Playing their fifth road game in seven nights, the Thunderbirds had to fight through some fatigue as well as the Edmonton Oil Kings on Thursday night.
Zack Andrusiak scored with under five minutes left in the game to break a 1-1 tie and send Seattle to a 3-1 win at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The win was Seattle’s fourth straight as it has enjoyed the swing through the Central Division.
Playing in front of his home town crowd, goalie Matt Berlin made 30 saves as Seattle (9-5-0-1) leaned on the 19-year-old all night.
Dealing with fatigue and the long bus rides, the Thunderbirds found a way to hold Edmonton (5-9-2-0) to just the one goal despite being outshot 31-19 by the Oil Kings. Seattle has one more game left on its current seven-game road trip on Saturday but has ensured that it will come home with a winning record.
The Thunderbids were also playing shorthanded on the blue line Thursday night. With Jake Lee out for the U-17 Championships, Aaron Hyman and Jarret Tyszka nursing injuries, the T-Birds had to rely on some young players to step up.
That included rookie Cade McNelly and 15-year-old prospect Tyrel Bauer, who was making his WHL debut. The thin defensive corp managed to find loose pucks in the crease and help Berlin steer home the win.
Neither team was able to break through in the first period and it was beginning to look like the same would hold true in the second until Austin Strand took control.
The defenseman first weaved up the ice with the puck where he was tripped up. That drew a penalty and put Seattle on the power play. Strand wasn’t done. Already with seven power-play markers, his hot start continued as he fired a shot from the point that beat Boston Bilous at 11:26 to give the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead.
That lead would stand until the 6:47 mark of the third period when Jantzen Leslie scored for Edmonton through traffic. It was his first of the year and tied the game at one.
The Oil Kings kept pushing the pace as Seattle started to looked gassed. Seattle dug deep however and after a strong forecheck forced an Edmonton turnover 15:14 of the third period, Andrusiak found himself with the puck in the slot. He spun and fired a top-shelf shot that Bilous had no chance at.
It was the seventh of the season for Andrusiak and put the Thunderbirds ahead late. With the Edmonton net empty for the extra attacker, Blake Bargar and Nolan Volcan worked a two-on-one in the neutral zone that ended with Volcan scoring from center ice to seal the victory.
The Thunderbirds have one more stop on their lengthy road trip and that will be in Medicine Hat on Saturday night.
• Strand matched his season total for goals Thursday with this ninth tally. Last year, he scored nine times in 72 games split between Seattle and Red Deer. This season he reaches that mark in just 15 and his next goal will set a new career high.
• Volcan’s empty net score extends his goal-scoring streak to three straight games with a marker.
• The T-Birds were 1-for-3 with the man advantage Thursday and their power play is cooking. Seattle has jumped to third in the league with a 30.4-percent conversion rate.
• How good is the U.S. Division? Seattle is in third place in the division with 19 points. That total would be good enough for second place in the B.C. Division and first in the Central. The T-Birds trail Portland by one point for second place.