By Andrew Eide
There is nothing in sports like a Game 7. It brings out the best in every guy on the roster and has a way of creating heroes. The Seattle Thunderbirds lost a deciding Game 7 at Prospera Place in a 3-2 overtime thriller that was not without many heroes. Kelowna got the win as Tyson Baillie completed a hat trick with his game-winning goal 5:10 into overtime.
As Baillie and his teammates celebrated Seattle goalie Brandon Glover lay face down on the ice in disbelief, as his team’s season and his junior career came to a sudden end. Glover was great again for Seattle and the captain, Luke Lockhart, gave the team hope as he tied it up at two with seven seconds left in regulation.
The T-Birds fought hard all series long – a series that nobody gave them much a chance to win one game, let alone three.
“Oh man, it was a battle,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said afterward. “Both teams left every bit of energy they had on the ice. We had our chances there in overtime again and we just didn’t (score), that’s the difference.”
Seattle and Kelowna turned in one of the best hockey games, and series, you’re going to see at any level and in many ways it’s a shame one team had to lose. With the win the Rockets advance after becoming only the second team in WHL history to fight back from a three-games-to-none hole.
The T-Birds made sure that it didn’t come easy for them. The Thunderbirds hung in all night, despite getting out shot, despite having two of their top six forwards out with questionable suspensions and despite being giant underdogs.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Konowalchuk said. “All series we just asked every guy to leave it on the ice for the whole series, play for each other and for the most part everybody did that. I’m proud of the guys.”
Seattle got on the board first on Wednesday, the first time all series they’ve done so, when Evan Wardley fired a rocket shot that beat Jordan Cooke cleanly to give the T-Birds the lead. That lead did not last long as the Rockets came right back 13 seconds later when Baillie got his first of the night on a fluky shot from a bad angle that some how squeaked in the net.
From there the two teams battled back and forth. Each had chances, each played physically and each got some fantastic saves by their guys in net. As the game move to under eight minutes to play it seemed like overtime was looming again.
The Rockets did not want to leave that to chance, though, and Baillie struck again with just under seven to go when he banged home the go-ahead tally after a mad scramble in front of Glover.
As the clock was ticking down it seemed like the T-Birds had come to the end of their run. With two full minutes left Konowalchuk pulled Glover for the extra attacker but Seattle was unable to convert. That is until seven ticks on the clock remained and Seth Swenson, from his belly, somehow managed to get the puck to Lockhart in the slot. The captain, with a quick backhand to forehand move, flicked a wrist shot the found the top corner of the Rockets goal.
Seattle had managed to fight back again and the game headed to overtime for the fifth time in the series. Lockhart has been outstanding the last two months of the season and in this series, and it came as no surprise that he did not give up in this one – a game that turned out to be his last in a Seattle sweater.
“He was the MVP the last month and a half,” Konowalchuk said about Lockhart. “He’s been clutch for us, he was for us again tonight and he almost scored in overtime again, too. I think, personally, he can leave on a good note for his junior career from and individual note, he was playing at the top of his game.”
Lockhart came close to winning it overtime as he took the puck off the boards and fired a tricky shot across his body that Cooke just managed to stop. It was probably Seattle’s best chance to win it before the Rockets scored at the other end.
It was also the last game for Glover. He stopped 32 shots Wednesday and the team would not have been in the position they were without his stellar play.
“He had a heck of a series for us,” Konowalchuk said of Glover. “The last two games were probably his best, it’s just too bad we couldn’t win it for him in overtime.”
Glover had no chance on the game-winning goal as Madison Bowey found Baillie wide open on the door step for an easy tap in goal.
“It happened quick,” Konowalchuk said of the game-winner. “It looked like somehow the puck came up into the slot, they threw it back door for a tap in.”
In the end the Thunderbirds have no reason to hang their heads on this one. They played a great series that was wildly entertaining and may be a glimpse of things to come. The team is young and is returning several of their top players from this year. The experience they garnered by playing in a pressure-filled playoff series like this can be valuable. Something Konowalchuk addressed with them after the game.
“I told them I was proud of them,” Konowalchuk said. “Remember how this feels, it doesn’t feel good and just to continue to get better. I’m just proud of the guys, they played hard.”
How soon until training camp starts?
Seattle was again without Connor Honey in Game 7 as he was still serving his suspension from Game 4. He was joined by Justin Hickman, who has been suspended for his check to the head penalty on Tuesday night.
Baillie was a T-Birds killer in this series. He got the big hat trick on Wednesday night and ended the series with seven goals and 12 points.
When the T-Birds look back as to how they lost this series they need to look no further than their power play. They finished the seven games going 0-for-24 after an 0-for-2 effort Wednesday night. That included a four-minute double major picked up by Baillie late in the second period.
Evan Wardley found his offensive game in this series. The big defenseman, who only scored five points during the season, picked up two goals and two assists in the series.
It was the last junior game for Lockhart, Glover and Adam Kambeitz as the 20-year-olds will now move on. It will be interesting to see if any of them get any offers from the AHL or other leagues. All three have skills that could make them attractive to a pro team.
Check back to the blog in the coming days as we will spend some time breaking down the season that was. But before that I personally want to thank all of our readers for checking us out all season, making comments and interacting with us on Twitter. It’s been a blast.
Follow Andrew on twitter @andyeide