Seattle’s Justin Hickman moves past Jackson Playfair during the T-Birds 4-2 win on Saturday (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — Get out your brooms. The Thunderbirds completed their three game stretch against the Spokane Chiefs with a gritty 4-2 victory in front of 3,709 fans at the ShoWare Center Saturday night. Seattle has now won six straight games and three in a row against division rival Spokane.
Seattle (18-9-1-3) picked up the go ahead goal from Ryan Gropp in the third period and rode the shoulders of Danny Mumaugh who made 28 saves on the night to pick up his eighth win of the season.
Beating any team three straight times is big, its even bigger when its a division rival who started the week ahead of you in the standings.
“That’s a good hockey team over there,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. “They’ve got a lot of skill and they’ve got some older players that are good over there. That’s a good hockey team and to get six points out of six against any team is really good and I’m really happy with the way the guys battled and we want to continue this push here before Christmas.”
After two blow out wins over the Chiefs the T-Birds had to work harder in this one as Spokane hung around and made things difficult. Seattle took a first period lead just after a power play ended as Shea Theodore snuck a pass over to Alex Delnov who beat Eric Williams for his 15th goal of the season.
The second period was a frustrating one for the T-Birds as they gave Spokane (18-12-0-2) five power plays which put them on their heels. Spokane evened the score on one of those power plays when the WHL’s leading scorer Mitch Holmberg fired a wrist shot through traffic.
With so many penalties it was hard for the T-Birds to gain any momentum and in the end, resulted in them giving up their lead.
“It was a grinding game, there was just no flow,” Konowalchuk said. “It was a frustrating game, I’m sure it was for the fans. I know the bench was frustrated. We didn’t know which penalty was being called or what was going to be called. We had a couple of undisciplined penalties for sure, where I thought we weren’t sharp but I thought they just called more penalties today.”
The game could have changed drastically with the chances given to the Chiefs but the Seattle penalty kill held strong. For the most part the Chiefs did not get too many good looks with the man advantage and when they did, Mumaugh was there. The goalie was quick to praise the effort of the guys in front of him.
“Just a lot of hard work,” the goalie said of his mates. “They worked really tough and well in front of me, I really can’t give them enough credit there. They really came together and did a good job.”
Spokane out shot Seattle 15-4 in that period, thanks to all the power plays, and Seattle was reeling a bit as they went into the dressing room to regroup for the final 20 minutes. Konowalchuk rallied his troops to come out stronger in the third.
“The message was we worked so hard for two games and even that first period I thought wasn’t too bad, we just needed to get going,”he said. “Let’s put everything together in the third period and they did.”
Seattle responded well to start the third as they came out with several good shifts and kept the Chiefs pinned in their own end. They took the lead when Ethan Bear fired a slap shot from the point that beat a screened Williams.
Just when it looked like Seattle could take a breath, Spokane got the goal back. With the T-Birds on a power play Bear got tangled up with Adam Helewka in the Seattle zone. The two players fell to the ice and Connor Chartier, who was following the play, picked up the loose puck and scored.
The T-Birds did not let that phase them and got the go ahead goal five minutes later on a nice play by Gropp who got a pass from Theodore and deked his way through the Spokane defense before scoring on a back handed shot. It was Seattle’s only power play tally on the night and it was big.
From there Mumaugh took over, kept the Chiefs at bay and when Jaimen Yakubowski chipped a puck into the empty Spokane net the T-Birds had secured their sixth straight win.
For the third straight time Seattle was able to keep the high scoring Holmberg in check. Once again the Yakubowski-Scott Eansor-Sam McKechnie line was given the task of slowing him down. After three games the only time Holmberg has figured in the scoring was his second period power play goal. While five-on-five, he was shut out.
“I have seen a lot of Holmberg,” Eansor said of the player he shadowed all week. “He’s a great player, very skilled. You can’t take your eyes of him for a second and my line mates helped me out a lot.”
The T-Birds will try for their seventh win in a row on Tuesday as they head to the Toyota Center in Kennewick to face the Tri City Americans. The T-Birds go into that game playing with a level of confidence and consistency that they have been working hard to find since their losing streak in November.
To go along with that confidence they are competing right from the start of every game.
“It started that game against Portland, six games ago now, where we came out in the first five minutes,” defenseman Adam Henry said. “We have such a big, fast, physical team that if we come out in the first five minutes and put a few guys on their butts, run a few guys over, it lets them know they’re in for a long game and it really sets the tone for the way the game is going to go.”
Shea Theodore picked up two more assists Saturday night and now has ten helpers in his last four games. That is spreading the wealth and he continues to lead WHL defenseman in scoring.
Adam Henry is also being generous with the puck. He had two assists on Saturday which gives him six in the three games against Spokane (he also scored a goal). Overall he has 11 assists in his last 12 games.
Branden Troock’s five game goal scoring streak was snapped but the big winger did pick up an assist on Saturday and still has a six game point streak in tact.
Defenseman Ethan Bear had a strong night as the 16-year-old scored a big goal in the third period and was very steady on the back end. On one play in the first period he found himself one on one with Holmberg, which would give most young blue liners the shakes. Bear kept calm and rubbed Holmberg off the puck freeing it for his teammates to easily clear.
Spokane’s Holmberg had been the run away leading scorer in the WHL. His pace has slowed down and while only getting one point in the three games against Seattle this week his lead in the scoring race is down to one point as Portland’s Nic Petan has reeled him in.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.