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Thunderbirds-Silvertips rivalry takes on a new twist for Sean Richards and Zack Andrusiak

Sean Richards will face off against his former team this weekend as the T-Birds play two with Everett (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

There was just under two minutes left in the first home game that Sean Richards played with the Seattle Thunderbirds when one of his teammates was being roughed up by a member of the Victoria Royals. Richards responded and intervened. It earned him a two-minute penalty but as he was escorted off the ice by a linesman the crowd at the accesso ShoWare Center gave him a rousing ovation. The last time he had played in front of those fans he was a member of the Everett Silvertips and was serenaded by boos rather than cheers.

“First home game, I kind of told myself I was going to get the fans back on my side,” Richards said of that game.

Not only did he win fans over by standing up for a teammate but he scored a big goal in a Thunderbirds win and since arriving from Everett, Richards has fit in nicely. Friday night, he’ll face his former team as the Silvertips and Thunderbirds play a home and home series beginning in Kent.

Seattle and Everett aren’t trading partners often and no offense to the Daniel Cottons of the world, rarely have made trades involving top end players. But, the trade on New Year’s Day that sent Zack Andrusiak to Everett in return for Richards, a prospect and three draft picks was of the blockbuster variety.

Both players have seen many Everett-Seattle battles but Friday night, they’ll be on different sides for the first time.

“The day I got traded I thought about it,” Richards said about the weekend match up. “I looked at the schedule and saw that it was a couple of weeks ahead and was excited.”

Both Richards and Andrusiak had spent two full seasons with their now former clubs and the trade came as a surprise to both. Not just being traded but being traded to a heated rival was a bit of a shock.

“Completely shocked when I was told later that night,” Andrusiak says of the trades that went down on New Year’s. “Things were pretty surprising and hectic. At first, I was very surprised, this was kind of the last place I expected but I’m very happy to be here.”

Friday night, Andrusiak will play a game in an arena he’s very familiar with. This won’t be like any other game he’s played there, however.

Not only will he be wearing a different color sweater, but he’ll be in a different dressing room.

“That will be the weirdest,” he said. “Coming into the rink and being on the other side. It might feel like training camp being in those rooms but I’m looking forward to it.”

Saturday night, as the two teams meet at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, it will be Richards’ turn to walk into a different dressing room than he’s used to.

He’ll also be playing in front of a crowd that he once entertained as the Silvertips ran to the WHL Championship Series last spring.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Richards said. “Those guys are obviously pretty good. It’s going to be lots of fun, I think. Some of my best friends play up there and it’s going to be fun but also competitive.”

Pundits are often quick to judge a winner when ever two clubs make a trade. Seattle picked up more long-term assets in the move while Andrusiak is in Everett to help the Silvertips win this year. Initially however, the trade is helping both teams equally.

Since joining the Silvertips, Andrusiak has scored seven goals, along with three assist for 10 points in 11 games. Everett has a 6-5-0-0 record since the trade and is in first place with a seven-point lead over second place Portland in the U.S. Division.

Richards has also played 11 games since the trade and has scored five times with six assists for 11 points. The Thunderbirds have been on fire and are 7-2-1-1 in games that Richards has played in. That run has allowed Seattle to go from last place in the Western Conference to holding onto the last playoff spot.

Playing mostly with Noah Philp and fellow newcomer Henrik Rybinski, Richards has been productive.

“It’s going really well,” he said of his time with the Thunderbirds so far. “In the room there’s a different vibe that everyone is saying. I think it’s really positive lately and I’ve been playing with some great linemates and they’ve been helping. There’s a lot of chemistry with those guys.”

Both guys have had success with their new clubs and Friday night will be facing off against players that were former teammates, but also good friends.

“I’ve been talking to them quite a bit,” Richards said about his former team. “Just playing some Fortnite with them and stuff. Nothing too serious but we’ve both said that we’re excited. I need to focus on the game, can’t worry too much about socializing. It’s going to be tough when I see those guys skating around, but I need to be a pro here and be serious.”

Andrusiak says that he has been in touch with his friends on the Thunderbirds as well and admits that there may be some emotion running through him when the game starts on Friday. Both players will need to keep those emotions in check as there are important points on the line.

“Just prepare for it like any other game,” Andrusiak added. “If there are any emotions, get them out of the way in warm up and prepare for it like I would for any other team and any other game. Do what I can to help get the win.”

The games are huge for both clubs.

Seattle is trying to hold onto a playoff spot despite a difficult schedule down the stretch. The Thunderbirds have been playing their best hockey of the season over the last month and the weekend will be another test for them.

The Silvertips are looking to hold off Portland in the U.S. Division and the Vancouver Giants in the Western Conference.

If the standings hold as they are now, the two teams will meet in the first round of the playoffs. It would be the fourth straight year that the Puget Sound rivals face each other in the post season. The Thunderbirds will be looking for the upset this year while Everett will hope to move past Seattle on its way to another championship bid.

As 20-year-olds this is the last kick of the can for both Richards and Andrusiak and both would like to go out on a high note.

“It would be awesome,” Andrusiak said. “Any time you can make a run is big. Especially being a key guy this year, I’m just hoping I can bring whatever I can to the table and really help push our team over the top.”

With the playoffs in the near future, the run for both teams starts Friday night.