By Andrew Eide
PORTLAND, Ore. – In case you had forgotten, the Winterhawks are still one of the top teams in the Western Hockey League. The Seattle Thunderbirds were reminded of that Saturday night as they were beaten 10-4 by the defending champs at the MODA Center.
The game was as ugly as the score indicated it was.
“Our top line, as good as they have been, were that bad,” a subdued coach Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. “They weren’t ready to play.”
The T-Birds’ issues started early as the team was out of sync with passes that weren’t crisp, shots were off the mark and the team got off its game plan – a game plan that had earned the team wins in its first three games.
“It was a selfish effort,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought a few of them were playing for themselves instead of playing for the team. That’s the message, you play for the team you get good results and you win games. When you play for yourselves this is what you get.”
What Seattle (3-1-0-0) got was a dose of Portland goals, led by Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored four on the night – two of them short-handed.
The T-Birds fell behind midway through the first period when Adam de Champlain chipped home a pass from Adam Rossingol, which got the Winterhawks rolling. Portland (2-1-0-1) then gave the T-Birds a taste of the kind of night it was going to be. With Seattle on the power play, Bjorkstrand took advantage of Jerret Smith tripping at the blue line. He snagged the puck and raced down the ice on a two-on-one. He held the puck and beat Danny Mumaugh through the five hole.
Things deteriorated after that.
The Winterhawks went on to score three more goals in the second, including another shorthanded break away goal by Bjorkstrand, and five more in the third as the wheels had fallen off.
The T-Birds could not find any rhythm with their offense as their top line was held in check all night. When it did look like they had a chance to get in the game they couldn’t capitalize on their chances. Despite the score, the shots-on-goal for the game were even with both teams collecting 38 on the night. The difference was effort and execution. Portland had it and the T-Birds did not.
The Thunderbirds managed to do some cosmetic work in the third as they scored four goals – two by Shea Theodore – to make the score look a lot better than it really was.
“I hope it’s a wakeup call for our guys,” Konowalchuk said. “You have to come to work every night, work hard and work for the team.”
The T-Birds get a chance to get back on track Tuesday as they travel for a rematch with the Tri City Americans in Kennewick before embarking on their first Eastern Conference road swing. This early road trip will be a test for the T-Birds and surely they would have liked to get off to a better start than they did in Portland on Saturday.
Lost in the ugly results was Mathew Barzal scoring his first career WHL goal. He also added an assist.
Shea Theodore’s first goal came under some unique circumstances. He made a nice move to get a shot off that flew through the net and went unnoticed by the on-ice officials. At the next whistle, the off-ice video-review officials looked at it and confirmed that the puck did travel through the net and therefore counts as a good goal.
Seattle’s top line was a combined minus-7 on the night.
Bjorkstrand four-goal, one-assist night gives him 12 points in the season’s first four games.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.