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T-Birds remain perfect in preseason with comeback victory

By Tim Pigulski

KENNEWICK – The Thunderbirds won their fourth preseason game in a row on Friday night as they defeated the Tri-City Americans 3-2 in comeback fashion at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

Friday saw the returns of Branden Troock, Justin Hickman, and Danny Mumaugh, all of whom were seeing their first playing time of the preseason. Troock injured his shoulder last season and only just received clearance to play with full contact, while Hickman was serving out a suspension incurred during last year’s playoffs. Mumaugh sustained a minor injury during training camp and started the game in net.

The first period ended in a scoreless tie with each team registering 11 shots on goal. The majority of play took place in the Tri-City zone as the T-Birds spent four minutes on the power play and controlled the action for the most part. Despite this, Tri-City saw the better scoring chances as a couple of turnovers in the defensive zone led to opportunities for the Americans, but Mumaugh made a series of nice save to keep the game knotted at zero.

Tri-City came out hungry in the second period with a couple of quick goals just one minute and thirteen seconds apart. The first goal, by Ryan Chynoweth and assisted by Brian Williams and Parker Wotherspoon, came on the man advantage as Connor Honey was serving a high-sticking minor. Williams, driving the zone with Chynoweth on a two-on-one, was pushed out of the middle and to the left of the net by Austin Douglas. However, Williams was still able to center the puck and Chynoweth pushed it past Mumaugh to give the Americans a 1-0 lead.

Shortly after, Tri-City’s Michael Sauer fired a nice wrist shot from the inside of the right face off dot past Mumaugh’s blocker, using a T-Birds defenseman as a screen. It would’ve been a very tough shot for Mumaugh to make a play on, as Sauer’s shot was banked off of the right post and past the 17-year-old goalie. Tyson Dallman and Ryan Hillis assisted on the play.

“I thought we came out strong in the first 10 minutes, but then got a bit sloppy in the second half of the first and a bit into the second,” said T-Birds coach Steve Konowalchuk. “We dug ourselves in a hole but towards the second half of the second we got back on our game and started pushing the pace. It took a bit longer than we’d like but we kept battling and got ’em again.”

The T-Birds got on the board at 8:01 of the second period on a power play goal by Mathew Barzal. The 16-year-old received a feed at the top of the left circle from Jerret Smith, skated in about two strides and fired a pretty wrist shot past a screen in front and over Tri-City goalie Troy Trombley’s glove.

“He’s a good player and we expected that of him,” said Konowalchuk of his rookie center. “There are still some things we work on with him away from the puck, but with the puck he’s a pretty special player. When we were looking for leadership, he stepped up as a young guy at the beginning of the second and put the other guys on their heels.”

Halfway through the second, Justin Myles subbed in for Mumaugh in net. Mumaugh made 15 saves on 17 shots.

The third period saw a couple of chances for each team, but only the Thunderbirds were able to capitalize.

With just 2:38 left in the game, Evan Wardley faked a slap shot from the middle of the blue line and sent a hard wrist shot toward Trombley. The Tri-City goalie made the initial save but gave up a rebound that Seth Swenson was able to jam home to tie the game.

It looked like we would be headed for some free hockey, but a beautiful goal by the line of Hickman, Troock, and Barzal put one home with just 48.4 seconds left in the game. Troock skated the puck into the zone and made a drop pass to Barzal at the top of the right circle. Barzal slowed the play down and fired the puck back to Troock, who had skated towards the right side of the net. Hickman was crashing the other side of the net and received a perfect cross-crease pass that he was able to put in the net for the game-winning goal.

The game finished with Seattle outshooting Tri-City by a final tally of 36-29. Myles saved all 12 shots he saw, including a nice left pad save with just two seconds left in the game.

Game Notes

Shea Theodore (Anaheim), Jared Hauf (Philadelphia), Alex Delnov (Florida), and Mitch Elliot (Vancouver) all missed this game as they were at NHL camps. Eric Comrie (Winnipeg) and Zachary Yuen (Dallas) were missing for the Americans.

Both Jesse Forsberg and Ethan Bear missed this game with minor injuries. Bear was shaken up last game and Konowalchuk thought it would be better to avoid risking anything during an exhibition game.

With so many defensemen missing, Evan Wardley stepped up and played the most minutes of any T-Bird blueliner, including on special teams. He looked comfortable carrying the puck up the ice and looks like he’s going to add a major offensive aspect to his game this season.

Troock, despite missing significant time, didn’t shy away from the physical play at all. “My shoulder felt great and I’ve been cleared for full contact so I’m going to play my game,” he said. “I’m going to play my game and take the body and get to the dirty areas.”

Mumaugh didn’t show any rust in his first game of the preseason. Although he gave up Tri-City’s only two goals, he made a couple of very nice saves after turnovers in the defensive zone to keep the team in the game. “They scored a couple of good goals there that would have been tough to stop, but you always want those back. When they score two quick goals like that the most important thing is staying in the game mentally and hoping your guys pick you up and that’s exactly what they did tonight.”

Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski