Forced to play without their team captain Tuesday night at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, the Seattle Thunderbirds managed to scrape out a well-earned point.
Turner Ottenbreit had been suspended earlier in the day which meant Seattle would have to face an offensive minded Tri-City team on the road without it’s top defenseman. The Thunderbirds held tough and even built a late third-period lead before eventually falling 3-2 in a shootout.
“We played much better,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “The work ethic, the compete, was really high tonight. We made some adjustments from Saturday and applied them tonight. We were looking to improve in a couple of areas and I thought we did tonight.”
Goalie Matt Berlin was back in net for Seattle (2-1-0-1) and continued his strong start to the season by making 23 saves, including some big game-savers in the third period. Tri-City (2-2-0-0) would tie the game with just over three minutes to go and in the shootout, only the Americans’ Morgan Geekie would convert to give the home squad the win.
After struggling with puck possession and puck management in Portland on Saturday, Seattle did a much better job, which limited the Americans chances on the night.
“I thought we could have been even better at times,” O’Dette said. “We didn’t get pucks deep when we could have, a couple of times. A big thing we wanted to improve was playing the rushes coming at us and I thought our defense had a much better gap, back checkers were coming back hard.”
With Ottenbreit out of the lineup, O’Dette inserted rookie Cade McNelly onto a pairing with fellow rookie Jake Lee. At times, the two of them were on the ice against some pretty high end players from Tri-City, but the young guys hung in there.
“They’re young and inexperienced but they compete and work hard,” O’Dette said of his first year defensemen. “They’re showing improvement every game and that’s what happens with young guys, you give them a chance. It’s tough on the road to get the right match up with those guys, but they held their own and gave us some good minutes.”
After a scoreless first period, the Americans would score early in the second to take a 1-0 lead at 1:23. Berlin made the initial save but the puck stayed free in the crease where Michael Rasmussen found it for his first of the year. Rasmussen was playing his first WHL game of the season as the Detroit first-round pick was just returned over the weekend by the Red Wings.
The Thunderbirds would tie it at 10:51 when Sami Moilanen worked the puck from behind the Tri-City net and found Nolan Volcan streaking down the slot. Volcan took the pass and buried his first of the year.
Seattle ended the second period buzzing and would carry that over into the third when it took a 2-1 lead at 4:03 into the final frame. Dillon Hamaliuk worked the puck through traffic into the zone and got it to Mathew Wedman, who found Noah Philp in the high slot. Philp had time, picked his spot and beat goalie Patrick Dea for his first as a Thunderbird.
O’Dette had moved Hamaliuk onto that line late in Saturday’s game at Portland. The trio showed that they had some chemistry that night and O’Dette went with them again Tuesday. They pushed the pace all night and created a number of chances and Philp ended the night with the goal along with four shots.
“They played well,” O’Dette said. “They were creating and holding pucks down low in their end, which is what we want for them. Philper chipped in with a big goal for us, that’s a good sign for that line.”
Down a goal, the Americans began pushing for the equalizer. They outshot Seattle 14-5 in the period and if not for Berlin, Tri-City may have won in regulation.
With time running out however, the Americans were able to tie the game at two when Carson Focht managed to sneak a shot past Berlin on the short side at 16:14 of the third period. That would send the game into overtime and eventually into the shoot out where Geekie’s conversion would be the difference.
The Thunderbirds will take their hard earned road point and head home where they will prepare for a Saturday match up at the ShoWare Center with the Portland Winterhawks.
• Ottenbreit was suspended six games by the league for his checking to the head major penalty in Saturday’s game. The league cited the injury to Portland’s Joachim Blichfeld and the fact that Ottenbreit is a repeat offender as justification for the length of the suspension.
• Ottenbreit won’t be eligible to suit up again until Seattle’s October 22nd game at Everett.
• Volcan’s goal was his first of the year but it extended his early season point streak to four as he’s picked up a point in each of Seattle’s games so far. He also led the team with five shots on goal Tuesday night.
• The loss was the third straight regular season defeat at the Toyota Center for the Thunderbirds. Of course, Seattle swept the Americans in last year’s first round of the playoffs, which included two wins in Kennewick.