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Portland uses power play to hand Thunderbirds first loss of year

Seattle's Andrej Kukuca moves in on Portland goalie Shane Farkas during the T-Birds 4-2 loss Saturday night (Ben Ludeman/ Winterhawks)

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Thunderbirds were in Portland Saturday night and played a decent five-on-five game.

The problem for Seattle is that the Portland Winterhawks had seven power-play chances and cashed in on three of them. It would turn out to be the difference in the game as Thunderbirds penalties caught up with them in the end.

“It was one of the keys before the game,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said after. “We know they have a good power play and you can’t give them multiple opportunities. It’s an emotional game out there and guys have to control their emotions and we didn’t do that at a key moment of the game. It’s disappointing, that was a winnable game I thought.”

Portland (1-2-0-1) got goals from four different players, led by Jared Freadrich who added three assists, along with 30 saves from goalie Shane Farkas to skate away with a 4-2 win in its home opener. The Thunderbirds picked up another goal from Dillon Hamaliuk in the loss.

Of the three power-play goals, the back breaker came early in the third period.

Seattle was faced with killing off seven-minutes of a Portland power play thanks to a melee that had erupted late in the second period. The extended power play came after defenseman Cade McNelly was assessed a cross-checking minor along with a five-minute major for a one-man fight.

Seattle had killed off the five-minute major portion of the seven minutes, leaving just over two minutes left to kill at the start of the third period. Freadrich took a slap shot at 1:09 of the third that missed the goal, wide. The puck shot off the end board and hit goalie Liam Hughes in the back and bounced in the goal.

A bad-luck goal that made it 3-1 for the Winterhawks and put the Thunderbirds in a hole.

“We killed well during that stretch,” O’Dette said. “Sometimes the hockey gods don’t let you kill those off.  A bounce off the end boards and off Hughes’ back. It’s a fluky goal but sometimes that’s how it plays out when you take a penalty like that.”

Seattle (2-1-0-0) would push back and cut the lead to 3-2 at the 10-minute mark of the third when Hamaliuk fought for the puck deep in the Portland zone. He secured it and powered his way to the front of the net and snapped home his third goal in as many games.

Down one in the third, the Thunderbirds had their chances but couldn’t find the equalizer.

“We were engaged in the game, there’s no doubt about that,” O’Dette said of his club. “We’re going to battle to the end. It’s just some better decision making, and we could have come out on the right end of this one.”

Portland opened the scoring at 17:04 of the first period when Jake Gricius got a pass inside the Seattle zone on the power play. He moved in on Hughes and fired a top-corner wrist shot for his second goal of the season.

The Thunderbirds would square the game up 12 seconds into the second period. Zack Andrusiak banged home a rebound after Farkas misplayed the puck behind his net. It was the second goal of the year for Andrusiak.

Seven minutes later Portland would take back its lead.

Hughes stopped a shot from Freadrich that rebounded high in the air. Nobody saw the puck except Portland’s Reece Newkirk who batted it out of the air and behind Hughes. It would be a tough loss for Hughes as the Seattle goalie played well making 38 saves and not allowing any even strength goals.

“He played great,” O’Dette said. “Two odd bounces, one of them way up in the air that’s whacked in. One off the end boards. He did his part, that’s for sure.”

After Hamaliuk had pulled the Thunderbirds closer, Joachim Blichfeld would seal the win for the home team with an empty net tally.

While Portland was cashing in on its power-play chances, the Thunderbirds failed to score on any of their five opportunities. They came close a few times but just couldn’t find a way to take advantage.

“We need to score,” O’Dette said. “Especially in the third when we get those opportunities. I thought the power play was fine, we created some chances. When the game is on the line we have to convert.”

The Thunderbirds will have a week of practice before heading off to Everett for a third straight road game. There was some good and some bad on the weekend that saw them earn a split.

“There’s some positives to take out of it,” O’Dette added. “I thought we played better tonight than we did in Vancouver. Its two tough games but we thought they were both winnable and we’re disappointed that we didn’t get four points out of the weekend.”


• Seattle had not trailed in any game so far this season until Gricius scored his power-play goal in the first period.

• Hamaliuk continued his hot start Saturday night. He has a goal in each of the three games the Thunderbirds have played. It’s the first time the big winger has scored in three straight during his WHL career. He scored a goal in the final regular season game he played at the end of last season which gives him a four-game regular season goal scoring streak.

• Hamaliuk, Andrusiak, Nolan Volcan, and Matthew Wedman have accounted for nine of Seattle’s 10 goals scored so far this year.

• Andrej Kukuca picked up an assist on the Hamaliuk goal in the third period for his first WHL point.