Thunderbirds overthrow Royals 3-1
By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds found their winning formula Saturday night and beat the Victoria Royals 3-1 to end their six game losing streak. Seattle got another excellent outing by goalie Danny Mumaugh who made 24 saves along with goals from Justin Hickman, Jaimen Yakubowski and Roberts Lipsbergs in the win.
Seattle broke a one-one tie in the second period when Branden Troock stole a puck in the Royals zone and fed it to Yakubowski in the slot. Yakubowski buried it for his second goal as a T-Bird giving Seattle a lead they would not relinquish.
After a couple of weeks where the team looked defeated they end up with picking up three points on the weekend.
“It was a good win, It was a really good team effort,” coach Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. “I thought we took what we did well as far as the defensive game from yesterday and built off that but we also bucked up a little bit as a man. We paid the price to win puck battles and I thought that was the difference in a win or a loss.”
Seattle (12-8-1-2) started the game playing physical — something that had been missing from their game.
That physical play led to an early power play as Ryan Gropp drove the net and drew a penalty. The T-Birds power play has been struggling but on Saturday they cashed in when Hickman banged home a rebound for his sixth of the season and the T-Birds had the early lead.
“Its a power play goal, that helped,” Konowalchuk said. “You want your power play to be big, but it was a shot and we had traffic and we bang it home. That’s big when you’re not playing as confident as you need to be, that first goal always helps.”
The one goal lead was far from a sure thing as the T-Birds found out Friday night when they also led by a goal early. Saturday night was different however as the T-Birds defense, now back to full strength, played a much tighter game. The T-Birds also held their own winning battles for loose pucks against the always physical Royals.
Victoria (13-10-0-1) did manage to tie the game on a flukey play. Mumaugh was behind his net to play what he thought would be a routine dump in. Instead of the puck hitting the end boards though it caught the side of the net and rebounded back out to the slot. Trapped behind his net Mumaugh could only watch as Austin Carroll deposited it in the Seattle net to tie the game.
When you lose six straight games goals like that seem to happen.
The T-Birds didn’t let that sink their compete level though. They hung tough and got the lead back five minutes later when Troock and Yakubowski teamed up. It was a nice change to see the team strengthen their backs instead of let that bad luck goal sink them.
“It’s huge,” Konowalchuk said of his team’s response. “I didn’t sense anyone get off the game plan. Everyone had poise, you know fought through it, were committed to the team first and they worked hard.”
Troock and Yakubowski played on a line with Sam McKechnie Saturday night and the three played an excellent game. They forechecked, played at both ends of the ice and it’s no surprise that they were the ones to combine for the go ahead goal.
“They worked hard, they worked smart, they passed the puck and they won battles,” Konowalchuk said of the three. “They were committed to both ends of the ice. McKechnie, you know, he’s a smart, two-way player and he can chip and charge.”
With the lead the T-Birds then turned the game over to Mumaugh to take them home. Playing in his second straight game, the Colorado native stood tall once again and shut the door on the Royals. He made several key saves as Victoria was pushing, trying to find the game tying tally.
Mumaugh has come on as the season has progressed and Saturday marked the first time that Seattle has gone with the same guy in net on two consecutive games. They had previously been rotating between Mumaugh and Justin Myles but with Myles’ recent struggles Konowalchuk went with the hot hand.
It paid off and when Roberts Lipsbergs scored on the empty net late in the game Seattle could breathe a sigh of relief. For Mumuagh, it was yet another strong performance.
“He’s a competitor. He’s a confident kid and he has high goals for himself,” Konowalchuk said of Mumaugh. “You know, I give him credit. At the end of last year we needed him for some big points and he stepped up and got us big points. Right now, with hitting a little adversity for these two games, he came in and stepped up.”
Seattle now can head back home with a good feeling after a solid win. They return home to take on the red hot Kelowna Rockets Tuesday at the ShoWare Center. The Rockets may be the best team in the league and have won eight straight games. It will be a tough task for Seattle, but now they go into that match up with some momentum.
“It (the win) builds momentum,” Konowalchuk said. “After not too happy of a game yesterday we can come out of here with three out of four points. We can build off that for next game.”
Center Mathew Barzal was a healthy scratch for the T-Birds. He had played in all of Seattle’s previous 22 games.
Seattle got some guys back Saturday as Ethan Bear and Mical Holub returned to action. With Bear’s return and Wardley’s return the team now is at full strength on the back end. Something that is important with Kelowna coming in.
Mumaugh’s weekend was pretty stellar. He gave up three goals over the two games and was a fluke away from his second shut out on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how Konowalchuk deploys his goalies moving forward as Mumaugh has separated himself with his play of late.
Lipsbergs goal in the third was his 12th of the season and broke a six game goalless streak for the Latvian.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide