Seattle’s Keegan Kolesar parks in front of the Vancouver net during the T-Birds 5-3 win (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds returned home Saturday night and came away with a 5-3 victory over the Vancouver Giants. Seattle got two goals from Seth Swenson and 41 saves from Justin Myles to hold off the Giants and pick up their tenth win of the season.
A night after dropping a game where they didn’t play well the T-Birds were happy to bounce back.
“That (bouncing back) is huge,” Seth Swenson said afterwards. “Those losses are going to happen, there’s always going to be close games, its nice to have an answer after that one instead of dwelling on it.”
The T-Birds got on the board quickly in this one with an early power play goal by Keegan Kolesar as he banged in a loose puck in front of the net. It was Kolesar’s first career WHL goal and came seven seconds into the Seattle power play. Kolesar has been getting regular shifts with the power play unit where he generally parks his large frame in front of the net – Saturday it paid off as he scored the greasy goal.
“It’s not the most glamorous position on the power play,” the rookie said of playing in front. “I’m happy, I like it, get some ice out there and when I get my chance I try to finish and just bear down.”
Seattle (10-3-0-2) kept pushing and scored a couple of minutes later as Seth Swenson bullied his way through traffic and beat Vancouver goalie Peyton Lee with a wrist shot. The T-Birds appeared to be on their way to a dominant period until they got into some penalty trouble.
Coming off a game in Tri City where penalties changed the momentum the T-Birds took three consecutive penalties in the first and allowed Vancouver (3-9-1-1) back into the game when Travis McEvoy found a loose puck and beat Justin Myles. The goal brought the Giants to within one and the lead in shots on goal.
Unlike Friday night the T-Birds were able to pick up their game and drew a late power play after high sticking was called on Trent Lofthouse. Seattle again wasted no time on the power play and extended their lead when Shea Theodore fired a wrist shot that found its way through traffic and into the Vancouver net.
It was Seattle’s second power play goal in as many tries and was refreshing after a night where they power play let them down. Both of the power play goals came early into the penalties with the T-Birds picking up both goals on only 15 seconds of power play time.
“It was good to have them (the power play) bounce back after a game that the power play could have been a deciding factor,” Steve Konowalchuk said. “Yesterday we had some point shots but we weren’t in front (of the net). We thought we were but we were a foot off to the side…today it was get back and make sure we just shoot everything.”
The T-Birds had a two goal lead going into the second period and extended it early as Roberts Lipsbergs slid a puck past Lee to give Seattle what seemed like a comfortable 4-1 lead. It was Lipsbergs team leading 11th goal of the season.
It was at this point of the game when the T-Birds started taking penalties. Once again they gave Vancouver momentum and after two Carter Popoff power play goals, one in the second and another early in the third, suddenly the game was tight.
“It was a good start,” Konowalchuk said. “That’s the bottom line, you can win a lot of hockey games with a good start. The middle part of that game I thought we put in about as minimal amount of effort you can and get by. You play with fire when that happens.”
Vancouver had clearly gained some momentum at that point and that’s when Myles stood tall, keeping Vancouver at bay until Swenson put the game away with an empty net goal with under a minute left in the game. It was Swenson’s second of the game and came a week after he was on the ice when the T-Birds went off sides on what would have been an easy empty net goal during their loss to Prince George last week.
“This one went a lot smoother to say the least,” Swenson said with a laugh.
Saturday night was also the debut of newly acquired Jaimen Yakubowski who along with Sam McKechnie were picked up from Lethbridge earlier in the week. The two players arrived in Kent at 4:15 Saturday afternoon, took a quick skate and Yakubowski felt ready to play. Konowlachuk didn’t hesitate to put him in the lineup.
“I asked him if he wanted to play and he said ‘yeah’, ” Konowalchuk said of his new player. “He definitely helped us, Troocky got bumped up there and he went in on their line and that was our most dependable defensive line in the third period. It was a great job by him and I sure like the spark and energy he brings.”
Seattle is on the ice next against the Brandon Wheat Kings on Tuesday at the ShoWare Center.
Brandon Troock left the ice in pain late in the second period. He did not return and Konowalchuk did not know the extent of his injuries.
A night after surrendering six power play chances to Tri City the T-Birds gave Vancouver seven more on Saturday. Taking penalties is a trend that has plagued Seattle somewhat as only four teams in the WHL have given up more power play chances than Seattle has.
McKechnie did not play according to Konowalchuk because he had not been able to skate as much as Yakubowski had while the two players were home awaiting a trade from Lethbridge.
Tuesday’s opponents, the Brandon Wheat Kings, are led in net by Connor Honey’s twin brother Curtis Honey. Needless to say you can bet Connor would relish a chance to play against his brother but Konowalchuk said his chances of returning were a ‘long shot’.
Yakubowski saw plenty of ice time, did not figure in the scoring but did get in a fight and played hard all night.
Roberts Lipsbergs is off to a ‘Cy Young’ start. The baseball moniker is often given to hockey players who score a lot of goals without assists, thus having their stat line read like a baseball pitchers win-loss record. Lipsberg’s reads 11-5. Cy Young indeed.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.