Just when the Thunderbirds had thought they’d seen it all this season, in comes the mumps.
The WHL has seen an outbreak of the mumps this season with several teams having been affected and it may have landed in Seattle with the Thunderbirds.
Just moments before this past Friday’s game with the Everett Silvertips, Seattle star Mathew Barzal abruptly left the ice. Most in the arena assumed he had some sort of equipment issue but as the game wore on without him, it was obvious something else was happening.
After the game, the word was that Barzal had become ill and he was again a scratch on Saturday night in Portland. Sunday night, a report on Greg Drinnan’s Taking Note blog said that Barzal was being kept in isolation as a precaution and that it could be that he had the mumps.
Monday morning, Seattle general manager Russ Farwell responded.
“We are being careful but will not know for three days,” Farwell said. “We are treating it as the mumps until we learn otherwise.”
So, the Thunderbirds are in a wait-and-see holding pattern as they look to try and hold off Everett for the U.S. Division title. The team has three games left, starting Wednesday night in Spokane, and still a lot of work to do. Obviously, that will be harder to do without Barzal in the lineup, but Seattle won both games without him this past weekend and continues to win, regardless of the circumstance.
Here’s the latest with the club.
Road to the division title
The Portland Winerhawks did Seattle a solid on Sunday night when they scored three goals in the last six minutes of their game with the Everett Silvertips to complete a remarkable comeback. The result left Seattle one point ahead of Everett for the division and conference top spot. Going into Sunday, the Silvertips had two games in hand, now it’s down to one.
Everett has a tough match up Wednesday night as they travel North to play the red hot Kelowna Rockets. After that the Silvertips play a home-and-home with the Victoria Royals starting Friday night on Vancouver Island. They then have to go to Kennewick to end the season against the Tri City Americans.
Seattle has Wednesday night in Spokane and then hosts Portland on Saturday before finishing up with Vancouver.
As it stands heading into Wednesday, the maximum number of points that Seattle can earn is 100 while Everett can still reach 101. If Everett were to drop their game in Kelowna and the Thunderbirds beat Spokane then Seattle will be in control of their own fate. Win out and win the division.
Awards for T-Birds?
There is still a lot of hockey to be played but there are a few Thunderbirds that should be in consideration for some postseason awards.
The first is Mathew Barzal and our own Tim Pigulski will be making the case for the New York Islanders’ prospect to win the Four Broncos Award (WHL Player of the Year) on Wednesday.
After Barzal, Ethan Bear should be one of the contenders to be named WHL Defenseman of the Year. Bear is second in the WHL in goals scored and in total points and his 29 markers this season has helped him establish a new franchise record for goals for a defenseman with 66.
He has some stiff competition from Regina’s Connor Hobbs, who has one more goal and is ahead in points.
Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk should also be considered for Coach of the Year. It would be easy to dismiss the job Konowalchuk has done because of the top end talent on his roster. The problem with that is that he hasn’t had those players available all season.
The Thunderbirds haven’t had a full roster this season and yet they lead the division by one point with three games to go. Barzal has missed 28 games. Scott Eansor has only played in 38 games. The team has seen Keegan Kolesar miss time with injury as well as key players like Nolan Volcan, Jarret Tyszka, and Matthew Wedman.
On 12 occasions in the second half of the year, they haven’t even been able to ice a full roster and found a way to win 11 of those games.
Konowalchuk has built a culture with the Thunderbirds where there are no excuses. Nobody gets their heads down and the team, to a man, just goes and plays their game.
That culture is paying off this season as it seems nothing can derail what the Thunderbirds are trying to do. That feels like something that should be rewarded by a postseason award for the coach.
Of course, postseason awards are secondary to wins on the ice, which is all Konowalchuk and the Thunderbirds care about heading into the regular season’s final week.