PORTLAND, Oregon – A momentary lapse of focus may have cost the Thunderbirds Saturday night during their first road game in Portland.
Seattle trailed the homestanding Winterhawks 3-2 early in the third period and were on the power play with a chance to even the score. At the tail end of the power-play chance, Turner Ottenbreit made contact with Portland’s Joachim Blichfeld in the corner and was called for a penalty. The Thunderbirds didn’t like the call and for a few seconds stood around while the play continued on the delayed call.
Portland worked the puck to the point and Matthew Quigley would score to give the Winterhawks a 4-2 lead.
It would be a big turning point that deflated the Thunderbirds, who would allow two more scores to drop a 6-2 decision in the Moda Center.
“I thought that was an embellishment in the corner,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said of the play. “Our guys stopped playing for a couple of seconds and that was enough for them to find that guy in the high slot or at the point and put one in. That was obviously somewhat of a back breaker for us.”
The Winterhawks picked up goals from six different scorers to win on what was their home opener. Seattle goalie Liam Hughes made his Thunderbirds debut and faced an avalanche of shots while making 45 saves on the night.
Portland (2-0-0-0) outshot Seattle (2-1-0-0) 51-16, thanks in large part to the Thunderbirds struggling with puck management. They turned it over too many times and had issues clearing the puck out of their own zone.
That gave the Winterhawks the majority of the possession which ultimately led to the shots and the goals.
“They can break pucks out and transition pucks very well,” O’Dette said. “Every time we turn pucks over, they’re attacking with tons of speed and we have to make them play some D-zone and get some bodies on some of their guys.”
The Winterhawks were buoyed by a couple early power-play chances but would open the scoring while on five-on-five at the 11:56 mark. Skyler McKenzie lugged the puck up the ice along the boards and into the Seattle zone where he spotted Cody Glass in the high slot. He got Glass the puck and the Vegas Golden Knights prospect let loose a tough wrist shot that beat Hughes on the glove side.
Seattle would answer that goal two minutes later on the power play when defenseman Austin Strand worked the puck into the middle of the ice and beat Cole Kehler with a shot through a nice screen by Sami Moilanen.
A turnover at the Portland blue line would cost Seattle 17:01 into the period when Glass returned the favor to McKenzie by finding him crashing in front of Hughes for his second goal of the season.
The Portland lead would grow to 3-1 a minute-and-a-half into the second period when Alex Overhardt deflected a shot past a screened Hughes.
While they were getting outshot, the Thunderbirds got back into the game at 14:13 when Strand would score his second of the night by making a nice move to rush the net and slide the puck past Kehler on the power play.
Seattle would end the second period just down the one goal, despite the disparity in shots.
“I’m happy with the compete for the most part,” O’Dette said. “We need everybody, to have a chance to win in this building and some guys weren’t there for us tonight. You want to give yourself a chance to win in the third period and we were right there.”
After Quigley made it 4-2, Ottenbreit caught Blichfeld in the neutral zone with a big hit. It was ruled a check to the head and cost the Seattle captain a five-minute major penalty as well as a game misconduct.
The Thunderbirds felt it was a clean hit to the chest but would have to finish the game without their captain nonetheless.
“I didn’t get (an explanation),” O’Dette said. “(The officials) didn’t come to the bench.”
Down two goals at the time, the loss of Ottenbreit deflated the Thunderbirds and they would surrender two late goals off the sticks of Keoni Texeira and Brad Ginnell.
After suffering their first defeat on the season, the Thunderbirds will now regroup before heading to Kennewick on Tuesday for a game against the Tri-City Americans. With a young roster, Saturday’s loss will be used as a valuable learning experience.
“Its new for some of our young guys and it’s a tough building to play in,” O’Dette said to sum up the game. “Any missed detail by us, a team like Portland can capitalize… We’ll learn from it, do some film and get better for the next game.”
• Ottenbreit may have to face some league discipline for the hit on Blichfeld. He has already served a one-game suspension this year for a hit in the WHL Finals. The league will review the video and most likely make a decision before Tuesday.
• Strand continues his hot start to the season. He now has two goals to go with four assists in Seattle’s three games. That puts him third in the league for scoring by a defenseman for the young season.
• Hughes was put to the test in his first Seattle appearance. Facing 51 shots on the road is no easy task and for the most part, held his own. “We’re happy with that performance,” O’Dette said of his goalie. “He saw a lot of shots and he stood tall for the most part. It was very encouraging moving forward.”
• One strong point for Seattle was the faceoff dot. They won the faceoff battle 39-26 with Donovan Neuls winning 17 of the 28 faceoffs he took.