There's nothing like starting off the new year on the right foot. Seattle did just that by winning their first two games of 2018 this past weekend, backing up a 6-4 road win in Kelowna Friday with a 4-1 win on home ice over Spokane Saturday. The two wins give the T-birds a five game winning streak and points in eight straight games, a season best in both categories.
As a result of their recent streak the Thunderbirds sit a season high six games above .500 at 20-14-4-1 and with 45 point are just five points out of the U.S. Division lead with a game in hand on the current leaders, Everett. Coming into the season with muted expectations off their championship run last spring, few pundits, if any had this team sitting where they are right now after 39 games.
The teams sits where they are because they have done what they set out to do from the start of training camp. The motto back then, and still is "embrace the culture", a culture of success and compete level that was created over the past four seasons. It's an attitude and approach to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed. It doesn't mean winning a championship every year. It means taking no shortcuts, giving a full effort and sticking to the systems.
Could you argue Seattle is getting more bounces to go their way during this streak then they were getting earlier in the season? Possibly. But hard work often creates those favorable bounces or deflections. So, if the breaks aren't going your way you still keep working hard and eventually, they will.
It's remarkable to think the T-birds have gotten to this point with what you could call an "unsettled" goaltending situation. Stability in net is something that usually calms a team down. But when training camp began, the team's presumptive starting goalie, Carl Stankowski, was out with injury. He still is. In his place the team has used three netminders and two of them have also come up lame at some point. Yet Matt Berlin, Liam Hughes and Dorrin Luding stepped up to give the T-birds a solid presence between the pipes. In fact, I would say it was Berlin embracing that challenge that earned him the trade Monday to Kootenay.
That may sound odd, but I think Berlin earned that chance to go to the Ice and be a number one goalie through his hard work and dedication here with the T-birds. He wasn't going to be here next season as a 20 year old. Now he has that chance this season and possibly next, to be the number one guy with a new team. Hughes is a year younger and Luding a year younger then that and the return of Stankowski is looming. As well, Hughes has shown, since coming off injury, he can handle the load. Once again Russ Farwell looks the part of a genius, turning a goalie he acquired to be an emergency, two week back up last season, into a 5th round bantam pick. Remember, all Seattle surrendered for Berlin was a conditional 9th round pick.
That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. We've all heard that before. It certainly applies to the T-birds during this streak. In just about everyone of their last eight games Seattle has had to battle adversity, penalty issues, a few lost leads and their own mistakes and have found a way to stay composed and battle back. A head coach who has his player's backs and leadership from veteran players who have been through the wars sure helps in that regard. It seems when Seattle has to reach back for something extra you will usually find Turner Ottenbreit, Donovan Neuls and Nolan Volcan leading the charge. Those are three players who have played late into May the past two seasons.
The trade deadline arrives this Wednesday. As of this posting, Seattle has made just the Berlin deal. Will they make another? My hunch is no, or at least not a significant move like the ones we've seen from Tri-City and Everett. Even with their veterans, Seattle is a young team building toward the future. I could see a move for a third or fourth line forward to fill the void left by the departures of Elijah Brown and Ian Briscoe.
***UPDATE***Seattle has traded Elijah Brown to Medicine Hat. In return they receive a 2018 second round bantam pick and a 2019 conditional third round pick.***UPDATE***
A lot of the chatter I've seen is that Seattle should sell off all their veterans and take whatever they can get in return to speed up their rebuild. Look, this isn't fantasy hockey. Seattle is still looking at making the playoffs and having those veterans around is crucial to that goal. You certainly don't undersell just to recoup something for a player who won't be back next season. Plus, those vets are showing the way for the young rookies. That is vital for their development.
But trading all the veterans to speed up a rebuild isn't practical because you need two to tango. For instance, trading a 20 year old player at this time of the year is difficult. Most teams that are in the "in it to win it" mode are probably in that position because they already have three good overage players on their roster. Trading for a 20 year old on another team means dumping one of your own good 20s. At best, that is a lateral move. 20 year olds are also a half year rental. Contending teams prefer to add 19 or 18 year olds because there is the possibility you could get one or two more year of service from them. If you're going to deal away draft capital or young prospects, you want to maximize your return.
We're seeing crazy high prices being paid in some of the deals that have gone down this past week. Does Seattle have a player on their roster that would command such a return? We'll find out but I think it would have to be one of those "offers you can't refuse" to get G.M Russ Farwell to depart with a key piece of the roster.
My Three Stars for the Weekend Sweep:
Third Star: G Liam Hughes. He probably would want a couple of the goals he allowed Friday in Kelowna back, but he made enough quality saves to earn the 6-4 win. He probably played his best game as a T-birds Saturday in the 4-1 win over the Chiefs, stopping 39 of 40 shots, including a Jarret Anderson-Dolan breakaway in the second period when the game was still just 1-0 Seattle.
Second Star: D Jarret Tyszka. Finished the weekend with three points on a goal and two assists and was +3. After a slow start on the stat sheet, the Montreal Canadians prospect now has 27 points (6g, 21a) in 37 games.
First Star: W/C Donovan Neuls. Celebrated playing in his 250th game Friday by scoring twice against the Rockets. His second goal that night stemmed the tide and tied the game up at 4-4 after the T-birds had lost a 3-1 lead and fell behind. He followed up that performance with a three point night (2g, 1a) Saturday against the Chiefs. He's now just a point behind Nolan Volcan for the overall points lead on the team. When you factor in his playoff action, he has now played 295 games in a T-birds jersey.