The Thunderbirds were able to hold off a late-game comeback from the Portland Winterhawks and hung on to take their home and season opener by a final score of 5-3. Despite holding a 4-1 lead going into the final period, the inexperienced Seattle defense finally cracked midway through the third, with Seth Jarvis capitalizing on two odd-man rushes to bring the Winterhawks within one. The Thunderbirds were able to put the game away with a Dillon Hamaliuk Hail Mary into the empty Portland net with just over a minute to play to seal the victory.
Seattle struck first midway through the first period. Fittingly, it was newly named captain Nolan Volcan who opened the Thunderbirds campaign. Rushing down the right wing, his initial shot was blocked by a Portland defender, but he was able to corral the loose puck and slide his follow-up shot under Portland goaltender Shane Farkas for the 1-0 Seattle lead. However, the Thunderbirds would find themselves in penalty trouble shortly after, and Portland was able to capitalize, with San Jose Sharks prospect Joachim Blichfeld scoring on a 5-on-3 just three minutes later to tie the game at 1-1, a score that would hold to the intermission.
The Thunderbirds opened the second period strong. A mere 50 seconds in, Dillion Hamaliuk scooped up a loose puck in the Portland zone and went to work. After making a pair of defender miss, Hamaliuk was able to lure Farkas out of position before sliding the puck to a wide open Zack Andrusiak, who wouldn’t miss from in close. Four minutes later, it was Andrusiak’s turn to play set up man, as he carried the puck in on a 3-on-1, and dropped the puck to the trailing Owen Williams, who unleashed a quick writer for his first career WHL goal. Seattle didn’t let up, and 48 seconds later, Hamaliuk was at it again, outmuscling the Portland defense before finding Matthew Wedman on the left post, who was able to slide it past Farkas to put the Thunderbirds up 4-1.
After that, it was goaltender Liam Hughes turn to play hero for a while. Hughes would stop 30 of 33 shots in the win, including a penalty shot and breakaway late in the second with Portland pressing to narrow the margin before the third.
As alluded to up top, however, it was the third where Seattle began to unravel a bit. Due to injuries sustained at camp with the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights respectively, the Thunderbirds were without Jarret Tyszka and Reece Harsch, their most veteran defensemen. Following a series of altercations to close the second, the inexperienced blue line found themselves stretched even more than when sixteen-year-old Tyrel Bauer was given a game misconduct. The five remaining defenders tried valiantly, but the cracks were clear, and it almost ended in disaster for the home side.
At times, it felt like Seattle was absolutely dominating, and the score was a lot closer than it should have been. At others, it felt miraculous that the Thunderbirds were even in the game at all. In the end, the home opener may have been a perfect look at just what to expect from the 2018/2019 Seattle Thunderbirds.