Zack Andrusiak and the Thunderbirds (29-24-7-2) had a few things in common coming into the game against the Vancouver Giants (32-21-6-3) tonight. Both had been struggling of late, but it was an Andrusiak hat trick that would lead the Thunderbirds back into the win column and back onto the score sheet for Andrusiak.
“I went through a little bit of a slump there, happens to everybody,” said Andrusiak. “you just gotta keep working hard and eventually you get some bounces like I did tonight.”
The game got off to a quick start for Seattle when Noah Philp dropped a pass to Turner Ottenbreit at the left point who sent a slapshot to the backside of the net where Zack Andrusiak was waiting to tip it in — giving his team a 1-0 lead at 2:22 of the first.
After some back and forth play that didn’t see either team with too many clear chances the Giants would strike at 16:24 after a long stretch of sustained pressure in the Seattle zone. Liam Hughes made two saves back-to-back before Aidan Barfoot found Tyler Popowich in front of the net, beating Hughes glove side to tie the game at one. The first period finished with Vancouver leading in the shot column 9-6.
The first ten minutes of the second period were very rough for Seattle as Vancouver scored three goals to take a commanding 4-1 lead.
An early power play opportunity for the Thunderbirds would turn disastrous as Tyler Benson got a hold of a bad pass and was off to the races while short-handed. Benson beat Liam Hughes five hole for his 22nd goal of the season.
“We tried an ill-advised pass cross, ice that we didn’t need to do,” said Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette.
Seattle defensemen Tyson Terretta took a hooking penalty at 4:31, and on the ensuing power play Giant’s defensemen Matt Barberis fired a hard pass towoards the net. A waiting Ty Ronning, Vancouver’s leading goal scorer, deposited the puck for his 54th goal of the year at 6:01.
Vancouver scored again at 6:55 to give the Giants a 4-1 lead. James Malm scooped a up a loose puck and after a pass to and then from Hunor Torzsok he swept across the net and beat Hughes with a backhand shot.
After a media timeout in the second, the Thunderbirds took control of the game and found the back of the net three times.
“After the timeout in the second we talked about getting back to our style,” said O’Dette. “and you know and making other teams play d-zone and not trying to be too cute in order to get there.”
The comeback started with Nikita Malukhin’s 5th of the season. Donovan Neuls lead an aggressive forecheck behind the Vancouver net and found Matt Wedman who skated out from behind the net and attempted a shot between his legs. The shot was blocked but a bouncing rebound found Malukhin who made no mistake in finishing it at 13:57.
Despite the 4-2 lead, the Giants were getting out shot after two periods 25-23.
Seattle continued to dictate play for large sections of the third period as evidenced by the crooked numbers in the shots on goal columns, 14-5. Donovan Neuls, who had four assists on the night would set up the next goal after he wheeled around the offensive zone and fired a wobbling puck towards the net. Zack Andrusiak was there to tip it past Tendeck for his second goal of the night to make it 4-3.
David Tendeck was standing on his head trying to preserve the win for his squad but the dam finally broke with just 1:07 left of the period. Donovan Neuls took a shot from the point and the rebound bounced onto the stick of Nolan Volcan who scored to tie the game at four.
“We were preaching getting pucks on net,” said Volcan following the game. “I didn’t see who shot it, I think it was Donny (Donovan Neuls), but yeah he just put a nice little shot, I was lucky enough to find the rebound and put it in.”
Overtime was a very short affair, Vancouver’s Matt Barberis took a delay of game penalty just 18 seconds into the overtime period which set the stage for Zack Andrusiak to play the hero — and he did just that. Just 34 seconds into the overtime, he one-timed a shot past a sprawling David Tendeck to win the game and complete his hat trick.
Matt O’Dette addressed the goal while talking to the media after the game.
“The overtime goal, that’s his bread and butter,” O’Dette continued, “he’s a shooter, that play was designed for him and he put it in the back of the net.”
For the Thunderbirds a win was just what they needed, having come into the game losers of four straight.
“Credit to the guys, the leaders in there,” O’Dette said of his team. “they lead the way the second half of the game.”
Volcan had some praise of his own.
“All the guys pitching in from the first line to the fourth line, it was nice to see”
Just as important is the hope that this win can ignite the Thunderbirds for the stretch run and get them into the playoffs.
Zack Andrusiak hasn’t had the most typical path through the Western Hockey League, he wasn’t drafted in the bantam draft and had a hard time latching onto the Tri-City Americans. Not here. He has found a home in Seattle and as we are learning, he knows a thing or two about resilience.
“We pride ourselves on being a resilient team and we’ve fought and battled back all year,” Emphasized Andrusiak.
The Thunderbirds next hit the ice on March 2nd as they travel to Portland to take on the Winterhawks. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00pm.