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Sami Moilanen hat trick leads Thunderbirds past Cougars

Seattle's Sami Moilanen scores his second of three goals during the T-Birds 5-1 win Friday (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – Seattle winger Sami Moilanen had a career night Friday as the Thunderbirds got off to a 2-0 start on the young season.

The second-year player from Finland scored three times to notch his first career hat trick as Seattle beat the Prince George Cougars 5-1 at the ShoWare Center. Moilanen sparked the offense and then goalie Matt Berlin made 13, third period saves to lead his club to its second straight victory.

“It feels good,” Moilanen said of his night. “I thought we played a pretty solid game and got the win so it feels better. A good team win.”

Moilanen finished the hat trick in the third period when he got the puck in the high slot and flicked a wrist shot past Prince George goalie Taylor Gauthier to give Seattle its 5-1 lead. He had earlier scored twice after making strong moves to free him up and allow him to walk in alone on Gauthier.

Last season it took Moilanen 13 games to notch four goals but he has that many in just two contests to start this campaign. A second year in the league seems to be agreeing with the speedy winger.

“He’s confident out there and has two great linemates to play with and things are happening for him,” head coach Matt O’Dette said of Moilanen. “He works hard, he’s tenacious, fearless, and you get rewarded when you play like that.”

O’Dette liked what Moilanen accomplished on Friday but overall thought his club could have played better.

The Thunderbirds built a 4-0 lead early in the second period but then were in hang-on mode for much of the remainder of the game while getting outshot 26-12 over the final 40 minutes of play.

“We got that 4-0 lead and then guys started to play their own way and not the way we need to play as a team,” the coach said. “Some of our game plan went out the window, we were turning pucks over, basically throwing our defensive game out the window.”

Berlin was at his best over that stretch as he made save after save and only surrendered one goal while the Thunderbirds were down two men on a Prince George power play in the third period.

“It was getting a little hectic there in the D-zone,” Berlin said. “Just wanted to stay in the zone and not look too far ahead in the game, just stop the puck.”

The 19-year-old goalie is coming off a preseason where he didn’t post good numbers but once the games have started counting, he has been a solid presence for Seattle.

“That’s what we expect from ‘Berlie,” O’Dette said. “He works for everything he gets and I wish the guys played better for him tonight, he deserves the credit for sure.”

Seattle would take advantage of an early power-play chance of its own to take a lead 3:36 into the first period. After digging it out of his own end, Zack Andrusiak led a rush into the Cougars zone where defenseman Reece Harsch had jumped up to join him. Andrusiak found Harsch for the easy tap in.

It was Seattle’s first power-play goal of the season.

After a brief push back from Prince George, Seattle would strike again when Moilanen picked up a loose puck at the Cougars blue line. That sprung him in on Gauthier alone and he fired a wrist shot past the rookie for his first of the night at 18:34 of the first.

The Thunderbirds would add to their lead 19 seconds into the second period when Turner Ottenbreit fired a shot from the blue line that was tipped in by Donovan Neuls. It was the first of the year for Neuls and part of a four-goal night for Seattle’s top line.

“We were just sticking to the game plan,” Neuls said of his line’s night. “Getting pucks deep and just wearing out the D the best we can.”

Moilanen would score for the second time less than two minutes later with a highlight reel tally. After picking up another loose puck in the Prince George zone, he waited out Gauthier before flipping a back-handed shot over the sprawling goalie to make it 4-0.

Seattle then got into penalty trouble to start the third period.

It had to kill off a four-minute, double-minor penalty that turned into a prolonged 5-on-3 chance for the Cougars. Berlin was good but Dennis Cholowski was able to get the Cougars on the board with a shot that hit the post and rebounded off Berlin and back into the net.

Prince George ended the night 1-for-7 with the man advantage.

“The PK was good, they outlasted us on the 5-3 but we shouldn’t have put ourselves in those situations,” O’Dette said. “We’ve got to learn from it. We’re happy with the two points but we have to be a hell of a lot better tomorrow.”

Saturday night the Thunderbirds will get a big, early season test as they will hit the road for the first time of the year to take on the Portland Winterhawks. Portland is one of the division favorites and it will be the Winterhawks’ home opener, so the Thunderbirds know they will have to shore up some of the hiccups from Friday night.

Notes

• While giving up seven power-play chances to Prince George, Seattle only earned one and cashed in with the Harsch goal in the first period.

• In five preseason games, Berlin had a goals-against of over four and a sub-900 save percentage. In two regular season games he’s 2-0 with a 2.00 goals-against-average and a .941 save percentage. While its still early, that percentage is second best in the league amongst goalies who have two or more starts.

• Turner Ottenbreit was back in the lineup for Seattle after sitting out last week’s home opener due to suspension. He picked up an assist in the second period.

• The Thunderbirds still have four over-aged players which meant that Tyler Adams had to be scratched Friday. The team is only allowed three such players in any game and will have to make a roster move by the middle of October to get down to the league minimum