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T-Birds Dominate Game 5, One Win Away From a Championship

Brian Liesse

Editor’s Note: As part of the YouTube broadcasts of the 2017 WHL Championship the T-Birds are giving high school students in the Kent School District who have an interest in or are studying journalism, graphic design and video production the opportunity to be part of the team’s promotion of the YouTube broadcasts as an extended learning opportunity. High school students are producing stories, graphics and video highlights that will be posted on the team’s website and social media platforms during and after the YouTube broadcasts.

This story on Game 5 was written by Mitch Escandon, a junior at Kentridge High School. The photos in this story were taken by team photographer Brian Liesse.

Mitch Escandon on Instagram.

The final game in Kent Washington provides the fans with a show, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Regina Pats go, goal-for-goal, up until the third period where Seattle breaks out and wins the game 7-4. Seattle now leads the WHL Championship series 3-2 heading back to Regina to try and close out the series.

Seattle coming off a big game two nights ago scoring six goals, the ‘Birds look to continue the offensive momentum and keep fans jumping out of their seats. The Pats will look to bounce back and spoil Seattle’s final home game of the year. With Tyler Brown back in net he has something to prove and hopes to push Regina to a big Game 5 lead.

The puck drops for Game 5 and similar to previous games Regina starts out on the front foot, as the puck is played into the offensive zone and is moved up the boards to the stick of Josh Mahura. Mahura rips a low shot that beats Carl Stankowski to give Regina a 1-0 lead only a minute into the night. Filip Ahl and Austin Wagner are credited with the assist.

Not long after Regina doubles their lead as Connor Hobbs passes to Robbie Holmes who finds Jeff de Wit in traffic and de Witt dekes around a defender and then shoots from a tough angle to the near post to score giving the Pats an early 2-0 lead.

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Donovan Neuls scored the first T-Birds goal of Game 5.

Not much has gone Seattle’s way in the first three minutes as they find themselves down two, but Regina’s Sergey Zborovskiy is caught high-sticking giving Seattle a power play. A costly mistake for Regina as Donovan Neuls drives the puck up the ice, he passes to Scott Eansor who slaps a shot that is saved by Brown. Neuls is there for the rebound and taps home Seattle’s first of the night to make the score 2-1 Regina, five minutes in.

It doesn’t take long for Regina’s Holmes to pick up a penalty of his own, giving Seattle’s high-powered offense another power play. Ethan Bear passes to Keegan Kolesar who skates towards the goal and then looks back to see Mathew Barzal open near the top of the slot. Barzal skates in and shoots low through two defenders as Brown had no chance at seeing the puck and the game is tied 2-2.

Sami Moilanen picks up Seattle’s first penalty but fortunately Seattle’s defense came up big only allowing one shot on net during the power play. Power plays were the headline of the first period as Regina jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but their lack of discipline gave Seattle two power plays to tie the game up in under a minute only six minutes into the game. A high paced back and forth first period delivers four total goals and sets the bar high for the rest of the night.

Period two starts physically with a slash from Liam Schioler on a T-Birds attack as Ryan Gropp hits the crossbar with his shot. Alexander True is given a roughing penalty at the same time as the slash, giving us four-on-four play for two minutes. Regina’s Ahl interferes with Stankowski putting Seattle back on the powerplay which they are two-for-two on tonight. Seattle can’t cash in on the power play and shortly after Austin Wagner shoots, he curls around the front of the net to meet Austin Strand who hits him and gets called with an interference penalty. Regina is now on their second power play of the evening. Regina won’t waste this powerplay as Mahura brings the puck up the boards he passes to Hobbs in the middle of the zone. Hobbs dishes a backhand pass to Dawson Leedahl who pulls back the puck sending a defender past him, and shoots and scores into the top of the net, putting Regina back ahead by one.

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Keegan Kolesar ready to snap a wrist shot pas Regina goalie Tyler Brown to give the T-Birds a 4-3 lead.

Kolesar gets the puck in the defensive zone and passes to Barzal who dishes it right back to Kolesar to take up the ice. Kolesar drives fast towards the net and rips a shot to the top right corner to tie the game at three. Neuls is also credited with an assist on the play. After the puck went into the net Regina’s Wagner shoves Neuls from behind into the net to get a roughing penalty gifting Seattle a power play right after their goal. Seattle will score once again on a power play as Gropp finds Bear in the middle of the ice. Bear passed to Barzal who one times it home to put Seattle ahead for the first time tonight late in the second period.

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Mathew Barzal chatting with Shaw Broadcast rink side reporter Stu Walters.

Barzal had a quick chat with rink side reporter Stu Walters on the Shaw broadcast after the second period and was asked about how he felt the game is going and he said, “Back and forth and I liked our response from our team when we got down there two times, last seven-eight minutes of the period I thought we played really strong.”

Seattle has been exceptional tonight after going down in the period. Regina took a 3-2 lead and Seattle was able to bounce back and score a pair of goals in under a minute for the second time tonight. The Birds lead 4-3 going into the last period of play.

Stankowski has had himself a good night and keeps Seattle ahead by one with an amazing stop against Wagner on a breakaway. Down on the other end of the ice a scramble for the puck occurs and Moilanen comes out with it he skates behind the back of the net looking for a wraparound attempt. Instead he sees Nolan Volcan on the other side of the crease and slides the puck across the crease where Volcan is able to tap it home to give Seattle a 5-3 lead.

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Ryan Gropp celebrates after scoring in Game 5 to put the T-Birds up 6-3.

Seattle extends their lead once again when Kolesar finds Austin Strand with a ton of space in close but Brown somehow makes the save. The puck is deflected from the save to Gropp on the left boards and he wrists it past Brown who isn’t set in his net to give Seattle a 6-3 lead. Gropp’s goal means Seattle has scored six goals in consecutive games of the WHL Championship.

Regina gets one goal back and is now only down a pair, after continuous pressure on a shift sees Wagner score from the left boards. Wagner’s goal makes the score 6-4 Seattle with about nine minutes left to play.

With 3:50 left to play Brown is pulled for an extra attacker to try and get Regina back to even. Regina is peppering Stankowski with shots, but he stands tall and lets nothing past him. Seattle wins a faceoff after a save from Stankowski and Turner Ottenbreit send the puck all the way down the ice for an empty-net goal. Alexander True was credited with the assist as Seattle leads 7-4 with only two seconds left to play.

The horn sounds and the crowd is ecstatic, everyone on their feet clapping and celebrating the big 7-4 win that puts the T-Birds ahead 3-2 in the series and only one win away from a WHL title. The players skate around the rink to thank the fans for all they have done this season and look to go win the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the city of Seattle.

Postgame Barzal sat down to talk to the media and was asked about the night overall, he said, “Heck of a game by our group and we never quit all game…Stankowski’s been great all series and played another good game.”

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Ethan Bear, head coach Steve Konowalchuk and Mathew Barzal at the Game 5 post game press conference.

He sounded very content in his play and his team’s performance. He also made mention about how much it’s meant to him to play in Seattle these last four years and how much better of a player it has made him for the next step in his journey.  Barzal was also asked about how effective the power play has been and he said, “It obviously helps a ton…I thought our guys did a really good job tonight.”

Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk also sat down with the media and answering the commonly asked question about going down early he said, “Good to get right back in the game, and the guys just kept playing. Try not to get to up or to down.” Seeming very happy in his group that they were able to bounce back and respond so well.

Additionally, he was asked about his keeper Stankowski, Konowalchuk said, “Huge saves in the second half of the game, he’s a confident kid and a good goaltender.” High praise all around for Stankowski as he delivered another gritty performance to help his team move one step closer to a title.

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Ethan Bear chatting with media at the Game 5 post game press conference.

Ethan Bear also gave some time to the media after the game. First, he was asked about Game 6 and he said, “I think just refocusing and getting ready to play…we got to just play with a lot of intensity and keep our emotions in check.”

Bear seems very calm and composed and is ready to play Game 6, knowing his team has the ability to win the game. Furthermore, he was also asked about the lethal power play and what makes it so successful. “Just moving it and getting in a scoring chance and being ready to shoot.” He had nothing elaborate to say about it just keeping it simple and good things will happen.

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