In the Corners: A Winning Week

By Thom Beuning

The Thunderbirds played just twice this past week, but they came away victorious each time, scoring a combined ten goals in the process.  Last Tuesday they defeated the Spokane Chiefs, 5-3, at the accesso ShoWare Center.  The win was their first on home ice this season, after falling once in overtime and once in regulation.  Friday, Seattle travelled over to the Toyota Center in Kennewick and posted a 5-0 shutout of the Tri-City Americans.  This was Seattle’s third road win, giving them a 3-1 record away from Kent.

This coming week will be a busy one for the T-Birds.  They have three games in four days and all three will be on the road. Wednesday, they head to Portland for a rare midweek matchup with the Winterhawks.  Friday night they are in Spokane and the week ends Saturday back in Kennewick against the Americans.

Before we get into the new week though, let’s look back at what happened last week.  In fact, let’s look collectively on all seven of the Thunderbirds games so far this season.  Having been witness to every minute of play so far, I don’t think it is a stretch for me to say this team has not played its best hockey yet.  And I don’t mean that in a negative way.   They haven’t played poorly.

No, they’ve been in every game.  What I mean to say is, I don’t believe we’ve seen their “A” game yet.  We’ve seen their “B” game, maybe their “B+” game and at times their “C” game. But when I watch them play, I see there is another level they can reach.  They haven’t quite hit on all cylinders yet. Despite this, they are 4-2-1-0, probably a bad bounce from being 5-2-0-0, have won two in a row twice and sit in second place in the always tough U.S. Division.

Part of the issue in the early going is having players in and out of the lineup because of injury or suspension. Some of the issue is too many penalties disrupting their 5-on-5 play.  Even in the shutout win over the Americans, the T-Birds still surrendered six power play chances to the Ams.  But the biggest part of their inconsistent play is, well, it’s still early in the season.  They’re still learning to play together as a team.  They’re still looking for that consistency that will push their game to the next level.

Maybe I’m overestimating the depth of this version of the Thunderbirds.  I don’t think so though. Take Friday’s win over the Americans.  Statistically they were led by Jordan Gustafson (2g) and Kevin Korchinski (3a) who combined for five points. Tuesday, in the win over Spokane it was offense from two other players that led the way as Mekai Sanders and Gabe Ludwig were each credited with a goal and an assist.  In the Tuesday win, eight players registered at least a point.  In the Friday win, ten skaters got on the scoreboard. Every age group on the roster hit the scoresheet this week, from 16-year-old winger Sam Oremba to 20-year-old defenseman Eric Van Impe.

The T-Birds are deep enough that they could healthy scratch Alessandro Segafredo (2g, 3a), who was their second leading scorer going into the game Friday, and still post a five goal win in Tri-City.

The Thunderbirds got ten goals this past week despite their transition game still being a work in progress.  There are still times they fail to move the puck up ice cleanly and quite often it’s because of an errant pass.  When the passing game is on though, they are dangerous with a capital “D”. The T-Birds continue to generate plenty of ten bell scoring chances that aren’t finding the back of the net. But as long as they’re creating those chances, eventually they’ll start scoring more consistently off them.

How many games do we wait for their “A” game to arrive and stick around on a consistent basis?  I’m not sure what that number is but I do think at some point we will see all phases of their game plan come together.

Through seven games Jared Davidson is tied with Conner Roulette for the team lead with 25 shots on goal.  Despite that Davidson is yet to record his first goal of the season. He does have four assists.  You know at some point the puck will start going in for him. Davidson had nine goals in 23-games last spring. When he does start scoring, it will be just another weapon in the arsenal.

Speaking of Roulette, he is averaging over a point a game (4g, 4a) and had three points in the two games this past week. Yet I think he’s frustrated that he doesn’t have more points.  I think he’s a little annoyed at himself that he hasn’t scored more goals.  I like that attitude.

We are seven games in and every skater who has played in a at least one game has registered at least a point except for two.  Defenseman Ethan Mittelsteadt skated in the opening night win down in Portland before being reassigned to the West Shore Wolves of the VIJHL.  Defenseman Jeremy Hanzel has dressed now for six games but is still looking for his first point.  Remember though, Hanzel missed all of training camp and the preseason with injury.  He’s just now getting into game form.  He really looked like his old self in Kennewick on Friday.  He should hit the scoresheet soon enough, especially as the Seattle power play is improving.

Wednesday in Portland will be a big test for Seattle.  The Winterhawks dropped two home games this past weekend, so they’ll be hungry, looking to avoid a third straight home loss.  Portland is also looking for their 1000th win on home ice in franchise history.

My T-Birds Three Stars for the Week:

Third Star:  Goalies Thomas Milic and Scott Ratzlaff.  The T-bird gave both their netminders a start and both earned a win.  Ratzlaff hadn’t seen the net since preseason, nearly a month ago, but was solid in his first regular season start, making 26 saves in the win over Spokane Tuesday.  Milic didn’t see as many shots Friday against Tri-City, but it was key saves early that helped the T-birds steady the ship on the way to the shutout victory. Milic now has two shutouts in 17 games with Seattle.

Second Star:  W Mekai Sanders.  For the first time in his brief career with the T-birds, Sanders has points in back-to-back games.  He scored a goal and picked up an assist against Spokane, then assisted on the game winning goal Friday against Tri-City.  He likes to play a physical brand of hockey and is becoming more of a complete 200-foot player.

First Star:  C/W Jordan Gustafson.  After this past week the second-year player from Ardossan, AB. Is now a point per game player, with seven points (3g, 4a) in seven games.  His two power play goals Friday were mirror images of each other.  One came from the right face off circle, and one from the left. NHL Central Scouting listed him as a “C” Skater for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft in their preliminary rankings.  I think that will improve as the season progresses.  The T-birds top pick in the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft is still essentially a rookie, after entering this season with only 24-games of WHL experience under his belt.




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