Thunderbirds claw out win over Prince George behind Volcan hat trick
KENT – Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette did not like the way his club started Tuesday’s game with the Prince George Cougars.
The Thunderbirds fell behind 3-1 at the accesso ShoWare Center and needed the efforts of their top line to avoid a disappointing loss.
“We didn’t come out well,” O’Dette said after. “I don’t know how many turnovers we had early, a lot.”
O’Dette’s captain, Nolan Volcan, would score a big momentum-shifting goal late in the first to stem the tide. That momentum carried over to the second period where Seattle would take a lead and then hold on to a back-and-forth 6-5 win.
Volcan would score three times for his second career hat trick while linemate Zack Andrusiak scored two of his own while adding three assists. Centered by Matthew Wedman, the top line combined for five goals and six assists.
“I thought the Wedman line was the only line playing the right way and managing the puck, playing the way we need to,” O’Dette said. “A lot of poor puck management. It was really bad. We’re happy with the two points but it’s not a good enough game.”
Prince George (11-17-1-2) capitalized on that poor puck management in the first to skate out to a lead. It started with a turnover that led to Matej Toman being credited with his fourth of the year on a goal that rebounded off a Seattle defender.
Seattle (11-14-3-0) responded a bit when Andrusiak was sent free, behind the Cougars defense to score. The Thunderbirds didn’t gain any momentum off that however and continued to struggle as Jackson Leppard and Vladislav Mikhalchuk scored to build the 3-1 lead.
Things were looking dire until Andrusiak found Volcan in front of the Prince George goalie Taylor Gauthier. Volcan banged the puck home at 17:39 of the first to give the Thunderbirds some life.
“That was huge,” O’Dette said of the late goal. “We needed a line to step up and stop the bleeding and win their shift. That was the only line that consistently did that.”
The Thunderbirds skated off the ice down a pair of goals but would start the second strong.
Two quick goals in the first two minutes of the second would seemingly right the ship and tie the game at three. Jarret Tyszka started it 47 seconds into the period with his first of the season. Then, a minute later it would be Volcan again as he banged a rebound through Gauthier’s legs.
Whatever the message was between periods, it worked. Seattle had its first lead of the night.
“After that first we weren’t really happy with our play,” Volcan said. “All those goals were preventable, just puck management and stopping on pucks. We came out with the fire in our stomach in the second and lucky to cash in. We’ve got to play that way for 60.”
Andrusiak would score on the power play midway through the period to extend the Seattle lead to 5-3. The goal was the first power-play conversion for the Thunderbirds since Nov. 24th, snapping an 0-for-14 stretch.
The Thunderbirds had a lead but let up and allowed the Cougars to hang around.
A second goal from Mikhalchuk pulled them back to within one and it would take another Volcan score, again from in front of the net, 9:25 into the third period to reinstate the two-goal lead. It was goal number 10 for the captain as he has started to heat up after a slow start to the season.
Volcan has six goals and 15 points over his last nine games. The goals Tuesday all came from about a foot in front of the goal — the kind of greasy goals that Seattle thrives on.
“That’s where you score a lot of goals, in that blue paint area,” Volcan said. “That’s kind of where the rebounds were kicking. Me, Weds and Andy kind of made a thing of just shooting the puck tonight and get to the net. That’s what we were doing, and I was lucky enough to put a couple of them in.”
Up 6-4 things seemed to be in hand, but Josh Maser would flip a puck over Seattle goalie Liam Hughes with two minutes left to pull the Cougars back to within one. The Thunderbirds managed to avoid disaster and held on for their third win in their last five contests.
“Sometimes when there’s goals being scored, everybody wants their piece of the pie and you let teams back into the game,” O’Dette said. “But, the guys that were playing the right way, managing the puck and being smart in the O-Zone, they were rewarded. They got into the opposition’s ends and they got goals. Its funny how that works.”
The Thunderbirds will wrap up the first half of the season with a three-in-three this weekend, starting Friday night against Spokane.
“Our goal is to get to .500 before the break,” O’Dette said. “We feel we can do it but if we roll out that type of play this weekend, then that’s not going to happen.”
• Volcan assisted on Andrusiak’s first goal of the night. It was his 200th career point in the WHL, something he was not aware of. “It’s pretty cool,” he said after the game. “I never really thought about it and didn’t know. It’s obviously a pretty cool milestone.”
• Andrusiak continued his torrid pace of late. The two scores Tuesday were his 14th in his last 11 contests and Tuesday was his first career five-point night.
• Defenseman Cade McNelly picked up an assist Tuesday for his first WHL point.