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Thunderbirds drop preseason opener 3-1 to the Vancouver Giants

Seattle prospect Payton Mount saw his first WHL action Friday (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

EVERETT – The Thunderbirds opened the preseason at Xfinity Arena in a sloppy, penalty filled affair with the Vancouver Giants.

Vancouver won the opening game of the Delta Hotels Pre-season Classic 3-1 behind a goal and an assist from both Brendan Semchuk and Owen Hardy. Seattle rookie Cole Schwebius made 30 saves while 2017 first-round pick Payton Mount wowed those in attendance with a spectacular late goal for the Thunderbirds.

“First game for a lot of our guys, there were some nerves,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “There’s going to be some growing pains there, we know that. There’s a long way to go before opening night, we’ll watch some video, correct some things with our younger guys and bring them along.”

Both teams iced a lineup with a mix of veteran players along with rookies. The two teams combined for 15 power-play chances as the game resembled what would be expected of the first of the preseason.

The Thunderbirds struggled to get any offensive flow going and were just 1-for-9 on the power play.

“A lot of special teams when guys can’t get involved as much,” O’Dette said. “That’s another opportunity to teach and learn some things from it. When guys are taking unnecessary penalties, it can take you out of the game. We also had a lot of power play opportunities that we didn’t cash in on.”

With training camp just finishing, the team has not focused much practice time on the power play and with a scattered lineup, there is not much to read into the eight missed opportunities.

Seattle’s two best players Friday were the rookies Mount and Schwebius.

Mount, who is only 15-years-old and not eligible to play full time with Seattle this year looked like he’s ready now. He played a lot of minutes, unofficially picked up five shots and scored the goal of the game.

Late in the third period, with Seattle down 3-0 and on the power play, he took the puck behind his own net and rushed up ice. He gained speed as he entered the Vancouver zone. He made two quick moves to skate past the Giant’s penalty killers and in on goal where he waited out goalie Trent Miner and slid the puck in for his first marker.

“I just saw some skating room and the guy chased me behind the net so I tried to come up with some speed,” Mount said of the play. “I saw an opening in the middle and just tried to make a move on the defenseman and I guess it worked.”

It worked and Mount continues to be an impressive prospect for Seattle.

O’Dette said the team would figure out his playing time in the preseason on a day-by-day basis, but was quick to point out that the young forward did not look out of place. For Mount, he’s just happy to soak up the experience and learn what it takes to play at this level.

“It was a little intimidating to start but as soon as I got the hang of it and adjusted, it felt great getting on the ice for the first time,” Mount said. “It was definitely faster, a lot harder. Guys are harder on you than when you’re playing against your teammates. I just can take everything I learned here and try to take it into my season at Delta and then try to bring it to Seattle next year.”

Schwebius got the start for Seattle after signing with the Thunderbirds earlier in the week. The 16-year-old was a 10th-round draft pick in 2016 and may be asked to start the season with the Thunderbirds.

His afternoon got off to a dubious start as the Giants got on the board 53 seconds into the game. After a scramble in front of the Seattle net the puck squirted free to Semchuk who was alone at the side of the goal. He knocked it in for an easy score.

Despite the early goal against, the rookie shook it off.

“It’s a long game and you’re going to get a lot of shots so you just have to focus on the next shot,” the goalie said. “That’s most important.”

Of his 30 saves, the most impressive was in the third period when he sprawled out and snapped his glove on a Ty Ronning chance.

“It’s huge for his confidence, he got his feet wet in there,” O’Dette said of his young goalie. “The team wasn’t very good in front of him but he stood tall. If not for him we wouldn’t have been anywhere near striking distance.”

Seattle followed that opening goal up with a quick penalty and found itself short-handed which allowed Vancouver to keep the momentum. At one point the Giants had a 10-1 advantage in shots on goal.

Eventually, Seattle would find its legs and would end up outshooting Vancouver 11-3 to end the period.

The Thunderbirds couldn’t keep up the momentum in the second however and gave up goal at the 3:10 mark while playing four-on-four. Two Seattle defensemen followed Ronning to the corner which left Brad Morrison alone in front. Ronning got him the puck and he got Schwebius down which allowed him to slide a back-handed shot in.

Just over four minutes later Seattle’s penalty trouble continued and Vancouver would capitalize on their fifth power-play of the day when Hardy tipped a Semchuck shot past Schwebius.

Mount’s goal in the third period cut the lead to 3-1 but that is as close as the Thunderbirds would get.

Seattle will be back in action Saturday night, when they will play the host Everett Silvertips at 7 pm.

Notes

• Seattle import Nikita Malukhin left the game with what O’Dette classified as a lower-body injury. The coach did not have a prognosis on how serious of an injury it was.

• The Thunderbirds scratched Alex Oryga, Tyler Adams, Sami Moilanen, Matthew Wedman, Nolan Volcan, Cody Savey, Turner Ottenbreit, Aaron Hyman, Reece Harsch and Tyson Terretta.

• Despite getting 12 shots on goal in the first period, the Thunderbirds were limited to 11 for the rest of the game and were outshot 33-23.

• Vancouver started goalie Todd Scott who made 14 saves before giving way to Miner mid-way through the second period.