Someone opined the morning before Game 6 in Edmonton that, were the T-birds able to come back from being down three games to one in the WHL Championship Series, this team would have been the stuff of legends. They would have been talked about for decades.
They would have come from behind in their last three playoff series. They would have won eight straight do or die games. They would have won six of eight elimination game on the road, including four in a row. And they would have won Games 5, 6 and 7 of the Championship Series in their opponent's barn.
Alas, while they came close, they fell just short, falling in Game 6 and losing the Chynoweth Cup to the Oil Kings four games to two.
Maybe they won't be hockey or WHL legends, but they will be Thunderbirds legends. Had they pulled off the fete I would have placed the 2021-22 team at the top of the class in T-birds history. Yes, even ahead of the 2017 team which won the franchise's first ever championship, which is saying something considering how good that team was.
As it is, they are probably right on that team's heels for best in franchise history. Great things were expected from that 2017 version of the T-birds. Nobody outside the T-birds organization had this version getting to Game 6 of the league final this season. Certainly not in the fashion they did it, time after time refusing to go quietly into the night, with their season on life support seven times.
You'll hear a lot of talk outside of the organization that this team overachieved. You'll hear they exceded expectations and weren't built to win this season but were expected to compete for a title next season or the season after that. But inside the T-birds room, they would say none of that is true. In fact, they will tell you that falling short of the Cup means they didn't meet their expected goal of winning it all. Because from day one, this team confidently believed they could win the whole enchilada.
And that's the way they should view it. Certainly they accomplished a lot in 2021-22, including a Western Conference Championship. But the goal for this franchise should always be to compete for the crown and win it. You can't have the mindset of, we're playing for next year, because next year is not guarenteed. Tell the graduating players that winning this season wasn't the goal. That's a slap in the face to all their hard work and their dream of hoisting the trophy. They're not here next season. This was their year.
If General Manager Bil Laforge was waiting for next season, he wouldn't have spent a first round draft pick and more to acquire Lukas Svejkovsky. But he saw the Western Conference was wide open. He saw he had a talented group of players. Young? Yes, but with the skill to win against anyone. He saw this team battle throught Covid and injuires and still said, we're in it to win it. And they almost did.
What they accomplished this season and what they almost accomplished was no fluke. It wasn't luck. It was hard work paying off. In the end they were the second best team in the WHL and that is something to be proud of, the stuff of legends
Thomas Milic was the T-birds playoff MVP, no question. I would like to think that his 25 game postseason performance will get him drafted into the NHL next month but it's no sure thing. It will certainly get him an invite to an NHL camp next fall. He went up against four drafted or signed goaltenders and, in my opinion, outshined them all.
I'd hate to think Ty Bauer's last game as a T-bird was just a couple of shifts in the first five minutes, and then an early exit as a result of a questionable five minute major that led to a two game suspension. In the 21 or so years I've been with the franchise, he's been the best captain I can remember and Seattle has had some great leaders wearing that C.
Sam Knazko coming over from Finland in late November was a bit of luck, but his arrival meant Seattle didn't have to spend more valuable draft capital to seek a high end defenseman at the trade deadline. He quickly solidified the T-birds back end.
Matt Rempe saved his best for last. What a terrific postseason he had with eight goals, including a first round, overtime series clincher. And I think he's only scratching the surface of his potential. He's still learning to play with his size and frame.
My T-birds Three Stars are Seattle's three 20 year olds.
Third Star: D Ryan Gottfried. Gotts came in a trade early in the 2019-20 season. He was the second of two defenseman Seattle traded for as injuries decimated their back end. He was the one who stuck. He made himself into a reliable reargaurd. He was especially adept at blocking shots and killing penalties and he was a great role model for Seattle's young group of d-men.
Second Star: W Lukas Svejkovsky. He only played six months as a T-bird but Seattle got from him exactly what they were hoping for when they made the trade to acquire him right after Christmas, instant offense. In 33 regular season games as a Thunderbird he accumulated 36 points (22g, 24a). In 24 playoff games he earned another 28 points (11g, 17a). He was the final piece to the puzzle in their drive to the Championship Series.
First Star: C Henrik Rybinski. The tone setter for this team. A heart and soul guy. He never gave you less then 100 percent on any shift. He played the last two games of the Championship Series while dealing with an upper body injury. If he was going down, he was going down swinging. In Seattle's two, game-seven postseason wins he had seven points (2g, 5a) including a game winner in the Western Conference Championship Series.
It's going to be a very interesting offseason for Seattle. Lots of talent coming back but some holes on the roster to fill. Stay tuned!