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Thunderbirds close but come up one goal short in Saskatoon

Seattle's Cole Schwebius makes a save during the Thunderbirds 4-3 loss to the Saskatoon Blades (Steve Hiscock/Saskatoon Blades)

One constant with the new look Seattle Thunderbirds is that they have been getting their shots.

Seattle was in Saskatoon on Tuesday to take on a good Blades squad and threw 36 more shots on goal as they out  shot an opponent for the third straight game. With one part of the formula down, the Thunderbirds just need to find a way to put some of those shots in net. Tuesday, former Thunderbird Dorrin Luding would kick away 33 of those shots to stake the Blades to a 4-3 win at the SaskTel Centre.

“I thought we played pretty well for the first 40,” Seattle coach Matt O’Dette said. “We were executing everything in our game plan. Tons and tons of time on the O Zone. We veered away from that in the third period, couldn’t get that tying goal.”

Thunderbirds captain Nolan Volcan was playing in his 300th regular season game in a Seattle sweater and responded with a goal and an assist in the loss. New Seattle defenseman Zach Ashton notched his first WHL goal as well, coming against the team that traded him to Seattle last week.

It was a back and forth affair that Saskatoon (26-12-5-0) put away with a big goal late in the second period.

After a quick give-and-go in the neutral zone, Blades forward Eric Florchuck was sprung behind the defense where he would score his 11th of the year on a nice back-hand to forehand move. It was the second straight goal scored by the Blades, broke a 3-3 tie and killed the momentum that Seattle (12-21-4-0) had built in the period after Volcan set up Matthew Wedman for his 13th at the 4:36 mark.

Seattle wasn’t able to get the same push in the third and thus, failed to get the equalizer. After putting up 27 shots in the first two periods, the Thunderbirds were held to nine in the third.

“They were kind of trying to defend mode,” O’Dette said of the third period. “We weren’t moving the puck with enough urgency. Our game plan was to keep going north, transitioning quickly to get pucks in their end. We were slowing down when they were the team that was on the ropes a little bit with trying to hold on to the lead.”

The Thunderbirds got another new piece into the lineup Tuesday as 20-year-old Sean Richards played in his first game since being acquired in the Zack Andrusiak trade with Everett. Richards played on a line with Noah Philp and Payton Mount and recorded one shot.

Goalie Cole Schwebius got the start and rebounded from his start in Brandon last week by turning away 33 shots.

In a one-goal game, two big moments ended up costing the Thunderbirds. In the first period after Ashton had given Seattle the lead, the Thunderbirds just missed on a chance to go up by two. Instead, the Blades got the puck and went the other way where Kyle Crnkovic would score on a mini breakaway to tie it.

Then, early in the third period the Thunderbirds had a chance to tie the game at four when Keltie Jeri-Leon got behind the Blades defense. He moved in on Luding but the Saskatoon goalie waited him out and forced the shot to go wide.

Two plays that ended up being momentum swings.

“I thought we carried the play for a lot of the game and then they’d come the other way and score an opportunistic goal,” O’Dette said. “We gave up the big opportunity, certainly wasn’t a barrage of any sorts. The way they scored was very opportunistic. We just didn’t get enough to show for all our time in their end.”

Despite starting their swing by dropping two of three, the Thunderbirds have played some of their best hockey of late. Piecing together new pieces and players without a lot of practice time isn’t easy but the new lineup has been competitive under tough circumstances.

“Guys battled hard,” O’Dette said of his club. “It wasn’t an issue at all and guys are playing hard. We’re making mistakes at inopportune times. I think the body of work is there but some of the execution, at the right moment, wasn’t there.”

It won’t get any easier for Seattle as Wednesday the Thunderbirds will be back on the ice and facing the CHL’s top ranked Prince Albert Raiders – who have only lost four times in regulation.

“If you can’t get pumped up for a challenge like that then you’re not competitive,” O’Dette said looking forward to Wednesday’s game. “We feel like we can play with these teams. We’ve fared well so far and held our own, so, we’re going to go for it. We’re going to put our best foot forward against these guys and if we stick to our game plan and execute it, we’ve got a good chance.”


• Volcan has played in 300 regular season games for Seattle but he has also appeared in 49 more post season games. The two points Tuesday give him five in the last two games.

• Luding wasn’t the only familiar face the Thunderbirds saw Tuesday night. Reece Harsch suited up for Saskatoon as did Brandon Schuldhaus, both former Thunderbirds.

• Payton Mount has his five-game point streak snapped Tuesday.

• How good has Prince Albert been? Seattle will be attempting to be just the third team to beat them at home on Wednesday. The Raiders are 18-2-0-0 on home ice.