Which NHL teams do the Seattle Thunderbirds players root for?
The Seattle Thunderbirds clinched a playoff spot late last year on a game-winning goal scored by defenseman Austin Strand. The goal came off a well executed set play after a faceoff win. Nolan Volcan set up the score and after the game admitted he had seen the same play pulled off by the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL. He had showed the play to head coach Matt O’Dette and the team installed it with great success.
It was a reminder that junior hockey players like the Thunderbirds are also fans of the National Hockey League.
With the news Tuesday that Seattle was on the fast track to be awarded an expansion team and with the NHL opening a new season on Wednesday, who do the Thunderbirds players root for?
“I might get laughed at for this but it’s the Buffalo Sabres,” forward Zack Andrusiak said before Wednesday’s practice. “My Grandpa was a big Buffalo Sabres fan because they were good in his day, but we had a few glory years when I was young. It’s been tough lately, but I’ve always been a Sabres fan.”
Some players end up rooting for a team thanks to family tradition, and maybe a little pressure.
“The Leafs, big Leafs fan,” Noah Philp said about his favorite team. “My dad has been since he was born so I was kind of pushed into it, but I got to like them as the years went on.”
Regional allegiances count a bit but growing up in the same town as an NHL team doesn’t automatically mean that they become the favorite.
Volcan grew up in Edmonton and while he does like the Oilers, they weren’t necessarily the team he cheered for the most while growing up.
“Growing up I was split between Edmonton and Boston,” he said. “I love Boston, I liked their jerseys and the colors, the black and yellow.”
Players in the WHL are all hoping to someday play for an NHL team. As they start getting drafted or invites to participate in camps, it can cause some of those former loyalties to be forced underground.
Goalie Liam Hughes spent time this fall in camp with the Philadelphia Flyers but grew up rooting for one of their rivals. Something he wasn’t keen to share.
“I probably shouldn’t say since I’m with a team that’s a rival with them,” he said with a smile. “Don’t want to say too much. Don’t want to make them too mad.”
All of the players say they try to watch games when they can, but their schedule makes it hard sometimes. Youtube along with other on-line highlights and game recaps often substitute for watching full games.
As far as favorite players go, some of the usual suspects came up.
Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane were mentioned by the forwards while Hughes went with a fellow goalie.
“When I was younger I was a big fan of (Los Angeles Kings goalie) Jonathan Quick, still am today,” he said. “I kind of image my game after him. I love the way he plays the game so aggressive, he’s so competitive and that’s the way I like to play.”
All four guys were non-committal when asked if they were willing to switch teams when Seattle joins the NHL in 2020.
“I think my dad might be pissed off if I did,” Philp said with a laugh.
Andrusiak’s response was much the same.
“We’ll have to see on that one,” he said.
Hughes went with a more diplomatic approach when asked if he would switch.
“It’s going to be cool to see the Vancouver and Seattle rivalry,” he said. “We’ve got great fans here for our team and hopefully they reproduce that for the Seattle NHL team.”
Only the captain, who has played his entire WHL career with the Thunderbirds was somewhat willing to consider rooting for an NHL team in Seattle.
“I’ll definitely root for them,” Volcan said. “They’re definitely in contention to be a favorite.”