After splitting the first two games of the WHL Championship Series in Regina, the action for the Thunderbirds and Pats now shifts to the ShoWare Center for Games 3,4 and 5. The series is now a best-of-five with the first three schedule on Seattle's ice.
So far in the 2017 postseason, the T-birds are 6-1 on home ice with the lone loss occurring in Game 2 of the Western Conference Championship Series, a 4-3 overtime loss to Kelowna. Seattle has outscored their opponents, 31-20 in those seven home playoff games.
Regina is 5-3 on the road in postseason play so far this spring and they have scored 34 road playoff goals in those eight games. Two of those eight road playoffs games have gone to overtime including a three OT affair in Round 2 versus Swift Current.
In the first two games of this series, Seattle has allowed five goals against. Three of those have been scored by the Pats on the power play. Regina is 3-for-11 with the man advantage. The two even strength goals were both scored unassisted, after the T-birds committed two cringe worthy turnovers against little pressure, in their own end. Suffice it to say, Seattle has to be more disciplined going forward in this series and they must do a better job of puck management in the defensive zone.
Goaltending in the first two games was outstanding. Neither team should have any complaints about how their 'tenders have played in a pair of games that went overtime. Carl Stankowski for Seattle and Tyler Brown of Regina have each given their team a chance to win both nights.
It was terrific, entertaining hockey in the first two games up at the Brandt Center. Lots of physical play, end-to-end action with edge-of-your-seat moments throughout. I would expect that to continue now that the series has come south of the border.
We all know that Ethan Bear has been playing with an injury to his hand. It's a heavy burden to play at less then 100 percent at such a crucial time of the season and still try to deliver your best. But as we've seen in the first two games of this series, Bear has handled that burden well.
There is another weight Bear carries and it has nothing to do with his injury. It is a weight on his shoulders that he, pardon the pun, gladly bears. Bear hails from the Ochapowace Cree Reservation two hours outside of Regina. The youngsters there look up to him as a role model. He's not just a good hockey player and NHL prospect of the Edmonton Oilers, he's also an outstanding citizen and example of what hard work and goal setting can accomplish. But it's not just the youth in Ochapowace that look up to him. Other First Nations children from around Western Canada also look at him too.
Seattle stayed four nights at a hotel in downtown Regina. Also staying at that same hotel was a pee wee team from a Reservation in Alberta, just outside of Edmonton. Every time I hit the lobby, or even the elevator, wearing my polo shirt with the T-birds logo emblazoned on it, these young players and their family members I encountered would ask me, "Is this the team with Ethan Bear?" or, "Do you know Ethan?" And when I would say yes they looked at me, their eyes big and wide in amazement, like I had touched a rock star.
When we returned to the hotel after Game 1 Friday night, Bear was mobbed by these young kids as he stepped off the bus and entered the lobby. He patiently took the time to greet them all. Then, before Game 2, as Seattle arrived at the Brandt Center, waiting outside the bus at the players entrance was another small group of older, teenaged First Nations youth. While his teammates filed off the bus and into the arena, Bear stepped aside and took a few moments to pose for a photo.
I don't know what it is like to be a minority. And I only know how to be a role model for my own two kids. Ethan Bear has to be a role model for hundreds if not thousands. And he has to do it at the ripe old age of 19! When I see how he handles it I'm amazed at his maturity. You can see in his face, with each of these encounters, that he recognizes what he represents to these kids and their parents. He knows each time he meets these youngsters, he's going to have an impact on them and he's sure to make it a positive one. He does all this while trying to help the Thunderbirds win a championship. He does all this while trying to improve himself, to become a better hockey player. He does all this while still striving to reach his own goal of playing in the NHL.
He should be proud of the way he carries himself, but he's probably too humble for that. His parents should be proud of the way they raised him. He is who he is because of them. His Ochapowace community should be proud of the way he represents them. He takes them with him wherever he goes.
Game 3 Tuesday night. Gonna be a lot of fun!