Mekai Sanders Makes WHL Debut In Annual New Year’s Eve Game Against Portland

Portland sneaks by T-Birds 3-2 at Moda Center

KENT, December 31, 2019 — The Portland Winterhawks defeated the Seattle Thunderbirds 3-2 Tuesday night at the Moda Center.

This was the 27th time the T-Birds and Winterhawks have met on New Year’s Eve in Portland. The T-Birds have a 12-15-1-0 record against the Winterhawks on New Year’s Eve. The team’s first meeting was in 1985, won by Portland 10-8. The teams played again on New Year’s Eve in 1986, 1988, and 1993 with it becoming an annual game in 1995. The T-Birds record from 1995 to 2012 is 8-10-1-0. In 2013 the T-Birds played Kamloops on New Year’s Eve and lost 7-1. The teams resumed the New Year’s Eve game the next year. The T-Birds last win in Portland on New Year’s Eve, was in 2017, a 4-3 shootout win.

The T-Birds head out for a three-game road trip to the Central Division starting this Friday in Lethbridge against the Hurricanes at 6pm. The play the Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday at 6:30pm and the Swift Current Broncos on Sunday at 2pm.

T-Birds next home game is Saturday, January 11, against the Everett Silvertips at 6:05pm in our annual Fred Meyer Teddy Bear Toss presented by WARM 106.9 FM. Single game tickets are on sale online on the T-Birds website and at the accesso ShoWare Center box office.

Mekai Sanders, who is from Gig Harbor, Washington, made his WHL debut in the game. Sanders was selected by the T-Birds in the ninth round, 186th overall, in the 2018 Bantam Draft. Sanders signed a WHL Standard Player Agreement with the T-Birds on June 19, 2018. Sanders had missed the previous 34 games with a lower body injury.

Goalie Roddy Ross made 47 saves in the game with 20 saves in the first period, 16 saves in the second period and 12 saves in the third period.

Seattle took a 1-0 lead at 5:50 of the first period. Lucas Ciona kept the puck in the offensive zone along the right boards with a good stick check. The puck came to Keltie Jeri-Leon who skated at the Portland net. Jeri-Leon put a shot through the crease. Cade McNelly pinching down from the left point got the puck and beat Portland goalie Isaiah DiLaura short side for his first goal of the season.

Portland tied the game 1-1 at 10:18 of the first on a goal from Jack O’Brien.

The Winterhawks took a 2-1 lead at 10:52 of the first on a goal from Kishaun Gervais.

Portland made it 3-1 at 10:30 of the second period on a goal from Jaydon Dureau.

Conner Bruggen-Cate cut the Portland lead to one goal at 11:32 of the second. Matthew Rempe played the puck off the right boards in the defensive zone to Andrej Kukuca who headed up ice on a two-on-two break with Bruggen-Cate. Kukuca took a shot that hit DiLaura and Bruggen-Cate poked in the rebound.

Bruggen-Cate now has a three-game goal streak with three goals and three assists in the last three games.

Seattle got their first power play of the game with 2:49 left in the game. The pressured and got several good scoring chances. Seattle pulled Ross with one minute left for an extra attacker and kept the pressure on. They were not able to secure the tying goal though.

The T-Birds are now taking orders for Flex-24 Ticket packages. Fans that purchase the 24-Flex Ticket Package will be able to select any available premium seat for any game, in any ticket combination, during the 2019-20 season.


First period – 1, Seattle, McNelly 1 (Jeri-Leon, Ciona), 5:50. 2, Portland, O’Brien 5 (Hanus, Gricius), 10:18. 3, Portland, Gervais 4 (Gilliss, Mannek), 10:52. Penalties – Williamson, Sea (interference), 2:46. McNelly, Sea (roughing), 20:00.

Second period – 4, Portland, Dureau 5 (Newkirk, Ludvig), 10:30. 5, Seattle, Bruggen-Cate 7 (Kukuca, Rempe), 11:32. Penalties – Davidson, Sea (hooking), 8:24. McNelly, Sea (major-fighting), 10:43. Cicek, Por (major-fighting), 10:43. Rempe, Sea (major-kneeing, major-fighting, game misconduct), 11:43. Hanus, Por (instigator, major-fighting, 10-minute misconduct), 11:43. Ashton, Por (slashing), 17:29.

Third period – No scoring. Penalties – Davidson, Sea (roughing), 11:07. Jarvis, Por (roughing), 11:07. Williamson, Sea (delay of game), 14:37. Nolan, Por (hooking), 17:11.

Shots on goal – Seattle 8-8-3 19, Portland 22-16-12 50. Goalies – Seattle, Ross 50 shots-47 saves (10-14-2-1); Portland, DiLaura 19-17 (3-2-0-2). Power plays – Seattle 0-1; Portland 0-6. Referees – Ryan Benbow, Mike Langin. Linesmen – Jarrod Bowman, Erik Freeman.

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