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Thunderbirds exit interview with defenseman Austin Strand

Now a former Seattle Thunderbird, Austin Strand will join the Los Angeles Kings organization. (Brian Liesse/ T-Birds)

The trade went down on Dec. 30th, 2016 and flew under the radar of the Western Hockey League trade deadline. The Seattle Thunderbirds had sent defenseman Brandon Schuldhaus to the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for 19-year-old defenseman Austin Strand.

Strand arrived in Portland the next day, New Years Eve, to play his first game with his new club. He was there at the Moda Center, but his gear wasn’t. He borrowed equipment from a new teammate and took a couple of laps around the ice during warm ups to see if it was a fit.

The gear fit and Strand became a fit for the Thunderbirds, helping stabilize the back end which helped lead the club to its first league Championship and the second Memorial Cup appearance in franchise history.

Its never easy to get traded and move to a new city, but Strand was pretty excited about the opportunity.

“I was really happy with the trade,” Strand says “I kind of wanted to get out of Red Deer and it couldn’t have worked out better coming here to Seattle. Everything has just been perfect.”

Strand was back at the accesso ShoWare Center Monday to pack up his belongings and say his goodbyes, along with the rest of his Seattle mates.

As one of the three 20-year-olds on the roster, Saturday’s Game 5 loss in Everett meant his junior hockey career was over.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about,” he says. “I think its setting in and just trying not to be too sad about it. Trying to look towards the future, exciting things coming.”

There are some pretty exciting things happening in Strand’s future.

With a break out offensive season that saw him pot a career best 25 goals and 64 points, the free agent Strand was signed to an NHL contract with the Los Angeles Kings in November. He had been in camp this past summer with Edmonton and started to hear from a couple of teams after his hot start to this past season.

“The whole build up to that was crazy,” he says of signing with the Kings. “When I called them and they said they wanted to sign me, it was pretty big news and I was super excited about that.”

Now that Strand’s junior career is over he’ll most likely report to the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Ontario Reign, to finish out the year. The Reign still have a few regular season games left before they start the AHL playoffs.

Strand is unique in that he played in two consecutive Memorial Cups, one with Red Deer and then Seattle, won a WHL Championship and signed an NHL contract. The quick-to-smile Calgary product says the run the Thunderbirds went on last season is something that he will never forget, and that the friendships he made in his year-and-a-half stint with Seattle will last a lifetime.

He also will never forget the fans.

The ShoWare Center has become a loud and intimidating place to play for opponents. Something Strand knows first hand after playing a game in Seattle as the opponent in 2014. He had a good game that night, recording an assist, but little did he know that he would soon become one of the fan favorites in that building.

“I’m going to miss playing here in front of the fans,” he says. “They bring it every night which is awesome. You knew when you came here the fans were going to be there, it made it a lot easier to play here and get up for all the games. You play 72 games, you can’t always get excited but when you’ve got all those fans it’s easier to get up.”

Those fans won’t be able to cheer Strand on anymore, but he will always be connected to the memories they have of the championship season. You can also bet that those fans will continue to follow him as he forges ahead into his career in pro hockey.