By Andrew Eide
Its safe to say that the Spokane Chiefs don’t want to see the Thunderbirds skate into the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena again any time soon. Seattle was there Friday night and for the second straight game ran away from the Chiefs — this time by a 7-3 score. The T-Birds got a hat trick from Branden Troock, two goals from Justin Hickman and four assists from Shea Theodore to pick up their fifth straight win.
After the T-Birds blew out Spokane (18-11-0-2) last Sunday you would expect the Chiefs to come out strong and that’s what they did on Friday night. They pushed Seattle (17-9-1-3) early and picked up the game’s first goal when Adam Helewka swept in a power play goal past Justin Myles.
The T-Birds absorbed the early energy from Spokane and pushed back. Six minutes later Alex Delnov won a face off to Troock,who was left all alone in front of Chiefs’ goalie Eric Williams. Williams, hung out to dry by his mates, had no shot and Troock beat him for his 11th goal of the year.
The T-Birds carried the momentum of that goal for the rest of the period, and game.
“Our guys competed, they came out and were ready to compete at the start,” Steve Konowalchuk said about the game. “I thought their team came out with a bit of a push and we stood in there, pushed back and were able to take over the momentum of the game towards the end of the first period.”
The rest of the game belonged to the T-Birds and their resurgent offense.
Seattle erupted for three big goals in the second period where they out shot Spokane 9-4 and put the game away. Seattle got a goal from Jerret Smith to start the scoring spree and then Troock struck again a minute later to give the T-Birds a two-goal lead. The T-Birds then went to the power play and Roberts Lipsbergs knocked home a rebound for Seattle’s fourth goal of the game and the blow out was on.
The T-Birds added three more goals in the third when Hickman scored twice and Troock completed his first WHL hat trick for Seattle’s seventh goal. There were many offensive stars on the night but lost in it all was how well the T-Birds played defensively. Spokane scored two late, meaningless, goals in the third but for the most part were kept in check by Seattle’s blue line.
The Chiefs only managed 15 shots on the night as the T-Birds kept the chances down and got the puck out of their zone quickly. One of the keys to this hot streak they are on has been the play on defense.
“They’re solid,” Konowalchuk said about his defense. “Again I think we’ve got some pretty good chemistry in our units. They’re all battling, they get the pucks to our forwards in good positions to get out of our end as quickly as possible. I think our guys are really buying into team defense right now and that’s helping them but it’s also helping us score goals.”
Scoring goals they are.
Seattle now has 29 goals in its last five games and is generating a ton of chances. There are many hot T-Birds players but Friday night it was Troock who was the offensive star. The three goals give him 13 on the year and he now has goals in each of his last five games — scoring seven times over that span. It’s a continuation of what has been a pretty strong year for the Dallas Stars prospect.
“He’s just playing solid hockey,” Konowalchuk says of the big winger. “He’s passing the puck when its time to pass, he’s getting back checks and stripping the puck from guys and that’s helping him with his offense too. He’s playing well and he’s working pretty hard.”
When playing Spokane you have to be aware of Mitch Holmberg and Mike Aviani at all times. The T-Birds shut out Holmberg, the WHL’s leading scorer, for the second straight game. Konowalchuk did his best to get the Scott Eansor line on the ice against Holmberg when he could, but for most of the night it was the Mathew Barzal line.
That line was particularly good and frustrated Holmberg by possessing the puck and making Spokane’s big line play in their own end for most of the night.
“They played a really strong game. I felt confident putting them out against Holmberg’s line,” Konowalchuk said. “If they were out there against them I didn’t mind that match up tonight, they were skating. I thought Maty (Barzal) played a 200 foot game and I think his game was even better for that.”
So for the second straight game the T-Birds blew the doors off the home standing Chiefs — out scoring them 12-4. Frustration boiled over near the end of the game when several fights broke out, including a mini-line brawl that involved Holmberg and Aviani for Spokane. With the two teams playing again on Saturday, Konowalchuk cautioned that his squad would need to keep focus on the two points at stake.
“We’ve got to enjoy this for a little bit here and then we have to put our emotions in check.” he said. “We’ve got two huge points at stake tomorrow.”
Spokane makes their first visit to the ShoWare Center Saturday night at 7 P.M.
Defenseman Jerret Smith added two assists to his second period goal. The three point night was a career high for the steady blue liner.
Theodore’s four assists was also a career high for him and he continues to lead the team in scoring with 36 points. After only 28 games he is seven assists away from his total of 31 from last season. The big night also makes him the top scoring defenseman in the WHL this season as he passed Prince Alberts’ Josh Morrisey. He is 16th in the WHL in overall scoring.
Justin Myles made his second consecutive start and like Danny Mumaugh last week was sporting a new painted mask. The T-Birds are now 2-0 when their goalies play with painted masks.
Keegan Kolesar and Shea Theodore both found themselves in scraps Friday night, the first time in the WHL for both of them. Theodore was involved in the line brawl at the end of the game and picked up the five minute penalty for fighting along with a ten minute misconduct. The 15 minutes in penalties is also a career high for Theodore as he never had more than four in one game prior to Friday.
The T-Birds power play continues to click as they went 3-for-8 on the night and have the leagues 14th best power play percentage of 21.6%.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide