The T-Birds will get their only look at the Saskatoon Blades Friday night (photo WHL)
By Andrew Eide
Now that all the Thanksgiving turkey and pie have been devoured its time for the Thunderbirds to get back to playing hockey. Seattle is coming off of a big overtime win against Portland last weekend and looking to ride that momentum into this weekend. The T-Birds have a busy schedule with three games in three nights this weekend.
There was some T-Birds news on Thanksgiving as Twitter reports indicated that Minnesota high school player Calvin Spencer has signed with Seattle. Spencer, a 17-year-old forward, was playing with Champlin Park High School and is reportedly a big, physical player. With the holiday there was no official word from the team but an official announcement is expected Friday and we will update as word comes down.
Meanwhile in Red Deer on Wednesday, the WHL took on Team Russia in the Subway Superseries and the Russians skated away with a 3-2 victory. The game winning goal was scored early in the third period by Alexi Baskov and Seattle’s Alex Delnov picked up one of the assists on the play.
Here is what’s on tap for the T-Birds.
Friday: Saskatoon Blades
Record: 10-14-1-2 (fourth, Eastern Division)
T-Birds all time record against: 30-24-3-0-2
Last year: 1-0
Scouting Report: As the host team of the Memorial Cup last year the Blades loaded up on 19-year-old players to try and make a deep playoff run and possibly win the Cup. The plan didn’t work as they were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by Medicine Hat and did not fare well in the Memorial Cup either. This year, they are rebuilding as they had to unload a lot of those players. The Blades made some noise earlier in the year as they got off to a decent start but have fallen on hard times since.
The Blades are led by Russian import player Nikita Scherbak who has been a great pick up for Saskatoon. He leads the team in scoring with 16 goals and 36 points. The Blades are also getting a good offensive contribution from former Spokane Chief, Collin Valcourt. Valcourt was one of the 19-year-olds that Saskatoon picked up last year and now, as an over-ager, he has potted 12 goals for the Blades.
In net Saskatoon has been splitting time with Alex Moodie and former Tri City American Troy Trombley. Moodie has played more than Trombley and has better numbers so Seattle should expect to see him on Friday. Seattle has played extremely well against Eastern Conference foes so far this year and Friday will be a good test to see if they have learned their lessons about playing hard each night. While Saskatoon has a losing record they can score goals but have struggled defensively. Seattle will have to come out and play hard, with a high compete level. If they do that they should pick up two points here.
Saturday: Victoria Royals
T-Birds all time record against: 17-9-0-4-1
This season: 1-1-1-0 (last game, 3-1 Seattle victory)
Scouting Report: The Royals return to the ShoWare Center Saturday for the fourth and final regular season meeting with the T-Birds. Seattle and Victoria have played three tight games already this year and Saturday’s night affair should be no different. Victoria is a physical team that plays stingy defense and is getting great goaltending. They’ve only allowed 64 goals this year and goalie Colton Vollrath leads the WHL in both goals against average (2.06) and save percentage (.939).
While Victoria is tough on the back end they have struggled to score goals consistently this season. That doesn’t mean that they can’t though and have a very good top line made up by Logan Nelson, Austin Carroll and Brandon Magee — who are Victoria’s top three scorers. The Royals have one new face up front as they picked up import player Axel Blomqvist from the Lethbridge Hurricanes last week. With the Hurricanes, Blomqvist had eight goals and should give the Royals a bit more offensive punch.
Seattle should be well aware of what’s in store for them Saturday night. It will be a game where room on the ice will have to be earned and the T-Birds will have to grind out offensive chances. On paper Seattle should have an advantage up front and will need to work hard to keep the puck and get pressure on the Royals net. Danny Mumaugh played the last two games against Victoria and was very good, only allowing three goals in those starts. Victoria is riding a four-game win streak (will play in Tri-City Friday) but this is another game that on paper, and at home, the T-Birds should win. The question is, will Seattle bring their ‘A’ game or the game that sent them into a six-game losing streak earlier in the month?
Sunday: At Spokane Chiefs
Record: 17-8-0-1 (third, U.S. Division)
T-Birds all time record against: 118-130-11-3-2
Last season: 2-6-1-0
Scouting report: The T-Birds get their first shot at division rival Spokane on Sunday. Sunday’s game is the first of three consecutive games against Spokane as a result of a strange scheduling quirk. Not much was thought of this Spokane club before the season began but so far they have exceeded expectations. This will be a big road test for a Seattle team that has not fared well against division opponents on the road — going winless.
All discussion about Spokane starts with their 20-year-olds and in particular Mitch Holmberg. The right winger is having a spectacular season and is the main cog in the Chiefs’ engine. He seemingly scores every game, has 27 goals and 61 points in the team’s first 26 games. That’s good enough for an astonishing 2.35 points per game average and needless to say he is leading the WHL in scoring. Mike Aviani is also off to a hot start with 22 goals and 40 points and he has teamed up with Holmberg to form one of the best lines in the league. Against Portland, Steve Konowalchuk matched up Scott Eansor against the Nic Petan line — will he do the same Sunday?
In net goalie Eric Williams has given the Chiefs outstanding goaltending. Another 20-year-old, Williams is putting up the best numbers of his career with a goals against average of 2.45 and a save percentage of .913. The key to stopping Spokane this year has been clear — you have to stop Holmberg and Aviani. If the T-Birds can do that, shut down that line, their depth should take over.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide