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WHL - US Division: Seattle Thunderbirds notebook

With two key defensemen coming back from injury, solid wins over the top-2 teams in the Western Conference and a wild win over their arch rivals, the Thunderbirds had themselves quite a week.

Heck of a game.
Heck of a game.
Otto Rogers

The style of games the 2015-16 Seattle Thunderbirds played this week was more reminiscent of what you may have seen from the 1985-86 Thunderbirds; high scoring, high flying action from one end of the rink to the other. Over the four games played during the week, Seattle tallied a whopping 20 goals (an average of five goals per game) and allowed 14 (3.5 goals allowed). Although the 14 goals allowed isn't all that unusual, the fact that they gave up seven of those goals in one game tells you all about the pin the tail on the donkey predictability this Thunderbirds team has had night in and night out this entire season so far.

But when you come out of that week with a 3-1 record with your backup goaltender between the pipes and two key defensemen coming back from injury, I'm pretty sure Seattle fans will take thrilling weeks like this all the time. Here's how it went...

Monday, February 8, 2016 at Kelowna

Monday was Family Day in British Columbia. And, as with most holidays during the winter months in Canada, this means matinee hockey in many towns. Despite being out-shot by the Rockets 30-18 through the first two periods, the Thunderbirds still found themselves tied after 40 minutes with the #1 team in the WHL at 2-2. Scott Eansor actually snagged the lead for Seattle with a PP goal at the 6:14 mark of the third period. But a couple minutes later, the flood gates opened for Kelowna. Over a stretch of 6:31 the Rockets posted 4 goals on the scoreboard on their way to a 7-4 win. Eansor lead the Seattle scoring parade in this one with a goal and two assists.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 vs. Kelowna

The two teams made the seven hour trip back to Kent for a Tuesday tilt at the ShoWare Center. After a shaky third period the day before, T-Birds goaltender Logan Flodell played a stellar 60 minutes in net for Seattle, shutting out the Rockets by stopping all 31 shots he faced. Mathew Barzal collected quite a few hats with his 3 goals and added an assist for a 4 point night. Right Winger Keegan Kolesar (1g, 2a) and defenseman Ethan Bear (0g, 3a) had nice 3 point nights for themselves in this one, too. When it was all said and done, the Thunderbirds had a nifty 6-0 victory over, arguably, the best team in the WHL.

Saturday, February 13, 2016 vs. Portland

This was a game that had to be seen to be believed. And even if you did see it, you still wouldn't be 100% sure that what you just saw was real. If I was taking notes to do a full game recap, I could probably sell it as a 200 page novel. But I'll spare you all of that this time. The crib notes version goes like this; Portland takes a 2-0 lead, Seattle comes back to tie it at 2-2, Portland scores another pair to make it 4-2, Seattle climbs back into it & ties it at 4-4, the Winterhawks add another to make it 5-4, Thunderbirds tie it at 5-5, Portland seems to score the winner in overtime only to have it overruled via the replay booth, then Scott Eansor bangs home the game winning goal with 0.8 left in the 3-on-3 overtime period to win it for Seattle, 6-5. Within all of that you got to see some awesome goals, some shaky goals, great passing, sloppy passing, rock-solid defense, wet paper bag defense, spectacular saves, head-scratching goaltending gaffe's and some of the strangest penalties and non-penalties the WHL's finest referee's had to offer. On a strictly technical level, it was far from the best game I've seen this season. But with all the madness that constantly unfolded before your eyes on a minute-by-minute basis, chances are if you were at this game, you won't see a more entertaining game anywhere this season. Incredible.

Sunday, February 14, 2016 vs. Victoria

After three games that saw the Thunderbirds split a pair with the #1 team in the WHL and win a thriller against their hated rivals, all they had to do on Sunday night was play the team that's 2 points behind the Kelowna Rockets in the B.C. Division and ranked #6 in the entire CHL (Kelowna is ranked #7 in the polls), the Victoria Royals. All things considered, although it wasn't as exciting as the previous three games last week (and definitely nowhere close to the lunacy that was Saturday night), this was probably the Thunderbirds best overall game out of the four. Keegan Kolesar scored a hat trick and Logan Flodell stopped 33 of the 35 shots fired his way as the T-Birds claimed a rock-solid 4-2 win over the Royals.

Thunderbirds Three Stars of the Week

1. Mathew Barzal. The New York Islanders first Round Pick scored a hat trick on Tuesday night, propelling him to a 10 point week (4g, 6a).

2. Ryan Gropp. The New York Rangers second Round Pick racked-up 3 goals and 5 assists for an 8 point week that's about as quiet as they come.

3. Keegan Kolesar. The Columbus Blue Jackets third round pick claimed the hatty on Sunday night, finishing the week with 7 points (4g, 3a). Scott Eansor and Ethan Bear also had 7 point weeks, but I give this to Kolesar since he finished with the highest +/- (+3).

Comings and Goings

The Thunderbirds saw their 2 injured defensemen come back this week. Team captain Jerret Smith played for the first time in almost two weeks on Saturday night after recovering from an "upper body" injury he received in a game against Everett on January 30th. He celebrated his return with a 1g, 2a performance Saturday, including finishing the goal with an amazing cross-ice pass from Nolan Volcan that tied the game at 4-4.

Also coming back on Tuesday against Kelowna was Jarret Tyszka. The 16 year old rookie mysteriously injured his hand during the WHL holiday break. Even at such a young age, Tyszka has been a solid contributor to the Thunderbirds blue line all season long. His return not only adds stability in the Seattle end, but also gives the T-Birds another offensive threat from the point.

Starting goalie Brandon Low is currently out with an injury. Who knows how long he'll be out since ailments are guarded almost as closely as Area 51 secrets in the hockey world? So with Low out, the Thunderbirds called up 17 year old net minder Ryan Gilchrist for the time being.

And with the addition of Gilchrist to the roster along with the returns of Smith and Tyszka, the Thunderbirds let defenseman Jared Pelechaty go. Pelechaty was signed to help out with the depleted Seattle defensive corps and, in his final game on Monday afternoon against Kelowna, he scored the first goal of the game. So at least the kid went out in style, eh?

What's Coming Up?

Only two games are on the docket for the Thunderbirds this week. But they're big ones with U.S. Division points on the line.

On Friday, February 19th, the T-Birds will be hosting the Spokane Chiefs at the ShoWare Center in Kent. With both teams idle until Friday, Seattle will head into the game with a slim 4 point lead over the third place Chiefs in the division standings. Both teams have played 56 games so far this season. Spokane leads the season series 4-2 with two more games to go (both at the ShoWare Center). Spokane is led in scoring by Kailer Yamamoto who has 19g, 45a, 64 points on the season. Against Seattle he has a goal and 6 assists.

Then on Saturday, February 20th, the Birds play.....uh oh.....the Everett Silvertips at the Xfinity Arena in Everett. Seattle has been frustrated time and time again by the Silvertips defense first/modern trapping style of play all season long. And even when they do beat "the system," they're having an even harder time poking the puck past star goaltender Carter Hart. So far this year, the Thunderbirds have got 171 shots on goal against Hart with Hart stopping 164 of those shots (that's a 95.9% save percentage).

Here's an amazing stat I found putting this together; as far as shots on goal per period goes in the previous 6 games against Everett this season, the Thunderbirds have 54 in the first period, 72 in the second period, 44 in the third period and 1 in overtime. Four of the Thunderbirds 7 goals against the Tips this season have come in the first period. 2 have come in the third period. The other goal they scored against Everett was the overtime winner on January 9th. Which means that the period they have the most success in getting through the tight Everett defense and firing shots on net (the second period), they've had the least amount of success (0 goals).  And with that 1.000% shooting average in overtime, perhaps the T-Birds game plan should be play for a 0-0 tie in regulation, then punish the Tips for their overtime woes against them in overtime? Okay, probably not. Still, this was a little statistical anomaly I found that you can check out during the game to see if this odd trend continues.