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Liam Hughes backstops Thunderbirds to road win against Vancouver

Seattle's Mathew Wedman leaps out of the way of a shot on goal during the T-Birds 3-1 win in Vancouver (Rik Fedyck/ Girants)

LANGLEY, British Columbia – The Seattle Thunderbirds struggled at times during Friday night’s game at the Langley Events Centre.

A number of Seattle turnovers in its own end led to extended zone time for the Vancouver Giants. That had the Thunderbirds on their heels for long stretches and led to scoring chances as Vancouver threw 32 shots at the Seattle net. Fortunately for Seattle, goalie Liam Hughes was there and kicked out all but one of those pucks.

“I just got those first game jitters out of the way from the home opener and had a good week of practice,” Hughes said after his 31 save effort. “Felt good for this weekend. Those games are fun, they’re intense and have a lot of action going on. Insurance saves and timely saves as well.”

Matthew Wedman would break a 1-1 tie with just over three minutes left in the game and Nolan Volcan would add an empty netter as Seattle (2-0-0-0) would go on to win its first road game of the year by a 3-1 score.

The Thunderbirds got a second straight multi-point game from Dillon Hamaliuk who scored his second goal and added an assist while rookie Payton Mount had two helpers on the night. For Mount, it was his first career multi-point game.

Despite the win, head coach Matt O’Dette felt there was a lot to be improved on from his squad.

“We’ll take the two points for sure but that by no means was close to our best game,” he said after. “Hughes kept us in there. We didn’t have everybody show up. Playing against a good team on the road you need everybody. Can’t afford to have guys go missing and give their team credit. They’re a good team, as advertised.”

Hughes was at his best in the second period at a time when Seattle struggled the most.

The Thunderbirds were reeling early in the period thanks to turnovers and Vancouver (2-1-0-0) spent long shifts in the Seattle end. Hughes made 12 saves during the middle frame and got a little help from his goal posts.

During one sequence the Giants had two shots ring off the iron after a mad scramble in front of the net.

“You just thank God your posts are there and get lucky sometimes,” Hughes said. “When the puck is going everywhere you just have to react and hope it hits something.”

Seattle got defenseman Reece Harsch back in the lineup Friday but are still playing with young and inexperienced defenseman. That played some role in the defensive end troubles, but the turnovers came from several players.

“It was some passiveness and lack of communication in the D-Zone,” O’Dette said. “When we did have opportunities to get the puck out we turned it over which led to lots of zone time in our end. That’s not what we want, we want to be doing that to the opposition.”

For the second straight game the Thunderbirds drew six power-play chances. They were able to cash in on one late in the second period to open the scoring. With 1:31 left on the clock, defenseman Simon Kubicek took a big slapshot that missed the net. It rebounded off the end wall to Mount, who was on the doorstep. He tried to stuff it past goalie David Tendeck but the Vancouver goalie kicked it out. The rebound went right to a crashing Hamaliuk who banged home his second goal of the season.

Vancouver would tie the game at the 8:27 mark of the third period when James Malm stripped a puck and went in to score his third goal of the season.

With overtime looming, Wedman would then break up ice with Hamaliuk on a two-on-one. Instead of passing, he ripped a top-shelf wrister past Tendeck for the game-winning goal. Tendeck ended the evening with 25 saves while picking up his first loss of the season.

Seattle had a strong game from its penalty-kill unit. Vancouver went 0-for-4 with the man advantage and only recorded one shot on goal. O’Dette deployed several different guys on the kill, including forward Jaxan Kaluski.

Kaluski’s game won’t show up in the box score but he may have been one of Seattle’s best players Friday night. He was strong on the forecheck and drew two penalties, including the penalty that led to Hamaliuk’s power-play marker.

“He’s carving out a nice role for himself,” O’Dette said. “He’s getting opportunities because he’s earning it. He’s doing some good things and we know what we’re going to get from him.”

The Thunderbirds will move on to play the Portland Winerhawks in the Moda Center Saturday night. They head into that game knowing that they just beat a good team without playing their best game.

“I think it shows a lot about the character of our team,” Hughes said. “Even though we were having a tough game, we just played through it which shows a lot.”

Notes

• Its still early in the season but Seattle has started by killing off seven of eight power-play chances against. The only power-play goal the Thunderbirds have allowed came on a five-on-three chance opening night. They are suppressing shots early as well, only allowing a total of five shots in those eight short-handed moments.

• The Langley Events Centre may soon become Mount’s favorite arena. Last season, in one of his brief call ups, he recorded his first WHL point with an assist in Langley. Friday night he added two more as all his WHL points so far have come in the Giants’ home arena.

• With five points in two games, Hamailuk has equaled the best two-game stretch in his career. Last season he followed up a five-point stretch with two more points in the third game. That bodes well as Seattle heads into a tough match up with Portland on Saturday.

• The Winterhawks will be desperate for a win Saturday. They lost Friday night to the Tri-City Americans 6-5 in a wild affair and are still looking for their first win of the season.