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T-Birds notebook: Shootout success, missing Moilanen and Birds at the Olympics

Liam Hughes has won four of the five shootouts he's played in for the Thunderbirds (Brian Liesse/ T-Birds)

When Seattle Thunderbirds’ goalie Liam Hughes stopped Juuso Valamaki of the Tri-City Americans this past Tuesday night, it would be the fourth time that he had won in the shootout.

The goalie’s 4-1 record in the shootout is impressive when you consider that before this season he had never participated in one during his brief WHL career. Overall, the Thunderbirds have fared well when they’ve found themselves in the skills competition.

Seattle is a healthy 6-2 in games decided by shootouts as back up Dorrin Luding has won both chances he’s had as well. As the season hits its final playoff push, the six extra points earned could end up playing a significant role in the Thunderbirds playoff hopes.

Hughes has handled his five shootout chances with calm and confidence.

“I think goalies generally (have an advantage),” Hughes said about shootouts this past Tuesday. “I think it’s about 25-percent chance for players and 75-percent for goalies. Just on the basis of we’re a little bigger and we can read what they’re doing most of the time.”

The notion that the goaltender has the advantage in a shootout is not new.

It makes sense. In a one-on-one situation like that, the goaltender knows that there is no pass to worry about, no back door left open, no screen, and he can just concentrate on the shooter bearing down on him.

“I kind of want them to commit and I’ll react to what they do,” Hughes added.

Hughes has not only won four of the five shootouts he’s been in but he’s stopped 15 of 18 shooters and that includes some pretty high-end NHL prospects. Along with Valamaki (a Calgary Flames first-round pick), he’s stoned Cody Glass (Vegas Golden Knights) twice along with Detroit Red Wings first-rounder Michael Rasmussen in the shootout.

With the success of Hughes, and Luding, the Thunderbirds will be feeling confident the next time a game is decided in the shootout.

Here’s the latest surrounding the club:

Missing Moilanen

Seattle has been without Sami Moilanen since he was injured in the second period during a Jan. 26th game in Everett. That injury has cost him four straight games and he has been missed by the Thunderbirds.

Moilanen is having a strong year, although he has been dinged with injury on a couple of occasions. That’s limited him to 39 games but he’s been scoring at a much higher pace than during his rookie year last season.

The Finn’s absence from the lineup has been felt on the scoreboard by the Thunderbirds as their goal scoring has dropped since he went out. Not counting the game he got hurt in the middle of, Seattle has 10 goals in the four games since. In the four games prior, they potted 27.

Seattle has also missed him on the power play. Moilanen has four goals and four assists on the power play this year, which aren’t gaudy numbers, but nonetheless, his absence has an impact.

The Thunderbirds like to get Moilanen parked in the high slot while on the power play. That allows him to redirect passes or snap a quick shot from a quality scoring position. The team had a great deal of success early in the year with that deployment and opponents picked up on it. Soon, the penalty killers would clamp down and surround Moilanen in an attempt to take away the entry pass to him.

While that has been somewhat effective, it has also freed up plenty of room on the ice for the remaining five players on the power play which the T-Birds have taken advantage of. With him out of the lineup, the Thunderbirds haven’t had that same dangerous option in the slot and the opposing penalty kill can be more aggressive.

In the last four games that Moilanen missed, Seattle is only 2-for-17 on the power play and overall, is a full percentage point better this season with him in the lineup than without. While Moilanen’s absence isn’t the only reason for these trends – the opposition has some say in it – head coach Matt O’Dette has had to juggle lines and power-play units which has a trickle-down affect on the offense as a whole.

A T-Birds presence at the Winer Olympics

The 2018 Winter Olympics are kicking off in PyeongChang, South Korea. For hockey fans, the Olympics has been riveting theater in the past as the National Hockey League has sent its best players to represent their respective countries.

This Olympics will be different as the NHL made the decision that it would not interrupt its season and thus will not allow NHL players to compete. Instead, the Men’s Hockey rosters will be made up of players from the minor leagues and those playing professionally overseas.

That list will include two ex-Thunderbirds.

Robert Klinkhammer, who is playing this season for the Kazan Ak-Bears in the KHL, will be with Team Canada at the Olympics. Klinkhammer came to Seattle during the 2006-2007 season and played 32 games with the Thunderbirds. The next year he joined the Portland Winterhawks and later, the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Former T-Bird import Marcel Noebels will be representing Team Germany. Noebels played with Seattle from 2010 up to the trade deadline in 2012 when he would be traded to Portland. That trade brought back two first-round Bantam picks for Seattle, one of which was used to select Keegan Kolesar. This season Noebles has been playing professionally in Germany with the Berlin Polar Bears.