Sunday, February 10, 2019

Snow My Goodness!

While we dig out from one snow blast and await the next round of the Puget Sound Snow-pocalypse 2019, let's update that playoff chase. After this weekend, Seattle not only maintained it's position in the eight spot in the Western Conference (the second wild card position), it increased its lead over Kamloops to three points after the Blazers dropped two games. Kamloops still has a game in hand on the T-birds, which made Seattle's 4-3 overtime win Saturday over Medicine Hat, all the more crucial.

The two teams still have one more game head-to-head, coming up March 1st up at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, but between now and then the T-birds play six tough games against four teams with winning records. Four of those six are against either Everett or Portland. Kamloops will also play six times before they host the T-birds with two of those games against B.C. Division teams Prince George and Kelowna, both with sub .500 records. Because Seattle has the tougher schedule going forward, earning points anyway possible is of key importance. That's why a couple of recent overtime wins have been crucial for the T-birds playoff hopes.

On average Seattle is currently earning .905 points per game this season and are on pace for 62 points. Kamloops is averaging .865 points per game and is on pace for 59 points. Again though, the degree of difficulty in their schedule going forward is Seattle's biggest roadblock, making it tough for them to maintain that 62 point pace.

From the "You-don't-realize-how-important-he-is-until-he's-gone" department: In two games last week against Victoria, Seattle was outshot 83-46 by the Royals without defenseman Jarret Tyszka in the lineup. They were a Roddy Ross 41 save performance away from being swept in those two games. With Tyszka back in the lineup in two games this weekend, The T-birds outshot two opponents by a combined 66-58 margin and earned a split. Better finish against Portland Friday night might have given them a chance to win both games. Tyszka's ability to skate the puck up out of the defensive zone and get pucks in deep at the other end, gives Seattle a better chance to win the puck possession battle. That is even more important now with the upper body injury to fellow defenseman Simon Kubicek. It's a good explanation as to why the team held onto Tyszka at the trade deadline.

Speaking of defensemen, was that Jake Lee's best game as a Thunderbird Saturday against Medicine Hat? He played with a lot of confidence, to the point he was calling for the puck on his stick during that third period comeback. It led to a big assist on Seattle's second goal, and of course he scored the third goal that tied the game to force overtime.

The Thunderbirds hosted prospect Brendan Williamson and his mom this past weekend. The T-birds acquired Williamson's rights from Everett in the Zack Andrusiak trade back on New Year's Day. Williamson was originally listed by Everett when current T-birds general manager Bil LaForge was the Silvertips Director of Player Personnel. Monday, the T-birds announced they had signed Williamson to a standard WHL PLayer Agreement. This now gives the team the maximum return on that Andrusiak deal; 20 year old Sean Richards, a 2019 second round draft pick, a 2021 third round draft pick plus Williamson. I could be wrong but assume because Williamson chose to sign with the T-birds, Seattle does not get the 2022 conditional fourth round pick that was also part of the deal and it reverts back to Everett.

By the way, Seattle doesn't win Saturday, doesn't even get the game to overtime, without the play of Richards. Richards assisted on the second goal by going right to the net with the puck, then delivered a crunching hit along the boards that freed up the puck, leading to the tying goal. In 15 games with the T-birds Richards has 13 points (5g, 8a) and is +2. With Nolan Volcan currently shelved with an upper body injury, Richards becomes an even more important piece to the T-birds playoff hopes.

My T-bird Three Stars for the week:

Third Star: W Andrej Kukuca. Koo-Koo KAH-Choooo! The Slovakian winger picked up six points in four games (4g, 2a) and had a nice bank pass to set up the Matthew Wedman overtime winner Saturday night. Seems to do most of his damage against Victoria as he now has four goals against the Royals in three games. Since returning from World Juniors he has 19 points (11g, 8a) in 18 games, doing most of his damage within four feet of the goal. He now has 43 points on the season with a +11 rating.

Second Star: G Roddy Ross. Robbin' Roddy Ross was nothing short of spectacular last Tuesday in Victoria stealing a win for Seattle with a stand-on-his-head 41 save performance. He closed out the weekend with a monster overtime save against Medicine Hat just before the T-birds game winner. Don't forget his stop of former T-bird Elijah Brown in that game as well. Ross now has eight wins in 12 starts. remember, the first half of the year former T-bird Liam Hughes had just 10 wins in 29 starts. Ross's most telling stat? A .914 save percentage.

First Star: C Matthew Wedman. Weds is the defacto on ice, team captain with Volcan out injured for the time being. Like Volcan he leads by example. He, along with Noah Philp, leads the team in scoring with 55 points. He also leads the team in goals with 27 and leads in plus/minus as well at +19. His 55 points in 52 games is eight points more then he had all of last season in 72 games. He registered six points in the four games (4g, 2a) capped by the big OT game winner Saturday. Oh, and his mom beat Volcan's mom in the intermission shootout Friday night. Pretty good week for the Wedman family.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Lost Weekend

After a stellar month of January that saw the T-birds go 8-3-1-1 and climb back into playoff contention, February started off with a thud as Seattle dropped both ends of a home-and-home with division rival Everett. It was a case of Seattle playing 60 good minutes of hockey on the weekend when they needed 120. The team knows their schedule going forward is daunting. They need to find points against the top teams if they're going to grab that final playoff spot in the west. Every team they play this month has a winning record. The opportunity was there this weekend, they didn't take it.

Friday night at home Seattle was full marks through the first two periods. They played right there with the Silvertips, even grabbing the lead. A T-birds power play miscue late in the second though, led to an Everett shorthanded breakaway goal and instead of a lead after two the game was tied. Then Seattle ran into penalty trouble in the third and couldn't survive Everett's power play.

The story was almost similar Saturday on the road. The T-birds played a solid first period, only to surrender a late goal. Giving up a goal in the final thirty seconds of that first period was like erasing 19 and a half minutes of good hockey. Then another penalty early in the second and an Everett power play goal follows. In the span of three minutes Seattle went from going toe-to-toe with the 'Tips to being down a pair, which on the road looks like a mountain to climb.

If Seattle fails to make the postseason, the biggest culprit, along with that difficult second half schedule, will be their special teams. That's not surprising with a young club. The T-birds don't have those high end, older, NHL drafted players on the power play they relied on a few years ago like Barzal, Bear and Gropp. But even they took a season or two to get their power play mojo going. There's no Barzal to control the power play with his puck possession and skating skills. The lack of a Bear-type player to play the point is most evident. In a couple years they may have that as Simon Kubicek continues to develop, but he just recently turned 17. Sixteen year old Tyrel Bauer and his booming shot may eventually integrate into the power play. Both are already seeing plenty of action on the PK. Both players are still growing into their roles. Both players are still rookies. The learning curve is a lot higher now with this relatively green team.

I understand the frustration T-birds head coach Matt O'Dette had with the officiating this weekend. He lost a number of players the first half of the season to flagrant, penalty worthy hits. One of those players, top six forward Dillon Hamaliuk, is out for the season. Look, refs miss calls through the course of a game against both teams. And some hits that look penalty worthy in real time aren't such upon video scrutiny when you can look at it frame-by-frame. But it appeared the officials this weekend were really singularly focused in on calling any Seattle contact that was borderline, a penalty. Why? Where is that reputation coming from? The recent history between Seattle and Everett would suggest it should have been Everett under the ref's microscope, not Seattle. Over the past two seasons of the rivalry it has been Silvertips players (that's players plural, because it was not always Sean Richards), not T-birds with the suspension-worthy hits. Did Seattle deserve some of those calls against them this weekend? You bet, but there were no halos above the heads of the Everett players. The officials need to police both teams. Even the appearance of a bias against one team is not good. As they say, perception is often perceived as reality.

Are you nostalgic? Do you long for the good old days? Tri-City has 12 extra points because they are 12-3 in overtime/shootout games. Seattle has one extra point because they are just 1-6 in overtime/shootout games. If games just ended in ties as they did many years ago, Seattle's record would be 18-24-7. Tri-City's record would be 14-19-15. Tri-City would have 43 points not 55, Seattle would have 42, just two less then their current 44. Tri-City is up in the standing because they've been able to get games past 60 minutes. That's taking advantage of the system. Meanwhile the other teams Seattle is battling with for a playoff spot, Kelowna and Kamloops, are playing in more three point games as well. The Rockets have played in 11, the Blazers have played in 9. Again if games just ended in ties, Kelowna would be 15-25-11 with 41 points. Kamloops would be sitting at 16-25-9 with 41 points as well. The race to the playoffs would be still be tight but the T-birds might have more wiggle room. Loser points matter.

Not only does Seattle have the tougher road to the playoffs, they have to do it with out two top six forwards with Hamaliuk out for the season and Nolan Volcan out week-to-week with just six weeks left. Despite the two losses to Everett, I liked how Seattle initially responded to Volcan's absence by earning five out of six points in the first three games. That's not an easy thing to do, filling a 73 point (30g, 43a) gap, while trying to earn points against some of the best teams in the league. Both of those players would also be logging power play and penalty kill minutes, especially Volcan.

Another glimpse of the not too distant future for the T-birds with the debut of 2018 first round bantam pick, 15 year old Kai Uchacz, Friday night. Not a lot of ice time, playing on the fourth line, but he gave a good accounting for himself. A bit nervous his first shift, but then he just went out and played hockey. He won three of four faceoffs, had one shot on goal and nearly scored. I was more impressed with his play along the boards, winning a couple of 50-50 battles against much older players.

The T-birds top three picks from the most recent draft have now all made their debuts and the initial reaction is the team's scouts got the top of that draft right. I'm not predicting future glory and multiple championships, but I am saying they chose three players who show the skills to be effective first line players. I don't think I'm going too far to say all three of those guys will be on the roster next season and playing every night. They're good enough to make the roster right now. They're just not eligible.

The T-birds picked three other forwards later in that draft (Sam Popowich, Reid Schaeffer and Mekai Sanders) and have signed them to standard WHL Player Agreements as well. Late round picks are not the sure thing the front of the draft picks usually are but in talking to the T-birds talent evaluators, they like the progress those three players are making and believe they will be impactful at the WHL level. With Payton Mount and Jared Davidson (don't sleep on Davey, he's going to be a good one) already here, the T-birds have compiled a quality group of young forwards for the next three to four seasons.

My T-birds Three Stars for the month of January (let's be real here, February didn't start off too well):

Third Star: G Roddy Ross. Did you know Ross has been the WHL Rookie of the Month, every month he's been in the league? Okay, he's only played one month but still that was an impressive first month. In nine games he was 6-1-0-1 with a 2.30 GAA and .922 save percentage. He's so calm in goal and making some early saves in those games seemed to give the team in front of him the confidence necessary to go out and earn those wins. That was most evident when Seattle knocked off the CHL's #1 ranked team, Prince Albert, back on January 9th. He had a couple of early stops against their explosive top line and then Seattle settled in and skated to a 4-1 win. He gives his team a chance to win every night.

Second Star: C/W Henrik Rybinski. His overtime winner in Kelowna was enough by itself to get him on the list but his overall play is his strength. A tenacious forechecker he doesn't give up on puck battles. He makes effective use of his stick to break up pass plays and scoring chances. 13 points and +8 in 12 January games and his only goal was a game winner. In just his 17 year old season, another part of that young forward group going forward. He's listed as a C skater by NHL Central Scouting for the upcoming draft. I think he needs to start potting some more goals, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that some NHL team takes a late round flyer on him. At the very least he's on the radar. Smart decision by G.M. Bil LaForge to go get Rybinski, who had been on the trade block and available to all WHL teams since October.

First Star: C Matthew Wedman. Talk about someone who has probably put himself on the radar of NHL teams, Wedman would be that prototypical late bloomer. He has the size, has found a scoring touch, wins his fair share of faceoffs and plays in all situations. In the absence of Volcan he stepped up and delivered not just offense, but leadership. I'll lay money that at the very least he gets an invite to an NHL development/training camp before next season. There's even an outside chance he gets drafted in a late round. His skating has improved quite a bit since his 16 year old season. He just surpassed last season's point total with 19 games to go. He leads the team with 23 goals, six more then he had in 72 games last season. Usually paired up against the opponent's top line he is +19 on the year. He registered 17 points (11g, 6a) in 12 January games and was +13.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Home Sweet Home

After eight straight games on the road, Seattle finally returned to the friendly confines of the accesso ShoWare Center Saturday to play their first home game of 2019 and what a way to return. Before a sold out barn on Fred Meyer Teddy Bear Toss night presented by WARM 106.9 FM, Seattle made it points in five straight games, including four wins, with a back-and-forth, 6-4 victory over the Victoria Royals. The Joint on James Street was jumpin'!

With the win and their recent found success the T-Birds have finished the weekend with sole possession of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. There is still lots of hockey to be played but you'd rather be the chasee then the chaser. Again, most looked at the organization's trade deadline deals as a sell off. Many saw trading away Zack Andrusiak, Liam Hughes and Reese Harsch as a white flag of surrender. In the eight games before those trades, Seattle was 1-6-1-0. In the eight games since the deals the T-birds are 5-2-0-1. Instead of a flag of surrender, the T-Birds have hoisted a battle flag. The toughest part of their schedule may still lie ahead but the team isn't going into it lying down.

There was a lot of consternation in T-Bird Nation when Seattle received Sean Richards back from Everett in the Zack Andrusiak trade. But, it's hard to complain when you look at the early returns. In six games with the T-Birds Richards is over a point a game player with seven points (4g, 3a) and a +3 rating. By comparison Andusiak in nine games with Everett has five points (4g, 1a) and is -2. Late Saturday when his captain, Nolan Volcan, was being hacked while lying on the ice, it was Richards who came to his defense. In the end, I think it is a trade both teams will be happy with. While Andrusiak is a goal scoring machine, Richards is that player you hate to play against but love it when he's on your team.

Just remember though, this wasn't a one-for-one swap. Seattle also received a second and a third round Bantam pick, and the rights to an unsigned prospect, 16-year old Brendan Williamson. Williamson is currently one of the leading point producers in the BCMML playing for the (and maybe this is a good omen) Fraser Valley Thunderbirds. The T-Birds still have to convince him to sign, but even if Seattle doesn't get his signature on a Standard WHL Player Agreement, then they still get a future fourth round bantam pick from Everett.

But let's look deeper into what that trade allowed T-Birds General Manager Bil La Forge to do at the trade deadline. Acquiring that second round pick from the Silvertips gave Seattle three 2019 second rounders, their own, Everett's and one acquired from Regina in the Aaron Hyman deal last season. La Forge used one of those extra second round picks (either their own or Regina's), packaged it with a 2020 third rounder along with unsigned prospect Aidan Brook, and sent it to Medicine Hat for Henrik Rybinski. In seven games with Seattle, the 17-year old Rybinski is a point a game player with seven assists.

Before the season began, Rybinski was listed as a "C" prospect for the upcoming NHL Draft by Central Scouting. Watching him play the past week and a half you can see why. He is a relentless forechecker. He doesn't give up on puck battles. He has an active stick. It was his aggressive play on a dump in that forced the turnover behind the Victoria net that led to Noah Philp's Teddy Bear Toss goal Saturday night. The best thing you can say about Rybinski is you notice him when he's on the ice. He positively affects the play because he's hard to play against. Of course there is also the fact that Seattle will have him around for at least two and a half seasons.

Still not sure about the trades? Well we're still in its infancy, but here are the early returns on the five new players on the roster: 33 games combined, 20 points (6g, 14a) and a +10 rating with a 3-0-0-1 record in goal along with a 2.35 GAA and .913 save percentage. The trades have had a positive trickle down affect. Young players who were counted on the first half of the season to play second or third line minutes are now in better spots manning the third and fourth lines.

Meanwhile Seattle stockpiled as many as five future draft picks, a possible future player in Williamson and signed prospect, 17-year old Michael Horon, who is currently lighting up the AMHL with 53 points (26g, 27a) in 24 games. You don't think those 4th, 5th and 8th round draft picks coming back in some of those deals were a high enough return? Here is just a short list of some late round selections (4th round or later) La Forge had a significant role in selecting when he was Everett's Director of Player Personnel the past decade: Patrick Bajkov, Noah Juulsen, Riley Sutter, Jake Christiansen, Orrin Centazzo, Gianni Fairbrother, Nick Henry and some guy named Carter Hart. Not every late round pick is a gold mine but those were some nice gems.

One question as Seattle left the Eastern Division and headed back west was could their new found play translate well against the Western Conference? Two games in, against two teams with a combined record of 45-35-3-1, the T-Birds are 1-0-0-1 and only a hot Tri-City goalie away from being 2-0. Seattle outshot their two opponents this weekend 76-46. While they only produced two power-play goals they out power played Tri-City and Victoria 12-6, meaning they were driving the play and forcing their opponent into penalties. They won the puck possession battle both nights.

How important is earning overtime or shootout points? Seattle trails Tri-City by 14 points in the standings. The Americans have earned 11 points in 14 games they've taken into either a shootout or overtime, including two extra points against the T-Birds. Seattle meanwhile hasn't earned a single point past regulation going 0-for-5.

The T-Birds get another stiff test from a Western Conference top tier team when they face U.S. Division rival Spokane at home on Tuesday. The T-Birds are 0-3-2-0 this season against the Chiefs and this is their last chance for a "W". It's a 2-for-Tuesday which means 2-for-1 tickets and beers, two dollar concession specials and hopefully, two points.

My T-Birds three stars for the weekend:

Third star: Going off the board here to give it to General Manager "Billion Dollar Bil" La Forge. Who, after his team suffers a seven game winless streak, trades his top scorer, top goalie and a top defenseman and turns it into a 5-2-0-1 record with the new, younger roster? It's never easy to be the guy who has to replace a GM who just built a WHL Champion as previous GM Russ Farwell did, but La Forge seems to relish the opportunity to duplicate that feat. He publicly stated before his new roster had even played a game, he wasn't giving up on the season with those trades and indeed, backed up that rhetoric when the team went from outside the playoff picture into a playoff spot, all while he accrued future draft capital. The Obi Wan of the front office, may the La Forge be with you.

Second Star: Seattle's top line of Nolan Volcan, Matthew Wedman and Keltie Jeri-Leon. They accumulated seven points on the weekend (4g, 3a) highlighted by Wedman's Saturday night hat trick and Volcan's shorthanded game winner in the same game. Don't underestimate the importance of Jeri-Leon, now that the T-Birds have lost Dillon Hamaliuk and his 26 points (11g, 15a) for the season to a lower body injury.

First Star: Seattle's newly formed second line of Philp, Richards and Rybinski. Like the top line they totaled seven points this weekend (3g,4a). They combine grit (Richards), hustle (Rybinski) and speed (Philp). They found instant chemistry as soon as they were paired up. They are P-R-R-fect together.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Second Half Reset

I didn't see a point in penning a new blog entry, knowing the trade deadline was approaching and Seattle was likely to make some moves to shuffle their roster for the second half of the season. So, instead I waited until the trades were finalized and the new look roster had a chance to put a few games under its belt. The early results are encouraging and every new player acquired has factored onto the scoresheet while draft picks and young prospects have been added that will help the club in the not too distant future.

It's not often you trade away your leading goal scorer, your leading point producer for that matter, along with your number one goalie and your second most senior defenseman and can say with a straight face "we are not giving up on the season". But the proof, so far, is in the pudding. Since the deals were consummated, the T-Birds are closer to a playoff spot, not farther away. Since those deals were done the team has played to a 4-2 record, entirely on the road.

Now, it's still going to be a tall task for Seattle to grab one of those last playoff spots. Not because I don't think they are talented enough to do so after all the dealings, but rather because they have a daunting schedule ahead of them. Of the 28 games left for the T-birds to play, 25 will be against teams with winning records. 12 of those games will be against either Everett or Portland who have a combined record of 59-21-4-3. In 10 games against those two division rivals the first half of the season Seattle was just 2-8.

Meanwhile, the T-Birds went 1-5 the first half against the two teams they're fighting for that final playoff spot in the West, Prince George and Kamloops. Besides Seattle, those are the only other teams out west, along with Kelowna, with sub .500 records. Seattle only has two head-to-head games left against the Cougars and Blazers, both against Kamloops (they also have one road game vs. Kelowna). The best way to catch a team ahead of you in the standings is to beat them head-to-head. The T-birds just don't have much opportunity for that left on the schedule. The T-Birds 1-3 mark against Prince George, the team currently directly ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, may come back to bite them, since they don't have any games left on the schedule against the Cougars.

In a good-news-bad-news scenario, those two clubs, Prince George and Kamloops, get to beat up on each other seven times the rest of the way. If one of those teams though, were to dominate those seven games, it could spell trouble for Seattle's playoff hopes. The specter of those teams playing a number of three point games (OT or SO) against each other, also could hurt the T-Birds.

So what can the T-Birds do? They can go out and continue to play the brand of hockey they played on their six game trek through the East Division. They played heavy, they played fast and they played an aggressive style. The trades made by first year General Manager Bil La Forge definitely put his stamp on this team. The players he acquired in those deals last week brought into the organization players that fit his style, a style that Head Coach Matt O'Dette agrees with. While Seattle traded out one top six forward in Zack Andrusiak, the moves by La Forge brought back three potential top six players in Sean Richards, Henrik Rybinksi and Keltie Jeri-Leon. In moving out a bigger, more stay at home, older defenseman in Reece Harsch, La Forge brought back a smaller, more mobile, more offensive minded and younger d-man in Zach Ashton.

The best of the deals might be the one that didn't cost Seattle anything but patience. The T-Birds listed goalie Roddy Ross back in September. They watched him have a terrific first half of the season with Canmore in the AJHL while he decided which route he would take, WHL or NCAA. Knowing they were going to deal Liam Hughes to Lethbridge, the T-Birds got Ross signed and brought him in to compete with Cole Schwebius. After debuting midway through the game in Brandon versus the Wheat Kings, Ross would get three starts on the recent road trip and go 3-0-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and a save percentage of .925.

Two of those wins were against teams with a couple of the best records in the Eastern Conference. That includes a 32-save performance in a 4-1 win against the #1 ranked team in all of the CHL, the Prince Albert Raiders. Ross is 6'4" and that tall frame helps cover a lot of the crease. But more importantly, as La Forge, O'Dette and goaltending coach Ian Gordon have said, there is very little wasted motion in his game.

Has Ross earned the number one job? that remains to be seen. Remember, while Ross was playing regularly in the AJHL with Canmore, Schwebius was spending most game nights on the bench behind Hughes. When he got the start in Brandon January 4th, it was Schwebius' first game action since December 15th and only his eighth appearance of the season. He's going to get more opportunities now. He got three starts in eight days out east, the busiest he's been since preseason. He got better with each game, punctuating it with an 18 save third period Saturday in Swift Current, helping Seattle hold on for the 5-3 win.

I know there are some T-Bird fans who don't understand the deal that brought Richards to the team, but this is a good, 200-foot player who can play in all situations. And he can score as is evidenced by his three goals in the last two games. Does he play on the edge? Sure. Is he a dirty player, a goon who targets players? No. Just like T-Bird favorite Turner Ottenbreit did when he was here, just as young Cade McNelly does now, Richards skirts a fine line with his physical play. He needs to avoid the kind of hits that will draw suspensions, most importantly because if Seattle is to win a playoff spot it will because he is on the ice, not in the stands.

Seattle's winning record on their trip through Saskatchewan was impressive, not because they did it on the heels of a seven game winless streak, but because they did it in the midst of a roster make-over. The first couple of games you had linemates introducing themselves to each other at the pregame meal or heck, even pregame warmups. They did it by integrating new faces onto the team with minimal practice time. But they also did it because La Forge kept his veteran leadership group together. I have no doubt he received phone calls and inquiries on the availability of veterans Nolan Volcan, Noah Philp, Jarret Tyszka and Matthew Wedman, but by keeping that group around, he kept strong voices in the room who can lead these younger players. By keeping them, he kept this team's core identity. Combined on the road trip east, those four players accounted for 31 points (12g, 19a).

Early on the recent trip, Seattle got another look into the future when another of last spring's high Bamtam Draft picks, second rounder Conner Roulette, joined the team and played against Brandon. While Roulette didn't register a point, he was quite possibly one of Seattle's most dangerous players on the ice. I particularly liked how well the 15-year old Roulette played with another young T-Bird, 16-year old Jared Davidson. Yes, it's just one game but the future looks bright for the Winnipeg native.

My T-Bird Three Stars for the Eastern Trip:

Third Star: G Roddy Ross. Three starts, three wins. Not a bad way to start off your WHL career. A solid first start in beating Regina. He was at his best against Prince Albert early, making key saves, allowing his team to weather an early barrage, settle down and then get going in the 4-1 win over the #1 ranked team. He followed that up with another solid effort, including stopping two breakaways in Moose Jaw in a 7-2 win over the Warriors.

Second Star: C Matthew Wedman. Weds had a number of big hits early in most of those games, coming out and setting an early, physical tone. He's drawing penalties against the opponents top players. He continues to dominate the face-off circle. After missing the Brandon game while serving out a one game suspension (his absence was certainly felt) he ended the trip with three goals and two assists.

First Star: C Noah Philp. Philp followed up his WHL Player of The Week honors with a terrific second week of January as well. He finished the trip with 14 points (4g, 10a) while playing with brand new linemates in Richards and Rybinski. Centering that line he makes it seem as though they have been together all season. Seattle's power play suffered mightily when he was out of the lineup due to injury. It's starting to come back around, now that he's back.