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Calgary pins second straight loss on Thunderbirds

Mathew Wedman fights through a check on his way to scoring Friday night during the T-Birds loss to Calgary (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – On a night when the Seattle Thunderbirds welcomed back two former players, it would be a guy from Arizona who stole the show early at the accesso ShoWare Center Saturday.

Calgary Hitmen center Mark Kastelic, who hails from Phoenix, scored twice in the first period to help build an early lead for the visitors – a lead they would not relinquish. The markers give him 21 on the season which is good for second in the WHL.

For Seattle (8-11-3-0), Friday was a carbon copy of its Wednesday night loss to the Vancouver Giants. The Thunderbirds fell behind 3-0, as they did Wednesday, before getting a short-handed goal to stem the tide. As it was on Wednesday, it wouldn’t be enough as the Thunderbirds would lose 5-2 to drop their second straight and nine out of the last 10 games.

“I thought we played hard,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “There were some mistakes there that cost us, getting guys behind us. I thought that was a winnable game. We carried a lot of the play in their end zone. I think we would have won the zone time. I think the effort was there, just not executing, not making the plays that we need to do to transition the puck, make passes, executing stuff.”

Friday night was the return to Seattle for former Thunderbirds Kaden Elder and Carl Stankowski. For Stankowski, it was the first game he played at the ShoWare Center since Game 5 of the 2017 WHL Championship Series against the Regina Pats.

He missed all of last year and was traded to the Hitmen in the off season.

“I didn’t talk much to anybody,” Stankowski said about his mood prior to the game. “I was a little nervous, but I went out there and looked at the rink. It’s pretty special. It’s great to be back here, the fans remind me every time how amazing they are. It’s something else here.”

Stankowski would kick out 24 Seattle shot attempts to pick up his third straight win for the Hitmen.

“I still have a lot of buddies on that team,” he said of playing Seattle. “Seeing a lot of them, it was really weird. When the guys were in front of me, they’d say, ‘Hey Carl’ and I’d talk to them a bit, but it was really cool.”

Calgary (10-13-2-0) is on its Western Conference swing and with the win Friday moved to 4-1 so far on the trip.

For Seattle, the struggling power play had chances Friday night but couldn’t take advantage and would end the night a frustrating 0-for-7. Among those seven chances there were three in the first period, including a lengthy two-man advantage, as well as a key chance late in the third period.

“It’s frustrating,” O’Dette said of the power play. “It’s a lot of executing, skill stuff. I thought it was better tonight, I thought we got some looks. Our goal is to simplify and get shots to the net. I thought we did a better job of doing that. We’re obviously missing a couple of key power play guys and we’ve got to keep working on it.”

Kastelic would get his club on the board early in the first period. Seattle goalie Liam Hughes sprawled to make a save on a Luke Coleman shot but Kastelic was left alone to lift the rebound over the goalie for his 20th goal of the year at 4:41.

He would double the lead two minutes later on the power play. He wheeled behind the Seattle net and out to the face off circle where he turned and fired a wrist shot past Hughes.

It would be more of the same for Seattle to start the second period.

A bad turnover by the Thunderbirds behind their own net ended up in front where Carson Focht took a shot that hit Hughes and landed just over the goal line. For the second straight game, Seattle had dug a 3-0 hole.

Matthew Wedman would help dig out of the hole a little at 7:55 of the second when he won a race down the ice on the penalty kill and muscled his way past a Calgary player to beat Stankowski with a back-hand for the short-handed goal.

“The third one we could have done without,” O’Dette said. “It’s a matter of avoiding that tack-on goal there. Obviously, it became the difference of the game. That was the one that was kind of the back breaker.”

Zack Andrusiak would cut the lead to one when he fired a rebound past Stankowski at 10:05 to the third. Seattle pushed but would not be able to find an equalizer and Luke Coleman would end up scoring two empty net goals to end the night.

It’s been a frustrating month of hockey for the Thunderbirds, after a strong start to the season. Injuries and youth have plagued them but O’Dette says that they will keep grinding forward.

“Have to stay positive,” the coach said. “Its hard when you face adversity to stay positive. We’re patient with some of these young guys. We know they’ve got a lot on their plate right now with some of the injuries. We’re just going to continue to be positive with them… I think on the bright side, with the ice time they’ve been getting, their development is accelerated.

“It’s never easy when you’re in a funk and things aren’t going your way but I think we’ve got plenty of character in the room to overcome it.”

Notes

• Seattle has scored a short-handed goal in three of its last four games.

• The Thunderbirds power play continues to be a struggle. Its is now in a 2-for-51 funk after starting the year hot.

• Elder played his final game in the accesso ShoWare Center. The former first-round bantam pick played 67 games with Seattle before being traded to Swift Current in 2015. After winning the WHL Championship last year with the Broncos he was traded to Calgary at the start of this season.

• The Thunderbirds will be headed to Portland Saturday night for a televised game that starts at 6 pm.