Thunderbirds Rally Past Portland on Opening Night
Portland, OR- Behind a pair of goals from Matt Rempe, the Seattle Thunderbirds overcame an early deficit, and a key early injury, to defeat the Portland Winterhawks, 3-1, Friday in their 2021-22 season opener at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Thunderbirds see action again next weekend with a pair of games. They travel to Spokane to face the Spokane Chiefs Friday. The T-Birds play their first home game of the new season the following night, October 9th, at the accesso ShoWare Center.
Early in the first period Seattle lost Henrik Rybinski, their leading scorer a season ago, when he was injured in a collision near the Portland blue line. Rybinski left the game and did not return. Head Coach Matt O’Dette was still waiting for an update on Rybinski’s status. “Not how you plan it, that’s for sure. We’re hoping he’s okay.”
The injury shortened Seattle’s bench and threw his forward lines out of whack. But O’Dette says his team rallied around their injured leader. “A lot of guys stepped up. Those are big shoes to fill. Ryby, he plays in all situations and logs a lot of minutes. It was a team effort to chip in and get it done for Ryby.”
The Thunderbirds did fall behind at 13:25 of the first period when Portland’s Cross Hanas scored a power play goal on an assist from Clay Hanus. That would be the only goal Seattle would allow.
The T-Birds regrouped between periods and came out quickly in period two to tie the game and take the lead in the first three minutes. Both goals were scored by Rempe. The first came at 1:01, assisted by Leon Okonkwo Prada. The second Rempe goal was unassisted and came on the power play.
Rempe said there was a little luck involved in his second goal, which stood as the game winner. “The puck popped out to me. I was trying to pass it across, through the defenseman, and it kind of fumbled off my stick and I went to the net and jabbed at it and snuck it in. Not the prettiest goal but it worked.”
On the two Rempe goals, O’Dette said that’s his big forwards game. “That’s what he’s got to do. That’s his bread and butter, winning battles down load, winning battles in front of the net.” O’Dette believes Rempe’s time at training camp with the NHL’s New York Rangers has helped his game. “I think he’s brimming with confidence coming back from Rangers camp, getting into an exhibition game with NHL guys. That gives you a boost coming back. He’s full of confidence and that’s what we saw tonight.”
Rempe agreed. “I just think I want to be a leader every day and try to lead by example on the ice. I learned a lot from professionals out there and I want to be a professional day in and day out at the rink.”
Seattle added a little breathing room when Reid Schaefer scored a power play goal of his own at the 13:17 mark to give them a two goal lead. Rookie defenseman Sawyer Mynio earned the lone assist. The Thunderbirds took their two goal lead into the second intermission.
Then it was Thomas Milic time as Seattle ran into penalty trouble in the third period. The second year Seattle netminder, who missed all of preseason with his own injury, made 17 saves over the final 20 minutes, helping the T-Birds kill off four Portland power plays. It was Milic’s first game action since last spring, after missing the preseason with an injury of his own. His coach was impressed “He was great. He held the fort for us,” said O’Dette. “We were kind of leaking oil there in the third period. That’s his first game action of the year, playing banged up a little he was fantastic.”
Four Thunderbird rookies made their Western Hockey League debuts versus Portland. Along with Mynio and Okonkwo-Prada, Allesandro Segafredo and Ethan Mittelseadt also suited up for the first time. For Okonkwo-Prada, it was his first game action since last fall.
“My last official game was in November, but I think the (Seattle) coaches prepared me really well for this the last week and a half that I’ve been here.”
On his first WHL point, the assist on the first Rempe goal, Okonkwo-Prada said he kept it simple. “I saw a lane there and I saw, I think it was Schaefs in front, and I heard everyone screaming on the bench shoot, shoot, shoot. So I’m like, alright. But that is part of my game that I try to capitalize on.”