Time to go back to my early days of radio, as a disc jockey, spinning the hits. Here's Dead or Alive with a classic from 1984:
"All I know is that to me, you look like you're having fun...."
This team looks like they're having fun chasing down that final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Another strong weekend, in which Seattle took both wins and all four points, has trimmed their magic number to clinch a playoff spot down to a scant two points. One more win in their last four games or one more Kamloops loss in the Blazers last four, and the Thunderbirds are playoff bound. A couple of overtime or shootout losses will do the trick as well. Over the last 10 games with a playoff spot there for the taking, against some of the best competition in the WHL, Seattle has earned 16 of 20 points, compiling a 7-1-1-1 record.
"...You spin me right round, baby, right round like a record baby..."
11-19-4-0. That was Seattle's record after losing a 3-1 lead and falling 6-3 New Year's Eve to the Winterhawks down in Portland. That was the exact midway point of the season, 34 games into a 68 game schedule. They had just lost seven of eight, including six in a row and surrendering 40 goals in the process. The T-Birds sat dead last, 10th place, in a 10 team conference race.
General Manager Bil LaForge had seen enough. Top six forward Dillon Hamaliuk was out for the season and the team was reeling. It was immediately after that game down at the Moda Center that the first year GM set in motion the winds of change. It was not a roster purge but, instead, a roster reset. A New Year's resolution to turn this team's fortunes around. Out went number one goalie Liam Hughes, veteran defenseman Reese Harsch and leading scorer Zack Andrusiak. In came recently signed netminder Roddy Ross along with wingers Sean Richards, Kelti Jeri-Leon, Henrik Rybinski and d-man Zach Ashton.
"...you spin me right round baby..."
17-9-2-2. That's the T-birds record through 30 of 34 second half games. A complete one-eighty turnaround with their record the second half of the season. From eight games below .500 to eight games above with four games remaining and a bonafide chance to finish the regular season above the break even mark. More importantly they went from a non-playoff contender to the cusp of being a playoff team. It's only fitting that the 1984 pop hit was recorded by a band called Dead or Alive. Thanks to their remarkable second half about face, Seattle has gone from being dead in the water to very much alive for the postseason.
"...open up your lovin' arms, watch out, here I come"
This is a dangerous team as the playoffs approach. If they get into the postseason, no matter who their first round opponent is, win or lose, that team is going to have their hands full with a team brimming with confidence. That opponent will be facing a Seattle team that's battle tested, playing 20 of its final 21 games against teams with winning records. That first round opponent will be going up against a T-Birds team that will have played 19 of their final 34 games against teams either in first or second place in their respective divisions. That opponent will be going head-to-head against a Seattle team that played 15 of those 34 second half games against teams with winning percentages above .645.
"I've set my sights on you, and I've got to have my way now baby."
You want the playoffs? Go out and earn it. That's what this team is doing. They aren't relying on anyone to help them, they aren't backing their way in. Over the last month they've gone 8-1-1-1. 2-1, 1-0-1, 3-0-1 and now 2-0 over the last four weekends. You win as a team and with everyone contributing. Some of the bigger plays are those that don't end up in a box score. In a couple of recent games a couple of veteran players, Nolan Volcan and Jarret Tyszka have both blocked shots with their faces. Head coach Matt O'Dette pointed out the play of Jaxan Kaluski, who was a strong presence along the boards. You win with players stepping up when other players are absent. With Andrej Kukuca unavailable on the power play Saturday it was Keltie Jeri-Leon and Sean Richards filling in. Seattle scored on their only power play chance. When Tyszka had to leave early in the third period Saturday, rookie d-men Simon Kubicek picked up the slack and ended up with an assist on the game winning goal.
"...if I get to know your name..."
When the season started, Roddy Ross was toiling away between the pipes in the AJHL for Camrose. You couldn't have picked him out of a lineup. Roddy who? Now he's backstopping this team on a playoff quest. 14-4-1-2 since joining the team after the new year. In five second half games against division rival Everett, Ross has allowed 10 goals. Here's the kicker; half of those goals (5) came in one game, Ross's first game against the 'Tips back on February 1st, in a 5-2 loss. In the four starts subsequent to that first effort against the Silvertips his record is 3-0-1-0 with a 1.21 GAA and SVPCT of .971. Even with that five goal game Ross still has a 3-1-1-0 record against Everett with a GAA of 1.95 and a .953 SVPCT.
My T-Birds Three Stars for the weekend:
Third Star(s): Wingers Tyler Carpendale and Payton Mount. Friday, when so many of the team decided to take the night off against an injury depleted Victoria squad, these two forwards stepped up and delivered shift after shift. They won puck battles, owned the half wall and earned key assists on the game winning goal. Carpendale continues to deliver big hits and always plays on his toes and never back on his heels. Mount's confidence is growing more and more with each game. The rookie, 2017 first round bantam selection, is showing the skill set that led to Seattle taking him with that top pick. With some better finish by his teammates, he could have easily had two or three more assists. Tip of the cap to Matt O'Dette and his coaching staff for adjusting their lines during the game and putting those two out there with Noah Philp Friday night. Late in the season and they're making the right adjustments to find a line combination that works. That forward trio continued their terrific play Saturday in the win over Everett.
Second Stars(s): Centers Noah Philp and Nolan Volcan. Two 20-year olds who have combined for 123 points (47g, 76a). Philp put the offense on his back Friday night and bailed the T-Birds out from what could have been a stunning loss to an undermanned Victoria team. He scored both goals in a 2-1 win. He continues to be the sage guru who helps younger players get better when they're on his line as was the case this weekend with Carpendale and Mount. His 24 goals is 10 more than he had a season ago and he's now averaging well over a point a game at 1.32. Volcan duplicated Philp's Friday effort with a two-goal night of his own Saturday in the 2-1 win over Everett. In both instances it was a case of the captain being around the front of the net and getting to a puck, either by redirecting in a shot or scooping up a loose puck and firing it in for a late game winner. While a nine game absence due to injury will keep his point totals down from a season ago, he is a career best +21 on the season.
First Star: G Roddy Ross. Calm, cool and collected. And that's not just on the ice, but off the ice too. He not only plays a game set on an ice surface, but he apparently has ice water running through his veins. 2-0 on the weekend with a 1.00 GAA and a .970 SVPCT with 65 saves on 67 shots. He was .1 second away from a shutout Friday and a flukey, off-the-opponent's-glove, barely off-the-opponent's-stick, goal away from a shutout Saturday. In his start previous to that he was .4 seconds away from a 65 minute shutout. The T-Birds have earned points in 17 of his 21 starts (31 pts.) since he joined the team back on January 4th. He now ranks fifth among WHL goalies with a 2.56 GAA and a .925 SVPCT. Whether you call him Rowdy Roddy, Rockin' Roddy, Goal Robbin' Roddy or Ross the Boss, at 14-4-1-2 just don't forget to call him a winner.