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Make shift lineup comes up short for Thunderbirds in Brandon

Noah Philp scored twice Friday but the Thunderbirds would lose 7-3 to the Brandon Wheat Kings (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

The Thunderbirds ended one of the craziest weeks in franchise history on the wrong side of a lop-sided score in Brandon Friday night.

Playing with a mix-mash lineup featuring four new players, two of whom made their WHL debuts, Seattle played well at times but would fade as the Wheat Kings got a hat trick from Luka Burzan and two goals from Cole Reinhardt in a 7-3 win. It would be Seattle’s seventh straight loss and second on their lengthy road trip.

It was a game the Thunderbirds played better than the score indicated.

“I’m pretty proud of the way the guys played,” Seattle coach Matt O’Dette said. “I thought we out played them, I really do. We had a very young line up, kind of pieced together and the guys played well. I think we’ll end up out-chancing them, out zone-timing them and out Corsi’ng them. I think we did all that in this game. Obviously, we couldn’t keep the puck out of the back of our net.”

The difference came in the second period where Brandon (16-14-3-3) scored four goals, two of which came off sharp angles from the boards. They were goals that goalie Cole Schwebius probably wants back as they appeared to catch him off guard. After Burzan scored his second of the night to make it 4-1, Schwebius was pulled for new comer Roddy Ross. The big 6-foot-4 rookie was making his Seattle, and WHL debut after being signed on New Year’s Day.

“It’s definitely a learning experience,” O’Dette said of Schwebius and the goals. “It’s been a whirlwind week for all the guys, especially for him with all the moves there. He’s super excited to get more opportunity and he’ll be fine. He’ll bounce back.”

Seattle (11-20-4-0) played a solid road period to start, out-shooting Brandon 15-10 but would fall behind 2-0. Burzan scored the second goal, after it hit off a Thunderbirds defender and past Schwebius. It was that kind of night.

Schwebius ended by allowing four goals on 13 shots

The Thunderbirds out shot Brandon 40-35 on the night but could only get three past Wheat Kings goalie Jiri Patera. The Czech goalie was making his first start for Brandon since returning from competing in the World Junior Championships.

“You know, some nights are going to go like that, their goalie played well,” O’Dette said. “Our guys will rebound.”

The Thunderbirds were led by two goals from Noah Philp, his 12th and 13th.  It was his third mult-point game of the season. Brecon Wood would also score for the Thunderbirds in the loss.

Friday was the first look for the Thunderbirds of Keltie Jeri-Leon, defenseman Zachary Ashton, Ross and Conner Roulette. The later was one of the Thunderbirds second-round picks in last spring’ Bantam Draft. At just 15-years-old, and playing near his home town of Winnipeg, he looked right at home playing in the WHL.

“He was great,” O’Dette said about Roulette. “Obviously a pretty exciting future for that kid and he definitely didn’t look out of place, in fact, he stood out in a good way. It’s a nice night in front of a lot of family.”

The Thunderbirds were without Matthew Wedman, Cade McNelly and newly acquired Sean Richards, all of whom were serving suspensions. Andrej Kukuca is still at the World Junior Championships and Dillon Hamaliuk is out for the season due to injury.

With that many guys out and a make-shift lineup, things were bound to get dicey for Seattle. O’Dette said being on the road and on the bus has helped the transition.

“Being on the road is a chance for everybody to get to know each other and I think the vibe is really good,” O’Dette said. “Guys are positive and we just need to get our troops back and everybody in one place and off the suspension list and we’ll go from there.”

Friday was the second game on an eight-game road trip for the Thunderbirds and it’s a swing that has already seen massive changes to the roster. That presents a challenge for O’Dette and his coaching staff as they attempt to fit guys into the lineup on the fly, with little time to practice.

“Practice time is going to be scarce,” O’Dette said. “We’ll show them the basics and allow them to play the game and use their instincts. Sometimes when you get a new guy, you don’t want to flood him with too much systems stuff. Give them some of the basics and go play.”

The new look Thunderbirds will get another shot Sunday afternoon when they travel to take on the Regina Pats.

Notes

• Seattle made another trade Friday morning, acquiring forward Henry Rybinski from the Medicine Hat Tigers in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick, a 2020 third-round pick and unsigned defenseman Aidan Brook. O’Dette said the plan was for Rybinksi to join the team in Regina.

• Ross made 19 saves and gave up two goals in his debut. “The way the game went it was an opportunity to get his feet wet and get some time in there,” O’Dette said of the rookie goalie. “Obviously not the way you want to do it but any experiences for him right now is good, so he’s got that under his belt. Next time he’ll be a little more comfortable.”

• Jeri-Leon was impressive in his debut as well. He showed a burst of speed, created offensive chances and ended up recording four shots.

• Mathew Wedman did not play Friday as he was serving a one-game suspension for a kneeing major Monday night in Portland. He will be back in the lineup Sunday.