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.