A taxing weekend for Seattle, playing three games in three nights, going 1-1-1-0 and earning three of a possible six points. It was the third time in the past 24 days the Thunderbirds played three games in three nights. It was also the second time they played three games in three nights in less then a month, where the team they were facing on the third night was only playing their second game. No surprise that in both instances the T-Birds were out of gas by the third period.
Thank goodness that's over right? Well, brace yourself because the team is about to embark on a stretch of four games in seven nights to end the month of February that will include a long travel day in between two road games. Ah, the life of the WHL player! And those three-in -three's on the schedule are not done. Seattle has two more such scenarios on the schedule in March when they will play 10 games in 17 days. Better eat your Wheaties!
All this with a playoff spot still at stake. Despite the 1-1-1 record this past weekend, it was actually a positive result because the T-Birds gained two points on Kamloops, a team chasing them for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. And Seattle is still within striking distance of fourth place Tri-City in the U.S. Division. They are just a point back with a key showdown with the Americans in Kennewick this Wednesday. The two teams also meet twice more in March. Despite the loss to Spokane Sunday, Seattle is just six points back of the Chiefs for third place in the division with two more games against them on the schedule.
Seattle has played Everett seven times this season now and has won four of those games. They've all been down-to-the-wire battles. Three of the games, the last three, have gone past 60 minutes. Of the four games decided in regulation, Seattle is 2-2. Each team has won once in regulation by a single goal and each team has a two-goal regulation win. There are three more games on the schedule between the division rivals, including Saturday's game at the accesso ShoWare Center. Anyone want to guess as to how that game will go?
Not the best belated birthday present for Austin Strand Sunday. His 21st birthday was Saturday and he spent it in Everett helping Seattle to a 3-2 shootout win. A day later he was losing a few teeth and needing stitches after getting a high stick from Spokane's Riley McKay to the chops. He had to leave the game until late in the second period. Without him on the ice a scoreless game turned into a two-goal lead for the Chiefs.
One of the few drawbacks of my broadcast location in the southeast corner of the ShoWare Center is missing some details on play in the northeast area of the ice. The crowd, the benches and the boards often impede my view. When Strand initially went down, neither I or my broadcast partner Tim Pigulski could see what happened. A few texts I received said it was an inadvertent stick from a teammate. After the game we found out otherwise.
Sunday, February 11th, Donovan Neuls gets slashed twice on a partial breakaway down in Portland. No call. Friday at home against Everett, Dillon Hamaliuk gets slashed skating the puck out of the Seattle end. No call. Then the high stick to Strand. No call. Every team "gets away with a few" and officials aren't perfect but those three non-calls are hard to ignore. They affect outcomes of games. Look how impactful the non-call on the Strand play was.
Speaking of Strand, what a past 14 months he's had. Traded from Red Deer to Seattle on New Year's Eve 2016, he helps Seattle to their first ever WHL Championship last spring. The season ends with his second straight trip to the Memorial Cup (Red Deer was the 2016 host team). His strong first half to this season earns the undrafted d-man an NHL entry level contract with the L.A. Kings. Meanwhile, he continues to rack up the points, hitting the 19 goal mark in Sunday's loss. His 52 points are 20 more then he had in 74 regular season games last year. Since arriving in Kent he has scored 27 goals and picked up 42 assists (69 pts.) in 91 games plus 14 more points (4g, 10a) in 20 postseason games. He even added a goal in the Memorial Cup to his resume. Contrast that to his first two and a half seasons in Red Deer (164 games) where he only tallied 41 points (7g, 34a).
For the latest on the Carl Stankowski situation, be sure to check Andy Eide's article over at mynorthwest.com. I'm guessing at this point of the season, no one can be too shocked by the news that Carl is unlikely to return this year.
Once again, we have to remember this is a development league and that is part of what the Thunderbirds coaching staff is tasked with doing; developing these young players so they can further their hockey careers past the WHL level. It's a two-way street. Players need to take the coaching they get and apply it in games. They need to play well enough to earn the confidence and trust of their coaches. The coaches in turn have to trust that they've taught the players what they need in order to play in all situations. The latest example of that is 17-year old T-Bird rookie Holden Katzalay. A player who was often a healthy scratch through the first two-thirds of the season has been getting plenty of ice time recently. He's earned the trust of the coaches to the point he is getting steady play on the penalty kill. Still to come is his first WHL goal. So close lately, so close!
My T-Birds three stars for the weekend:
Third Star: G Dorrin Luding. With a little extra juice going up against his former team in Everett Saturday, Luding came up with a 41 save performance, including 21 in the third period. He then stopped two of three in the shootout to earn Seattle a hard fought 3-2 road win. Since joining Seattle in late November Luding's record is 6-6-1-0, but he's 6-2 in his last eight decisions. Meanwhile he's quietly chipped in with two assists.
Second Star: D Turner Ottenbreit. The T-Birds captain ended the weekend with a goal and two assists. His lone goal was a big one, tying the game Friday versus Everett that earned Seattle a crucial point in the standings. With Strand out for a good chunk of Sunday's game he played a ton of minutes against Spokane. Coming off their championship season, with six of the team's top players graduating to the pro ranks, The T-birds needed strong leadership for a young roster. They are getting that from the Yorkton, SK native.
First Star: D Austin Strand. Two goals and an assist in the three games. He registered a big power-play goal in the Friday third period comeback. His absence on the ice for a good part of Sunday's game was noticeable, both on the ice and on the scoreboard. Came back from that high stick to score the team's only goal. His 19 goals is third in the WHL among all defensemen. And he also celebrated his 21st birthday.