Kent, WA – The Seattle Thunderbirds ended a three-game winless streak, earning their first win on home ice this season, with a 5-3 win over the Spokane Chiefs on Tuesday at the accesso ShoWare Center. Mekai Sanders paced the attack with a goal and an assist while Scott Ratzlaff turned aside 26-shots in his 2021-22 debut in goal. The Thunderbirds now take to the road for their next five games. First up is a stop this Friday, October 22nd, in Kennewick to battle the Tri-City Americans. Game time at the Toyota Center is 7:05 p.m.
Seattle opened the scoring just past the three-minute mark when Sam Popowich banged home a rebound for his first of the season. Sam Oremba and Sanders had the assists. Then at the 11:31 mark, Sanders was slashed on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot which he converted.
Sanders didn’t have too much time to think about it. “First I wasn’t quite sure. I didn’t know I had the penalty shot.” He says a teammate helped calm his nerves. “My goalie came over and gave me a tap on the butt and told me, come on let’s get this.” Sanders went to his backhand to put it past Spokane goalie Mason Beaupit.
Seattle grabbed the 2-0 lead, even though head coach Matt O’Dette didn’t think they were playing their best hockey. “We’ll take that start. I don’t necessarily think we were playing great, to be honest, but a couple of opportunistic plays.” But O’Dette was pleased to see scoring from some of his third and fourth line players. “By committee scoring there. Some nice contributions there from Poppy and Mekai to get us going. We needed those guys to step up tonight and they did.”
The teams traded goals midway through the second period. Seattle’s Alessandro Segafredo stretched the lead to 3-0 when he scored from center ice on a dump-in, only to see Spokane answer 32-seconds later on Grady Lane’s first of the season.
Early in the third period the Thunderbirds restored their three-goal cushion, thanks to a power play goal. Henrik Rybinski picked up his first by redirecting a Conner Roulette shot from the slot. Jared Davidson had the second assist. A turnover behind the Seattle net allowed the Chiefs to get within two when Erik Atchison scored.
Things got dicey for Seattle with just under thirteen minutes remaining when Matt Rempe was assessed a five-minute charging major. The T-Birds limited the damage, allowing just a Blake Swetlikoff goal on the major penalty but it trimmed the Seattle lead to 4-3.
With under three minutes remaining, it was a great individual effort by Gabe Ludwig that gave the T-Birds the two-goal cushion they needed to hold on for the win. Ludwig stripped a puck at the Spokane blue line, raced into the offensive zone and snapped home his first of the season.
“It was a neutral zone forecheck so I was originally pulling off to take away the red line.” That’s when Ludwig saw his chance, “I stripped the puck from him and I saw his D come up, so I poked it past him.” Ludwig won the race to the loose puck and skated in. “I saw an opening low blocker so I shot it there.”
Meanwhile Scott Ratzlaff earned the win in net. It was his first start this season after Thomas Milic was in goal through the first five games. O’Dette liked the effort from his young netminder. “He was great, especially early. We didn’t have our game going the right way. He was making several big saves despite us not playing our best.”
The Thunderbirds next home game is slated for Saturday, November 6th when they host Tri-City at the accesso ShoWare Center. Game time is 6:05 p.m.
Reid Schaefer missed the game with an upper body injury suffered last Saturday in the first period in Everett. Lucas Ciona also sat for this game. It was the second game of his two-game suspension handed to him by the league after he was assessed a charging major last Friday against the Silvertips. Ciona should be back in the lineup Friday in Kennewick.
Asked if his penalty shot goal would lead to an opportunity should the T-Birds get into a shootout this season, Sanders stayed politically correct. “We’ll see. That’s really not my decision but, I mean, I wouldn’t mind it.”
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