Thunderbirds shake up roster in flurry of New Year’s Day trades
New Year’s Day is traditionally a day for new beginnings, resolutions and a reset for the coming year.
The Seattle Thunderbirds were in that spirit Tuesday as they announced a flurry of moves that have reshaped their roster. In separate deals, they moved leading goal scorer Zack Andrusiak to the Everett Silvertips and goalie Liam Hughes to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
They also added a goalie in Roddy Ross, who is expected to join the team immediately.
Currently in a six-game losing streak and in last place of the Western Conference, these moves didn’t come as a surprise. But, Seattle general manager Bil La Forge says that the team still has the playoffs in their sights.
“The one thing I want to be clear, there’s no white towel here,” La Forge said Tuesday. “I don’t even own a white towel. That’s how I look at it… It’s not a give up, it’s a reset.”
Andrusiak sent to rival Silvertips
The biggest move was Andrusiak going to a division rival in Everett.
Andrusiak exploded over the past two seasons and was having a career year, goal-scoring wise. He ends his Seattle career by scoring six goals in his last two games with the club and was leading the Thunderbirds with 27 goals and 39 points. His last two campaigns saw him pick up 63 of his 68 goals scored in a Seattle sweater.
La Forge said moving Andrusiak was tough.
“Because he’s played so well, the value that he brought us was too much to pass up,” he continued. “It was something where I hope he plays well in every game that he’s not playing us. He’s a good kid, he wants to be a professional real bad and I think going there he’s going to get a chance to play for another team that’s stocking up for a long playoff run. We hope to see him in the playoffs.”
The Thunderbirds still have six games left on the schedule with Everett and Andrusiak will make his first return visit to the accesso ShoWare Center on Feb. 2nd.
In return for Andrusiak, Seattle gets 20-year-old Sean Richards, unsigned prospect Brendan Williamson, a second-round draft pick in 2019, a third-round pick in 2021 and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2022.
Williamson is a 16-year-old forward playing in the BCMMHL for the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds where he is third in league scoring with 10 goals and 26 points. He’s a player that La Forge is familiar with as he listed Williamson last season when La Forge was the Director of Player Personnel with the Silvertips.
“He’s another guy having a huge year in midget hockey,” La Forge said. “Just another guy that adds offensive pedigree for the future. He’s an unsigned player so we’ve got some work to do there. We’re going to do everything in our power to bring him in and show him our program.”
The addition of Richards raised some eyebrows due to his history with the Thunderbirds. He has been suspended three times in the last season-plus for hits against Seattle players. Two of those suspensions occurred this year and Thunderbirds defenseman Loeden Schaufler has not returned to action since Richards hit him on Dec. 8th.
That history could rub some guys in the room the wrong way.
“He might have some explaining to do to some of our guys, but Sean’s been in our league a long time and he knows what he’s doing,” La Forge said of the potential chemistry issues. “Our leadership group with (Matthew Wedman), (Nolan Volcan), (Jarret Tyszka), and (Noah) Philp, I’m sure they’ll be able to handle it.
“I know Sean from my time in Everett. He’s a good person and he plays the game extremely hard. We’re going to have to educate him on the way we play. We don’t want him getting suspended again.”
Richards is coming off a career year that saw him score 20 goals for the Silvertips. This year he had potted 10 goals in 27 games, so he does bring some offense prowess with him.
Liam Hughes sent to Lethbridge
Monday evening, La Forge announced that goalie Liam Hughes was moved to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for forward Keltie Jeri-Leon, signed prospect forward Michael Horon and a fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft. Seattle also agreed to send a 2019 eighth-round pick to the Hurricanes.
The Hughes trade came after Seattle announced it had signed 18-year-old listed goalie Roddy Ross.
“Liam is getting a chance to go to a team that’s loading up, but I also think we’re gaining a year in age,” La Forge said. “Roddy’s a year younger than Liam and he’s going to get a chance to come in and be a WHL goaltender and that’s what his dream has been.”
After being acquired prior to the start of last season, Hughes took over the Thunderbirds crease last January and has been the work horse since. He leaves Seattle after appearing in 29 games this year, posting a 3.67 goals-against along with a .899 save-percentage.
Lethbridge is two points off the lead in the Central Division and will be in Seattle on Jan. 25th.
Horon is the key piece in the trade as he is currently leading the AMHL with 25 goals and 50 points in 25 games for the Lethbridge Hurricanes AAA squad. The 17-year-old was previously a 2017 ninth-round draft pick of the Everett Silvertips but was traded to Lethbridge last year.
“He’s a signed player, playing in midget right now and is running away with the scoring title in the Alberta Midget League,” La Forge said. “He’s got a really good offensive pedigree, he’s a really good power play guy, makes lots of plays and makes everyone around him better. I think he’s got a chance to come in next year and put up some numbers and be an offensive guy.”
Jeri-Leon is a speedy, 18-year-old winger who spent time with the Tri-City Americans and Kamloops Blazers prior to the Hurricanes. He should be joining the Thunderbirds immediately.
With Hughes out of the picture, the Thunderbirds will turn to goalies Cole Schwebius and Ross. Standing at 6-foot-4, Ross is a tall goalie who has been playing with the Camrose Kodiaks in the AJHL. His numbers are good, with a 2.94 goals-against and a .920 save-percentage. Last year, he led the SMHL with a .940 save-percentage.
He caught Seattle’s eyes early in the year and they added him to the protected list in September.
“Roddy’s a big goalie,” La Forge said of his new addition. “He’s kind of a later bloomer, I think. He absolutely torched the Saskatchewan Midget League last year. He carried it up and played 20 games in junior hockey this year, so we think he’s got a really good chance that between him and ‘Schwebie we’re going to get quality goaltending every night.”
The WHL trade deadline is still ten days away and La Forge hinted that he most likely isn’t done making deals. The team is currently headed out on a seven-game road trip and when it returns to the accesso ShoWare Center on Jan. 19th, it will look much different than it did Monday.
Seattle sits five points behind the Kamloops Blazers for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and La Forge insists that making the post season this season is still the goal.
“We’re half way through the season now and the first half didn’t go the way we wanted so we needed a reset.” He said.