KENT – A night after dropping a tough matinee decision in Kelowna on Monday, the Seattle Thunderbirds were back to winning on Tuesday night.
Playing their sixth game in nine nights, the T-Birds shook off any fatigue on their way to a convincing 4-1 win over the Red Deer Rebels. They controlled the puck all night long and limited the Rebels to only 17 shots.
For two members of the Thunderbirds, Tuesday was a strange night.
“It was so weird at first, even like hearing ‘Oh Canada’ and stuff,” Seattle goalie Rylan Toth said. “Seeing those logos facing you was weird but the guys played super good and it was nice to beat them for sure.”
Toth, along with defenseman Austin Strand were playing their first game against their former team in Red Deer. Both players were traded this season to Seattle so Tuesday was a special night for sure.
“Looking across and seeing that logo, it was kind of weird,” Strand said. “I couldn’t feel better to just give it to them too.”
Both players spent their first two-plus seasons in the WHL with Red Deer. Toth was traded at the end of preseason and Strand came over at the end of December. Toth made 16 saves against his former club to pick up his 30th win of the year.
Strand didn’t figure in the scoring on Tuesday but played a lot of solid minutes. Since he has joined the T-Birds the club’s record is 18-2-0-1.
“I love it, it feels unreal,” the defenseman said. “Just coming to a winning organization and contributing as much as I can to getting those W’s. It’s such a good team.”
Tuesday was another team effort for the T-Birds as they kept pace with the Everett Silvertips in the U.S. Division.
Seattle’s top line was involved again as Ryan Gropp added a goal and two assists, Keegan Kolesar scored while adding an assist and Mathew Barzal picked up two more assists. But Seattle also got goals from players like Alexander True and rookie Elijah Brown.
“It was a good win,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “Guys controlled the puck for the most part. We created some offense from it and it was tough for the other team to generate much offense from it.”
Still dealing with injuries, the T-Birds needed everyone in the lineup and it helped that they played with tremendous discipline, taking no penalties until late in the game. Seattle did not have to kill a penalty until under two minutes left in the game.
Killing penalties expends a ton of energy and Seattle welcomed the break.
“It’s huge not having to kill penalties when you’re short guys and playing a ton,” Konowalchuk said. “We were able to maintain that flow throughout the game.”
Seattle (36-16-3-2) controlled the flow of play in the first period, outshooting Red Deer 14-1 at one point. They would take that play and cash in on the game’s first score. It was Barzal and Gropp who broke down the ice on a two-on-one. Barzal had the puck, found Gropp who fired a shot that Riley Lamb got his body on, but couldn’t keep from falling over the goal line.
It was Gropp’s 24th of the season and he extended his goal-scoring streak to eight straight and his point streak to 14 games.
Barzal and Gropp would team up 26 seconds into the second period to give the Thunderbirds a 2-0 lead. Barzal stole a Red Deer break out pass at the blue line and quickly got it to Gropp who was in the zone with Keegan Kolesar. Gropp got Kolesar the puck and he buried it for his 18th marker of the season.
Shortly after that, True would score from the slot on a Seattle power play for his 19th of the year.
That would end the night for Lamb who was replaced by Lasse Petersen after making 17 saves.
Red Deer (23-25-6-3) would cut the lead to 3-1 later in the period when Colton Bobyk fired a slap shot from the top of the circle past a screened Toth.
Brown would score in the third period when he banged home a centering pass from Luke Ormsby for his second goal of the season. Brown is one of the players who has been tasked with more minutes and an added role during this stretch of injuries Seattle has been working with.
“He’s playing much better when he’s been playing on that third line,” Konowalchuk said. “I think he’s bearing down more, he’s trying harder on pucks.”
The T-Birds will get a much needed day off on Thursday as they prepare for another slog this coming weekend. They will play another three-in-three weekend starting in Tri City on Friday night.
• Everett picked up a big win in Regina Tuesday night leaving Seattle one point ahead in the U.S. Division standings. Prince George also won on Tuesday which means the T-Birds remain three points behind the Cougars for the Western Conference lead.
• Gropp’s 14-game point streak is impressive. Over that span he has piled up 31 points and now has 61 points on the season.
• Barzal added two assists and has an impressive point-streak of his own and has picked up points in seven straight. Over that stretch he has piled up 19 assists.
• Kolesar’s two-point night extended his scoring streak to six games and has 12 points over that time.