EVERETT – After a week of training camp where they only got to play against teammates, the Thunderbirds finally took on a different opponent Friday at Comcast Arena.
Seattle opened its preseason schedule with a resounding 4-0 shutout of the Tri City Americans. Taran Kozun made 20 saves for the T-Birds and defenseman Shea Theodore chipped in a goal and an assist in the win.
Seattle got to scoring early in the first when Kaden Elder picked up the puck behind the Americans’ net and found Nolan Volcan in front. Volcan flipped the puck over Tri City goalie Eric Comrie to get the T-Birds on the board.
The T-Birds added two more goals in the second period. The first came on a big slapshot from Shea Theodore for a goal and that was followed up with Ethan Bear firing a power-play goal from the half boards. Both second-period goals were scored against Evan Sarthau, who had replaced Comrie halfway through the second period.
The T-Birds put the final nail in the coffin with an empty-net score by Nick Holowko.
Seattle iced a relatively young team – only eight players who played in the WHL last year – but was still able to dominate the game, out-shooting Tri City, 35-20.
“Our guys played a pretty good hockey game,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “Systems wise for a first game with the young guys, there were a lot of good things.”
Volcan played on a line with Elder – as has been the case all through camp – and the two continue to show a great deal of chemistry, along with Donovan Neuls. The three rookies have a lot of speed, forecheck aggressively and as they showed Friday, can find the back of the net.
“It makes it a lot easier to play with someone when you know what they’re doing,” the rookie said about his linemates. “We’re just out there trying to make simple plays, get the puck out and get it deep.”
The goal was nice but Volcan said that scoring isn’t necessarily the first thing he’s focusing on.
“To me, points are just extra,” Volcan said. “Trying to be plus, not minus, it would be nice to maybe get over 20 points but I’m trying to play defensive first, trying to keep the puck out of our net, that’s what really matters.”
Scott Eansor once again centered a shut-down type line for Seattle along with Sam McKechnie. Joining them was Calvin Spencer, who had a strong game and was a physical presence. Might he join Eansor this season?
“It could be,” Konowalchuk said about Spencer joining the shutdown line. “I think we’re just trying a lot of things out because we do have young forwards and new looks for everybody. It will take a while to sort everything out but I thought he played a strong game.”
Friday also marked the first time import Florian Baltram played in a WHL game. The Austrian center picked up two assists and looks like he’s adjusting to the smaller North American rinks just fine.
“Everything gets faster,” Baltram said about the smaller ice surface. “You know what you have to do, you have to be quicker.”
Baltram’s fellow import player, Alexander True, was a scratch on Friday but will see some action this weekend. The T-Birds will be back on the ice in Everett on Saturday when they face off with the Victoria Royals.
• Kozun went the distance for Seattle in picking up the shutout. With the goalie situation still up in the air, Konowalchuk said he will give each of his net-minders a full game this weekend. While he stopped everything that he faced, the Americans did not give him many scares.
• Kozun came as close to scoring a goal himself as Tri City did. Late in the game, with the Tri City net empty, he had the puck on his stick and took a shot. The puck sailed down the ice and just wide of the empty net.
• The T-BIrds played a young lineup and scratched a bunch of their key veteran players. That list included Justin Hickman, Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp, Evan Wardley, Adam Henry, and Keegan Kolesar.
• The Tri City Americans took numerous penalties on Friday and Seattle ended the day 1-for-7 on the power play. While that is not a good number, keep in mind that with the mixed up lineup Seattle didn’t send out a true power-play unit at any time.