Coming into Wednesday’s game, it had been nearly 20 years since the Seattle Thunderbirds picked up a win in Red Deer.
Thanks to a resilient third period effort, that streak would end as Seattle scored three times late to beat the Rebels 4-2 at the Enmax Centrium. Trailing by a goal with under 10 minutes to go, Nolan Volcan would tie it which set up Donovan Neuls for a game-winning short-handed marker with just over three minutes left.
Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said he wasn’t aware of the long losing streak in Red Deer until he saw something on Twitter earlier in the day.
“Why not break that streak,” O’Dette said after the game. “We didn’t mention it to the guys at all before and we were so pumped up after the game I forgot to mention it. It’s a pretty big accomplishment; this isn’t an easy building to play in.”
The win is the first for Seattle (8-5-0-1) in Red Deer since 1998 as the Thunderbirds move to 4-1 on their seven game road trip. Red Deer (8-7-1-0) survived an avalanche of Seattle shots to take a 2-1 lead in the second period but Seattle goalie Liam Hughes kept the Rebels from adding on and the Thunderbirds would wrestle the momentum back.
Hughes ended his third straight start with 34 saves for his third straight victory and was biggest in the third period when the Thunderbirds had to kill off five Red Deer power plays.
“We say it all the time that your best penalty killer has to be your goalie,” O’Dette said about his goaltender. “Those kills down the stretch, he stood tall and made some good saves for us. When the momentum is slipping away from you, you need the goalie to hold the fort and that’s what he did.”
After Seattle dominated the first 30 minutes of the game, Red Deer started to turn the tide and took its 2-1 lead deep into the third period. Volcan would even it up when he snapped a one-timer past Rebels’ goalie Ethan Anders at 10:33.
Seattle took a late penalty which appeared to be a golden chance for Red Deer to score and salt away the win. Neuls ruined that party for the Rebels as he made a steal while killing the penalty and raced up the ice with speed. He moved in on Enders and slid the puck in on the short side at 16:32 for his third goal in as many nights and fourth overall.
“We had a penalty kill with three minutes left in the game and not only did we get the kill but managed to get the short-handed goal,” O’Dette said. “Donnie is one of those guys who does everything for the team and he got a shot of adrenaline and got the speed to get by the defense and scored a great goal.”
Sami Moilanen would punctuate the night by flipping a puck from the neutral zone into the empty Rebels net with 14 seconds left for Seattle’s fourth goal.
In a game of momentum swings, Seattle got things going first.
Austin Strand, playing against his former team, got Seattle on the board, as he has done all year, on the power play. He fired a one-timer at 6:04 for his eighth of the season and seventh power-play goal.
The Thunderbirds pushed the pace in the first period and outshot the Rebels 20-10 to start the game but would allow Red Deer to tie the game late in the period. At 18:34, Alexander Alexeyev fired a rebound past Liam Hughes from the left faceoff circle for his first marker of the year and the two clubs would head to the dressing room knotted at 1-1.
Seattle had four power-play chances in the second period but couldn’t convert and it looked like those misses would prove costly.
The Rebels snatched the lead at 14:30 of the second when Brandon Hagel tipped a shot past Hughes for his sixth goal of the year. That goal seemed to spark Red Deer and they pushed the pace for a long stretch, only to be stymied by Hughes.
With three wins in a row under their belt, the Thunderbirds will get right back to action as they move on to visit the Edmonton Oil Kings on Thursday night.
“Guys are in a good mood and we’re winning games,” O’Dette said. “We’re trying to win games each and every night and you can see guys are battling for the T-Birds’ crest… We’re going to enjoy this for about an hour and then get ready for Edmonton.”
• Before the game, the team announced that center Elijah Brown had left the team, apparently unhappy with his playing time. Seattle GM Russ Farwell said in a statement “Brown has gone home, he is unhappy with his ice time. He will be on our suspended list.”
• Brown was Seattle’s first-round draft pick in the 2015 Bantam Draft and has played in 79 games with the T-Birds. He had one goal and four assists in 13 games this season and overall he scored six goals on 20 points in a Seattle sweater.
• Seattle out shot the Rebels 39-36 on the evening which marks the sixth straight game that it has topped the 30-shot mark.
• Strand is proving that you can, in deed, go home again. On Saturday he scored against his hometown team in Calgary and Wednesday against his former team in Red Deer.