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Cougars drop Thunderbirds to open second half of season

Seattle goalie Liam Hughes stops Jackson Leppard at the goal mouth during the Thunderbirds 2-1 loss to the Prince George Cougars (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – The last time the Seattle Thunderbirds faced Prince George goalie Taylor Gauthier they chased him after beating him five times in two periods. Things would be different Friday night at the accesso ShoWare Center.

Gauthier kicked out 29 Thunderbirds shots Friday to back stop the Cougars to a 2-1 win. As good as Gauthier was, the bounces didn’t go Seattle’s way and that may have been a result of the effort put out by the Thunderbirds.

“It’s the old saying, the harder you work the luckier you are,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “We didn’t earn enough luck tonight.”

Seattle (11-17-4-0) drops into last place in the Western Conference with the defeat as the quest to move into playoff position got off to a bad start. Offensively, the Thunderbirds only managed a third-period goal from rookie Payton Mount and O’Dette didn’t like the way his team attacked the Prince George net.

“I thought we could have funneled more to the net,” he said. “We’re a team that needs more volume to the net to create opportunities, second and third opportunities to get some bodies there.”

The bad luck started in the first period when Nolan Volcan picked up a loose puck and fired a back hand shot that managed to beat Gauthier. The shot hit the cross bar and then the post before ricocheting to safety.

That miss would result in the two teams playing a scoreless first period.

“I think not getting those bounces was tough just because I don’t think we were really going tonight,” Volcan said. “Games where you’re playing well, those bounces come off and usually you get a few more and they start going in. Tonight, I don’t think we really deserved that win.”

Prince George (12-19-1-2) would get on the board a minute into the second period after a bounce off the end boards behind the Seattle net ended up in front on the stick of the Cougars’ Vladislav Mikhalchuk. The import would deposit it for his 13th of the season.

Seattle started to build some momentum shortly after that but would end up taking a penalty 15 minutes into the second. To make matters worse, the Thunderbirds would take a second penalty that resulted in an extended five-on-three power play.

It was the second five-on-three that the Thunderbirds allowed on the night.

“The discipline on some of those calls was not good,” O’Dette said. “Those two five-on-three penalties, it’s tough to get momentum and it’s tough to win games when you give teams two five-on-threes. Two stupid retaliatory penalties but that being said, we didn’t get the ticky-tack stuff called our way.”

The Thunderbirds were able to kill off the penalties thanks in large part to Liam Hughes who ended up making a number of tough saves on the kill. He ended the night with 30 saves in the loss.

Down the one goal heading into the third period, the Thunderbirds would miss on two power-play chances and ended the evening 0-for-5 with the man advantage.

“I don’t think we were moving the puck very well,” Volcan said of the power play. “I don’t think guys were supporting each other well. We were kind of on different pages at times and that lands on our shoulders, guys on the power play to get the job done…we’ve got to step up and bear down.”

Prince George’s Josh Maser would score at 10:38 of the third to extend the lead to 2-0 and put the Thunderbirds in a hole. Mount would cut the lead with his third of the season but that’s as close as Seattle would get.

The loss was a disappointing one considering that Seattle was ahead of Prince George in the standings by one point coming into the night. The loss drops them into last place, looking up.

“It wasn’t good enough” O’Dette said of his team’s effort. “Not enough jump and energy for being refreshed coming back to start the second half. Some lost battles, some mental mistakes and some opportunities to score and we fan on pucks and not bear down, pucks rolling off our sticks, things like that. We had opportunities to score and we just didn’t execute.”

The task gets tougher for the Thunderbirds as they host the Portland Winterhawks Saturday night before embarking on a stretch that will see them eight straight road games, including six games in the Eastern Conference.

“We’ve got to start bearing down,” Volcan said. “The second half starts and now points really matter and we’ve got to start getting better results.”

Notes

• Seattle’s power play is 4-for-19 over its last five games.

• The Thunderbirds were without forward Andrej Kukuca Friday night as he is playing for Slovakia at the World Junior Championships in Victoria. Former Thunderbird Sami Moilanen is also participating in the tournament, with Finland.

• Noah Philp played Friday despite being listed on Friday’s WHL injury report. He had missed the last two games prior to the break.

• With the win, the Cougars win the season series with Seattle by going 3-1.