Seattle’s Mathew Barzal is among the WHL leaders in rookie scoring (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
The T-Birds are coming off a weekend that was frustrating and ultimately disappointing. Losing two games is one thing, but to lose them in the fashion Seattle did is another. The team was back at practice all week trying to overcome the issues that tripped them up before another weekend with two back-to-back games.
Before we get into the upcoming games here is the latest from the team and the league.
— In dissecting this past weekends disappointing results you have to wonder how much the T-Birds miss Connor Honey. The hard-charging forward has missed the last 11 games due to an upper-body injury and without a doubt the club could have used him and his style of play this past weekend. Now, that’s not to suggest that one player would have made the difference this weekend – it may not have. The lack of energy and focus was evident up and down the lineup but Honey never seems to be a passenger. He plays hard every night, is extremely competitive and perhaps some of that would have worn off on his teammates. Honey is still listed as day-to-day.
— Evan Wardley was suspended four games as a result of his hit on Portland’s Adam De Champlain Friday night. During the game Wardley was assessed a five-minute charging major and a game misconduct. De Champlain was injured on the play and is listed as day-to-day. Wardley already has served one game of his suspension and will be eligible to return November 15th against the Victoria Royals.
— Seattle really could use their power play to get going for them. Even if the power play doesn’t score it can be a great way to steal back some momentum in games. Of course it helps if they score – something Seattle’s power play is only doing 16.7% of the time. That puts them 20th in the league in overall percentage and is something that should and most likely will improve. They are throwing out a lot of talent on their two power play units so to see a number that low is surprising. It can still come together though. Early last season Portland came to the ShoWare Center and their power play was struggling. Their unit consisted of five NHL prospects and they were not working well, being hesitant, looking for perfect passes instead of generating shots. These are the same things we’ve heard Konowalchuk say is going on with the T-Birds. The Winterhawks got it straightened out and ended up with the second best unit by seasons end. Will Seattle?
— Due to injuries and looking for a spark the T-Birds deployed different lines on Saturday in Everett than they have been using all year. In a perfect world the team would find four line combinations that would stay together all year – something that is rarely afforded in hockey. Don’t be surprised if there is still juggling of lines to come until the team is back to full strength and newcomers Jaimen Yakubowski, Sam McKechnie and Ryan Gropp find their spot and chemistry with the rest of the team.
— Mathew Barzal is currently tied for second in WHL rookie scoring. He trails import player Nikita Sherback from Saskatoon and is tied with Julius Honka from Swift Current. Both those players are older so Barzal still leads the league’s 16-year-olds in scoring – four points ahead of Kelowna’s Nick Merkley.
— Looking to the future a bit, the Western Canada U16 Tournament concluded over the weekend with Team Alberta taking the top prize. This tournament represents the future of the WHL as most of the players on these rosters have been drafted by teams in the league. The T-Birds were well represented in this tournament as prospect Nolan Volcan played for the winning club and picked up an assist in the gold medal game. Seattle’s first round pick Dante Fabbro played for Team B.C. and picked up a goal and four assists in the four games he played. Fellow first round pick Kaden Elder played for Team Saskatchewan and chipped in with a goal and two assists.
Around the WHL
— The league announced its rosters for the Subway Super Series this week. The Super Series is a series of games featuring “All-star” rosters from each of the three CHL leagues as they take on a team of Russian junior players and is a pre curser to players that are being considered for the Canadian World Junior team. The WHL will play two games against the Russians, first in Red Deer on November 27th and again the next night in Lethbridge. No T-Birds were named to the roster. Other U.S. Division players who did make the team include Eric Comrie (Tri City), Derrick Pouliot (Portland), Jujhar Khaira (Everett), Taylor Leier (Portland), Brendan Leipsic (Portland) and Nic Petan (Portland). Last year Alex Delnov played in one game of the Super Series for the Russian team. The full roster can be found here.
— It appears there is more trouble in Lethbridge. Less than a month after Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie asked to be traded, another Hurricane wants out. This time its highly touted defenseman Ryan Pilon has asked for a trade and left the team. You may recall that Yakubowski and McKechnie had also asked for trades and were sent home by the team while a trade to Seattle was worked out. Pilon is in his draft year and has NHL potential so it will be interesting to see where he ends up. The Hurricanes are off to a tough 2-13-1-2 start to the year.
— Seattle’s next opponent, the Victoria Royals were back on the ice Wednesday night against the Edmonton Oil Kings. The good news is that the Royals mascot, Marty the Marmot, was back in action. Marty, voted Canada’s Mascot of the Year, may have had a rougher weekend than the T-Birds did. During an intermission contest last weekend a fan, who lost at musical chairs, took his frustration out on the poor Marmot — slamming him to the ice. Marty appears to have survived and the fan is facing some legal action.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide