KENT, WA – Despite having their fans in the building for the first time in 581 days, the Seattle Thunderbirds could not overcome penalty issues and fell, 4-2, to the Portland Winterhawks Saturday at the accesso ShoWare Center in their home opener. The loss was the first for the T-Birds this season, dropping their record to 2-1-0-0. Seattle looks to get back in the win column next weekend with a pair of games against the Everett Silvertips. The Thunderbirds will host their division rivals Friday, October 15th at 7:05 p.m. The two teams will meet the following night as well, up in Everett at Angel of the Winds Arena.
T-Birds Head Coach Matt O’Dette didn’t think his team put forth their best effort in the loss, especially against a Portland team that was looking for revenge after Seattle spoiled the Winterhawks home opener last weekend. “We needed the A game tonight. They were waiting for this game, looking to return the favor.”
For the third time in as many games, Seattle surrendered the first goal when Portland’s James Stefan scored on the power play at 9:04 of the first period. Special teams would be key in the contest as the Winterhawks would finish 2-for-6 on the power play while the Thunderbirds failed on their five chances with the man advantage, a stat not lost on O’Dette. “The power play in general needs to be sharper. It didn’t provide us with anything tonight.”
It didn’t help that the T-Birds wiped out two of their power play opportunities by taking penalties while on the man advantage. “You can’t shoot yourself in the foot,” O’Dette said before adding, “Those are opportunities to create offense or create momentum. Taking penalties denies us the chance to do that. It’s definitely a problem that needs to be fixed.”
Seattle fought back midway through the second period with a pair of goals to briefly take the lead. First, Mekai Sanders buried a rebound for his first of the season at 7:39, assisted by Jared Davidson. “I saw Davy take off and it was kind of a one-on-one scenario. I kind of took off to make it a 2-on-1 but I wasn’t quite there.” Instead Sanders skated toward the goal in case there was a rebound. “I was just yelling for him to shoot, and just went hard to the net like we practice everyday, and just got lucky to put it right under his (the goalies) arm.”
Then, just past the midway point of the period, Conner Roulette stole the puck in the Winterhawks zone and scored off the backhand, unassisted. It was his second goal in as many nights. The lead was short lived though. Shortly after the Roulette goal Seattle took a roughing penalty on a scramble in front of their own net. Portland’s Aiden Litke scored on the ensuing power play and the game was tied at 2-2 just 44-seconds after the T-Birds had taken the lead.
O’Dette lamented the fact Seattle gave their momentum away. “You have to control those moments of the game. I say it all the time, I sound like a broken record, but starts and ends of periods and shifts after goals are so important. At times we were good, but not enough tonight.”
The game remained tied until Luke Shelter scored at 11:35 of the third period. The Thunderbirds pulled their goalie late for the extra skater but Clay Hanus sealed the win for Portland (1-2-1-0) with an empty net goal at 18:23.
With the season opener and home opener behind them, O’Dette is ready to move forward. “it’s been a long stretch here the last couple of weeks. I’m excited to settle into the flow of the season.”
Coming into this season, Sanders had scored just three goals in 49 games over two seasons. He did lead the T-Birds in scoring this preseason. Getting a goal early in the regular season could push him going forward. “I think it builds confidence. When the opportunity presents itself again, you’re ready to seize the moment.”
Thomas Milic took the loss in net despite a 34-save effort. Milic started in goal for Seattle in each of the first three games, yet he has still played in only 14-WHL games over the last two years. Despite his relative inexperience at this level, O’Dette has only high praise for his netminder. “He was great. He was there for us when we needed him, and I thought we could have played much better in front of him. He was there to hold the fort, gave us a chance to win tonight and that’s all you can ask for from your goalie.”