Defending WHL Champion Thunderbirds eliminated in Game 5
EVERETT – The Seattle Thunderbirds saw their season end Saturday night at the Angel of the Winds Arena.
Fighting for their playoff lives, the Thunderbirds would not be able to find enough offense to beat Everett Silvertips goalie Carter Hart and would be eliminated from the WHL Playoffs.
“Not the ending that we wanted but there’s a lot of character in that room and guys didn’t quit,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said after.
Hart made 36 saves as the Silvertips shut Seattle out 4-0 to win the best-of-seven first round series four games to one. It was Hart’s third career shutout as the Silvertips were paced offensively by four different goal scorers to beat Seattle in the playoffs for the first time in their franchise history.
With the series win, the Silvertips will move on to the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
For the Thunderbirds, it was a lot of the same issues that plagued them all series. A couple of mistakes ended up costing while they could not take advantage of the limited chances they were able to create.
“I thought we had some looks, Hart was solid,” O’Dette said. “Probably would have liked to generate more. I thought our work ethic was there and our compete was there. A couple mistakes, we missed on a blocked shot and retaliatory penalty that led to a couple goals there.”
Liam Hughes did his best to give the Thunderbirds a chance as he made 42 saves which included several big stops in the first period.
“We gave up some quality chances in the first and he stood tall and kept us in the game,” O’Dette said. “He’s played well for us, he’s been great and that’s what you need in the playoffs. Unfortunately we couldn’t get him enough goal support.”
The Silvetips ended the first period up 1-0 on a goal at 5:46 from Riley Sutter. The Thunderbirds were in decent shape headed into the second but one big momentum swing would end up putting them in a hole that was too deep to claw out of.
Midway through the second period, Seattle’s Blake Bargar took a pass from Matthew Wedman in the high slot. Bargar ripped a hard wrist shot but was denied by Hart, who snapped a quick glove hand to get the puck.
On the next shift, Everett’s Ondrej Vala would fire a point shot through traffic that beat Hughes. It gave Everett a 2-0 lead and deflated the Thunderbirds. Five minutes later, Seattle took an undisciplined penalty after the whistle and Patrick Bajkov made them pay when he deposited his fourth of the series on the ensuing power play.
“That was a momentum shift in the game,” O’Dette said. “A big save and that’s how it goes sometimes. Goaltending is important and a big save like that can turn the tide and they get a goal immediately after. That was a boost for them.”
In the third period, the Thunderbirds could not muster much of an attack and would give up an empty net goal late to seal their fate and end their season.
“Not the ending that we wanted,” O’Dette said. “I’m proud of the guys for the way they competed all year long. They’ve shown character and overcame adversity throughout the year. The biggest compliment that we’ve gotten as a team is people saying how hard we compete. We take pride in that. A lot of guys can hold their heads up high.”
As the final horn sounded the Thunderbirds gathered around captain Turner Ottenbreit, Donovan Neuls, and Austin Strand. It was an emotional scene as the three 20-year-old players had played their final WHL games.
“They’ve been just great kids first and foremost,” O’Dette said of his graduating players. “Unbeliveable competitors and hockey players and they’ve meant so much to the organization and mainly, for me, just good people. You know what you’re going to get out of those guys each and every night. You’re going to get their best effort and it’s been an unbelievable pleasure to coach those guys.”
While the Thunderbirds move into their summer, the rest of the WHL will continue the playoffs to ultimetly crown a new champion.
It was a year of transition after two great runs in the post season for Seattle and not much was expected out of this group and in the end, it was a successful season.
“It will probably take a couple of days before everything can sink in,” O’Dette said. “We wanted to win so bad, we felt we were capable of doing it. It will take a couple days and we’ll let it sink in a bit and be able to reflect on it. We’re competitive and we’re disappointed right now. We’ll remember and move forward.”
• Donovan Neuls ends his Seattle career with 283 regular season games and another 49 post season games. He scored 57 goals with 180 points and set career highs this year in goals (22), assists (54), and points (76).
• Turner Ottenbreit started his career with the Saskatoon Blades but came to Seattle in 2014 and went on to play 284 regular season games and 49 playoff games in a Thunderbirds sweater. He was named team captain prior to the start of this season and the defenseman set career marks with nine goals, 38 assists, and 47 points.
• Austin Strand joined Seattle last season at the trade deadline and helped the team win its first WHL Championship. This year he exploded offensively by scoring 25 goals from the blue line. That production earned the free agent defenseman an NHL contract with the Los Angeles Kings.
• Stay tuned to the blog as we will continue to break down the season that was as well as keep you up to date with any Thunderbirds news that breaks during the off season.