Thunderbirds pot seven in rout of Moose Jaw
There are roster resets and then there is what the Seattle Thunderbirds have done.
After sending away three key veteran players prior to their eastern swing, the Thunderbirds have played some of their best hockey of the season since. Friday night in Moose Jaw, they hammered the Warriors in a 7-2 rout. It’s the third win in the last four games for the Thunderbirds as they are tearing through the Eastern Division.
“I thought the guys played really well,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “I think as a team we’re starting to figure out what’s giving us success. The new guys have obviously energized us. Kind of shuffling of the chemistry and the chemistry is working right now.”
Seattle (14-21-4-0) got big offensive nights up and down the lineup as Andrej Kukuca scored twice to go with an assist, Noah Philp had three assists, Nolan Volcan and Jaret Tyszka each had a score and a helper while six other Thunderbirds recorded a point.
Coming a couple nights after their huge upset win over the league’s top team in Prince Albert, there was no let up from the Thunderbirds on Friday.
“That’s always something you have to guard against after a big win like that” O’Dette added. “Ramping it back up and duplicating the effort and I thought for the most part we did that .I still think there’s room for us to play a little bit better but we’re happy with the win and we need to keep building on it.”
While the Thunderbirds scored seven goals in their biggest offensive burst since Nov. 30th, this game was won with defense, hitting and a relentless forecheck. Moose Jaw (21-10-5-2) had to contend with Thunderbirds every way they turned as Seattle gave them little to no room on the ice.
“When we’re playing well its definitely behind a good forecheck,” O’Dette said. “It starts with puck management. When we don’t have anything off the rush we need to put the puck in the right place where we can get in and hem them in their end.
“One of our goals, and something that we track is the amount of O-Zone time we get, and when we hem teams in below their goal line by reloading and tracking hard we can keep them in there and over the course of the game we can wear a team down.”
Seattle spent the majority of the game in the Warriors end and it paid off.
Friday night saw several of Seattle’s new additions have key contributions as well. Sean Richards and Keltie Jeri-Leon scored their first goals as Thunderbirds. Henrik Rybinski chipped in with two assists and goalie Roddy Ross won his second straight game by turning away 24 Moose Jaw shots.
The young goalie has won his first three career WHL starts, both on the road against good teams, and is solidifying himself as a guy who can play at the WHL level.
“It’s been seamless with those guys so far but you want to contribute early in your time here and all the guys have,” O’Dette said. “I think all of them have points, or goals…everyone is finding success offensively and getting on the scoresheet so I think that gives them confidence and they’re definitely contributing.”
Seattle fell behind in the first period after a shot oddly bounced off of Ross’ back and in. The Thunderbirds tilted the ice the rest of the way and would explode for four goals in the second period to essentially put the game away.
Volcan would strike first to tie the game and then Kukuca would score his first of the night to give Seattle the lead for good.
That’s when Richards and Jeri-Leon struck, each scoring to help build a 4-1 lead heading into the third period. The Warriors would cut that lead with an early power-play goal to start the third but the Thunderbirds responded with three more – from Tyszka, Kukuca and Tyler Carpendale – to run away with a big win.
Both of Kukuca’s goals came on the power play and the Thunderbirds ended the night 2-for-5 with the man advantage. With the heavy schedule on the road they’ve had little time to practice the power play, but they started to generate chances Wednesday in Prince Albert and it carried over to Friday.
“We say it all the time that even if you don’t score you need your power play to crate momentum,” O’Dette said. “It did create momentum for us in the Prince Albert game. Without having the time to practice we’ve been focusing on just getting shots on net. That’s what Andrej did, it wasn’t anything too fancy there, and it was great shots by Andrej with great screens in front of the net.”
With back-to-back wins for the first time since Oct. 19th, the Thunderbirds have a chance to make it three in a row Saturday night in Swift Current while finishing the swing with an impressive 4-2 record.
“We just have to keep playing the right way,” O’Dette said. “A big challenge tomorrow, we want to end the trip on a high and we’ll have to play well and keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”
• The seven goals scored is the second time this season the Thunderbirds have reached that total. Their season high is nine goals scored on Oct. 10th against the Kelowna Rockets.
• Philp’s three assists is a career high for a single game although the 20-year-old did score four goals earlier in the season.
• Since returning to the club from the World Junior Championships, Kukuca has four goals in four games.
• Volcan and Matthew Wedman extended their point streaks to four games apiece.