To say the Thunderbirds usually reliable special teams faltered the past two games would be an understatement. Oh-for ten on the power play and allowing six power play goals (in 11 chances) to the opposition. Nine times out of ten that's gonna have you go oh-for-two on the weekend.
The first problem for Seattle? Committing too many penalties. Most were very avoidable stick infractions or retaliations. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Seattle went into a weekend against the two teams atop their respective divisions in the Western Conference. Those teams probably got there because they have talent that can take advantage of their opponents mistakes. Yet Seattle promptly gave both Kelowna and Portland gift wrapped power play chances. In both instances Seattle fell into a two-goal whole after one period, mostly of their own creation, surrendering a combined three power play goals and one penalty shot goal.
It's very difficult to play catch up hockey, especially against top teams because once you get behind the eight ball, you practically have to play mistake free hockey the rest of the way to have a chance.
Now, we know, no team is going to play mistake free over sixty minutes. Case in point; both Kelowna and Portland committed enough penalties of their own to give the T-birds a weekend total of ten power play chances. Yet Seattle's power play, which was ranked seventh in the WHL prior to the start of the weekend, couldn't cash in. Look back on the team's recent nine game point streak in which they went 7-0-1-1. They found a way to score at least one power play goal in most of those games. Most nights it was the difference on the scoreboard.
The T-birds special teams are in a funk. Every team in the league will suffer a similar fate at some point over the schedule. It's how quickly you can work your way out of such a funk that is the question that needs answering.
Seattle head coach Matt O'Dette has every right to be upset with the call/non-call on the collision between Portland's Skyler McKenzie and T-birds goalie Liam Hughes that knocked Hughes from the game Saturday early in the second period. He has every right to be upset....with the WHL.
O'Dette's anger dates back to the game in Victoria in late November when Seattle defenseman Austin Strand drove the net with the puck and Strand, who was attempting to avoid contact, was pushed not once, but twice, by two separate Victoria players into Royals goalie Griffen Outhouse. The referee in that game called a charging major on Strand, which, I believe, in itself was a laughable call. It appears that since there is no five minute major in the rule book for goalie interference, they made up a charging penalty so they could justify a Victoria power play. According to O'Dette the league backed their officials because, as O'Dette told 710 ESPN's Andy Eide, " We've been told the onus is on him (the offensive player) to stop, plain and simple. Even when we've been pushed (into the goalie) we've been told (by the league) the onus is on our guy to stop."
His anger probably stems from a play too, earlier this season when his player, Turner Ottenbreit, was the recipient of a two handed slash to the back of the legs, but no penalty was called. When the T-birds sent the video to the league for supplemental discipline, they were told no supplemental discipline could be administered because there was no penalty called on the ice and no injury to Ottenbreit. It didn't matter that video of the slash was posted all over social media for all the world to see. If the officials on the ice didn't see it, it didn't happen. O'Dette is perplexed by what appears to be inconsistency by, not the officials, but by the league. It seems they are all over the map when it comes to discipline.
It's one thing for the league to stand up for their officials, to back their guys in stripes. I get it, those guys get lots of abuse as it is. But they're big boys. I run into most of them before most games and they are nice, friendly guys trying to make a career in a field that doesn't get much in the way of thanks or praise. Many have a regular 9-to-5 job plus their role as a WHL official. That's a lot to juggle. None of them are trying to purposefully "screw over" your teams. But like all of us, they are not perfect, they are not infallible. But it does no good for the league to seemingly cover up for them as if their spirits will be crushed if they have to admit they made a mistake. If that's the case, they are in the wrong profession.
And for the record, I don't think the officials made a mistake on the McKenzie/Hughes collision Saturday in Portland. McKenzie couldn't avoid the collision with Hughes because he was trying to avoid a collision with another Seattle player. But they got it wrong in the Strand/Outhouse collision back in November and the league should have had the intestinal fortitude to have admitted it. The league got it wrong by not imposing supplemental discipline in the Ottenbreit-getting-slashed incident too. In what league these days is supplemental discipline not imposed after the fact even when no foul is called? The NFL does it all the time. And why? Because in this day when everyone and their brother has a video camera on their phone, you can't hide from visual evidence. The NFL gets it. The WHL should too. No need to make if so difficult. Here's the video, here's your punishment.
My T-birds Three Stars for the Past Three Games:
Third Star: D Owen Williams. Williams, acquired at the trade deadline Wednesday from Regina in the Aaron Hyman deal, has stood out in his first two games as a Thunderbird. He picked up his first point with his new team, recording an assist Saturday in Portland. Just 17, and a late birthday at that,. you can see huge potential in his game. He skates and handles the puck very well. Lots of room to grow his game but off to a good start with the T-birds.
Second Star: C/W Donovan Neuls. Neuls finished the week with a goal and three assists. He has reached the 14 goal mark for the third straight season and his next goal will establish a career high. He's already established a career best with 45 points, surpassing the 41 he registered a season ago.
First Star: W Dillon Hamaliuk. The big, rookie left winger from Leduc, Alberta scored three goals and added an assist to his point totals this weekend. Even Tuesday when he did not register a point in a shootout loss to Portland, he was effective enough that he was named the game's third star. He now has 10 goal and 24 points on the season and has the second best +/- on the team at plus 7 (Neuls and Ottenbreit are each +8). Even better, he has developed terrific chemistry with fellow rookie Sam Huo. One of the best skating big men on the T-birds roster in quite a while.