From the deep valley of their 7-2 home loss to Kamloops Friday to their high climbing 5-1 win Saturday in Langley over the Giants, it was an up and down weekend for the Thunderbirds as they head towards the end of October.
There's no sugar coating the five goal loss to the Blazers at the accesso ShoWare Center. Seattle put together another early two-goal lead then promptly surrendered seven unanswered for their first regulation home loss of the season. After killing off an early four minute Kamloops power play, that included a two-man advantage 1:41 in length, Seattle got their own chance to skate 5-on-3. They quickly scored twice before the game was 10 minutes old. It sounds strange to say but that might have been the worst thing to happen for the T-Birds. I think they got overconfident, not to the point they were cocky, but they seemed to be feeling good about themselves. It was if they said "They can't score on us with a two-man advantage, how are they going to score against us even strength?" And of course Kamloops did just exactly that seven times over the next 50-minutes.
Seattle just got too complacent and were too casual with the puck, especially in the defensive zone. It appeared they were coasting into plays rather then skating into them. They didn't bear down on scoring opportunities. More importantly they left their physical play in the tool box and got outworked for every puck.
No doubt the players got an earful from the coaches after the game and before the next on Saturday against Vancouver. Those speeches aren't often what you might imagine them to be. They are not fire and brimstone admonishments or undressing of a player or players. They are blunt reminders of what it takes to compete and win at this level. No matter what was said or how it was delivered, the message registered as the T-Birds put together a strong road effort in Langley for a the 5-1 win. How the win happened is the way you would expect it to unfold. With older players, the team leaders, showing the way. Nolan Volcan, Matthew Wedman and Liam Hughes were those leaders on Saturday.
Wedman is quietly averaging just over a point a game with 14 (5g, 9a) through the first 12 games. He's a big body, power forward type so it was no surprise both his goals against the Giants came from within five feet of the goal. More impressively, Weds is leading the team in plus/mimus at +11. He is winning 56 percent of his faceoffs as well. Volcan also sits at 14 points on the season and I contend he hasn't hit his offensive stride yet this season. I just think he still has a big offensive surge coming. He only has four goals so far. They're going to come. In the meantime he continues to play a 200 foot game. The T-Birds have killed off 19 straight power plays and no question he is probably their best penalty killer.
The six goals he allowed Friday before being pulled versus Kamloops weren't all his fault but it still wasn't his best game. So Saturday goalie Liam Hughes was looking for a bounce back effort. Boy did he get it with a 41 save performance against the Giants. His best work came in a 16 save third period, with Seattle down to five defenseman, taking too many penalties and back on their heels a bit as Vancouver tried to eat into the T-Birds three goal lead. They kept firing pucks at him, he kept kicking them out.
Some coaching decision sometimes sneak in under the radar, but the move by Matt O'Dette to have Sam Huo center the third line, rather then play the wing, paid off in a big way. Huo got is first goal of the season, a game winner at that, and I think playing center helped him focus on his responsibilities at both ends of the ice. Hopefully the fire has been lit for Huo after a slow start.
After Sami Moilanen opted to stay in Finland this season and play professionally, the T-Birds needed to fill the skates of a player who would have been penciled in for a potential 30-goal season. So, in the CHL Import Draft they took Andrej Kukuca with their first of two picks. Kukuca had been a prolific scorer back in his native Slovakia. The question was whether that would translate to the WHL. He did lead the T-Birds in scoring during the preseason but then got off to a slow start once the regular season started, going without a point in the first two games. He seems to have adjusted though, as he now sits tied for second on the team in scoring. He has 15 points in the last ten games (4g, 11a) with a +4 rating.
Just a reminder that defenseman Tyrel Bauer is still just a 16-year old rookie, probably not slated to see so much ice time at this point of his young T-Bird career. But pressed into heavy duty with injuries to the two 19-year old d-men, Jarret Tyszka and Reece Harsch, he's holding his own. Bauer has played regular minutes in all 12 games and there he was on the ice in the third period versus Vancouver, killing off penalties, helping protect that late lead. He may only have one assist, but he's +2. He's still a work in progress but he's getting ahead of the learning curve. Where is the 2020 NHL Draft? You might want to book a seat there. Good chance he and is T-Bird teammate Simon Kubicek have their name called. At the very least both are on the right path.
My three T-Bird Stars for the Saturday game in Langley (because, well you saw that game Friday against Kamloops didn't you?)
Third Star: Nolan Volcan. The captain doesn't have to score a goal to affect the outcome of a game. Big part of Seattle killing off six Vancouver power plays. He always seems to make a point of finishing his checks. I know this because I can hear them up in the broadcast booth. Volcan body checks have a certain sound to them...loud. And he chipped in with two assists.
Second Star: C Matthew Wedman. Scored twice and could have had more. The reason? He always goes to the front of the net. Also key on the penalty kill. One thing about that loss Friday to Kamloops; when he left the ice in the second period after being on the receiving end of a big open ice hit, Seattle was up 2-1. When he returned late in the second, Seattle was down, 3-2.
First Star: G Liam Hughes. Oh-so-close to that elusive first T-Birds shutout. Still turned aside 41 of 42 shots. Probably sad to see that Seattle has no more games in Langley this season. In two starts there he is is 2-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a save percentage of .972!