beating the Vancouver Giants 4-2 Friday night in Langley. Unfortunately they were mostly uneven in their play in the home opener Saturday and fell to Portland, 6-1.

The Thunderbirds were full marks for the win over the Giants. Matthew Wedman, who essentially missed all of the preseason with a lower body injury and sat out the season opener down in Portland last week as well, made a splash in his season debut by scoring twice. Meanwhile another youngster, rookie goaltender Carl Stankowski made his WHL debut a winning one with 15 saves. Stankowski also played about half the game Saturday, although not by design. Still, if you talk with the coaches and the Seattle hockey staff, the 16 year old isn't here just to observe. They plan on playing him. It may not be a 50/50 split with the 20-year old veteran Rylan Toth, but I would not be shocked if Stankowski start 20 or more games.

Even with the well deserved win Friday I still don't think the entire roster is on the same page yet. Three games is not a lot of game action to form an opinion on how the season will go, but through nine periods of hockey there has been too much inconsistency. The loss to Portland Saturday is Exhibit A. Seattle had a strong start and spent a lot of the first half of the first period in the attacking zone. No reward for that though. They had enough shots but nothing too dangerous and no second chance opportunities. When they did get a chance they didn't finish.

Once again Seattle was not overly undisciplined. They actually had more power plays on the night then did Portland, 7-5. But to put it kindly, Seattle's special teams right now are, well, a mess. Missed assignments seem to be the main culprit on their penalty kill. Slow puck movement seems to be the major problem on the power play. Both are correctable and another week of practice should help (fingers crossed). And just to clarify, that 2.9 magnitude earthquake centered in Maple Valley, was not head coach Steve Konowalchuk addressing his team after the loss. Yes, he's not happy with their performance thus far but he also knows what these players are capable of and believes they will get it going in the right direction.

Seattle only allowed three 5-on-5 goals this weekend. They only allowed 43 shots in two games. Those are hallmark stats of this team over the past 2-3 seasons under Konowalchuk. Those are small indicators the team is following the right path. Young players like Wedman, Elijah Brown, Stankowski and even Dillon Hamaliuk, are taking advantage of playing time. Some of the vets needs to amp up their game. It's not panic time, it's step-up-to-the-plate time.

One issue the T-birds have right now is the lack of a true #1 line. I'm not saying they don't have that currently on the roster, but that none of the players on the roster have been first line players yet for Seattle. There are adjustments being made in the roles some of the players are now in. I think the Volcan-Eansor-Neuls line has been solid in that first line role but they are still adjusting and will have their ups and downs through the first part of the season.

Former T-birds captain Jerret Smith took in the game Friday in Langley. Smith, who finished out his Major Junior career last spring, was down in Kent in early August as an instructor at the Thudnerbirds hockey school. He is set to attend the University of British Columbia and play collegiate hockey for that group of Thunderbirds. The start of his season will have to wait apparently as Smitty finally had surgery on the shoulder he injured last February. That really goes to show the character of the player and why his leadership was so valuable last season as he played the last two months with an injury that required surgery.

It was 11 years since the Thunderbirds last raised a banner. Saturday they raised two. The first time they've done that since moving into the ShoWare Center back in January of 2009. To say they did it right was an understatement. Terrific presentation. Let's hope they make that a habit.

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