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Thunderbirds down Pats in Championship rematch

Zack Andrusiak celebrates one of his two goals during the Seattle Thunderbirds 6-3 win against the Regina Pats (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – Sami Moilanen made his return to the Thunderbirds lineup Wednesday night and made up for lost time.

With just under eight minutes to go in a tie game, the Finnish import picked up a rebound and slid a shot under Regina Pats goalie Tyler Brown. It gave the Thunderbirds a 4-3 lead and delighted the sold out crowd at the Accesso ShoWare Center.

Moilanen had missed three games but showed no rust as he notched his team-leading 12th goal of the season.

The Thunderbirds would add two more scores and go on to beat Regina 6-3 in a rematch of last seasons’ WHL Championship series. Seattle overcame two goals from Sam Steel as Thunderbirds’ forward Zack Andrusiak scored two of his own in the win.

“Sami came up with a big goal there in his return game,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said.

Seattle (11-9-1-1) played perhaps its most complete game of the season  Wednesday. The Thunderbirds scored six goals, responded to push backs from the Pats, and have now won back-to-back home games after a frustrating five-game losing streak.

Even though a lot of key players from last spring’s championship series weren’t part of Wednesday’s game, the rematch with Regina (13-10-2-0) was still a big deal.

“We had it circled on our calendar,” Turner Ottenbreit said. “There’s a lot of animosity out there. They’re a great team, they’re hosting the Memorial Cup (this year) and it’s a goal for us to beat those guys. It’s a stepping stone.”

Ottenbreit chipped in with two assists on Wednesday as the Thunderbirds got contributions up and down the lineup.

The Thunderbirds twice responded to the Pats tying the game up with scores of their own and eventually pulled away in the third period.

“A big thing tonight was our composure,” O’Dette said. “Every time they answered back and got some momentum we stayed calm and were poised. That’s been an issue recently, we persevered and won another game in the third.”

O’Dette’s squad needed that perseverance early as Regina took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play chance to take a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Steel took the puck off the boards and glided into the slot area where he found a lane to wire a wrist shot past a screened Matt Berlin at 10:15.

The Thunderbirds would respond well to the early deficit and would tie the game on a scramble play in front of Brown. Seattle peppered the Regina goalie with a flurry of shots before Jarret Tyszka found the puck and buried it for his second of the year at 14:37.

Seattle came out firing to start the second period and would take its first lead of the game early on. The play started by winning a battle in the Thunderbirds own end which resulted in a two-on-rush the other way. Noah Philp fed Andrusiak, who ripped his ninth goal of the season at 2:57.

“Andrusiak is playing real well,” O’Dette said. “He can shoot the puck, has that offensive flair. When he’s competing and playing that 200-foot game, he’s a really good player. He’s starting to do that now and it’s a matter of staying consistent.”

Cale Fleury would respond for Regina however, just 42 seconds later, when his shot from the point, beat Berlin through a screen.

Andrusiak would strike again for Seattle at 8:30 of the second when he was left alone at the back door during a Seattle power play. He didn’t miss for his 10th marker and it gave Seattle its lead back at 3-2.

“We were working it around the top, Philp saw a seam to me and luckily the pass got through,” Andrusiak said. “I just tried to get a shot off quickly because I knew the goalie would be sliding over.”

Third periods were not kind to Seattle during its recent mini-slump and it looked like the third period might strike again. Just 22 seconds into the final frame, Steel would score his second when he beat Berlin on a wrap-around for his ninth of the year to square the game at three.

“Not how we drew up that opening shift but they’re hard to pin down for a full game and they got one there,” O’Dette said. “The guys stayed composed and we were in a good spot.”

The T-Birds would stay composed and after Moilanen put them ahead for good they would tack on a power-play goal from Donovan Neuls at 14:17 of the third and an empty-net tally from Matthew Wedman with just 45 seconds to go.

The Thunderbirds have righted their ship for the time being after a tough five-game stretch. They will take their renewed confidence to Vancouver Island this weekend for a pair of games with the Victoria Royals, starting on Friday.

“We’ve been battling as a team and obviously we went through a tough time there,” Andrusiak said. “We kept our heads up and kept working…it’s just big to get our confidence back.”

Notes

• Prior to Wednesday’s game, the team added goalie Cole Schwebius to the roster. Liam Hughes was scratched due to an undisclosed lower-body injury. Schwebius, who is 16, signed with the team just prior to the season and has been playing with the Okanagan Rockets.

• With Hughes out, and last year’s playoff hero Carl Stankowski still on the mend, Berlin should get the bulk of the workload in net for Seattle. Coming off a shutout of Everett on Saturday, he made 33 saves for his seventh win of the year.

• Coming into the game, Regina had struggled on the penalty kill and was ranked 19th when shorthanded. Seattle took advantage of its chances and was 2-for-4 on the night.

• Going back to last year’s finals, the Pats have allowed six goals or more in their last three games in the ShoWare Center, all losses.