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It wasn’t pretty but Thunderbirds come away with win in Victoria

Seattle's Keltie Jeri-Leon celebrates one of the Thunderbirds goals Tuesday night in Victoria (Jay Wallace)

As the third period wore on Tuesday night in Victoria, the Thunderbirds were hanging on for dear life.

They had a 3-1 lead cut to one and were being out shot 18-8 in the period. Seattle needed a play and would get it from an unlikely source.

With 8:33 left in the game, Defenseman Cade McNelly one-timed a shot from the point that ripped past a Jaxan Kaluski screen and into the Victoria net. It extended the Seattle lead to two and would eventually be the game-winning goal as the Thunderbirds hung on for a 5-3 win at the Save On Foods Memorial Arena.

It was the first career goal for McNelly and couldn’t have come at a better time.

“That was a big goal,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “A smart play at the blue line. He’s been improving; he’s been playing better and looks more comfortable out there. He has a knack, his play with the puck is getting a lot better, and he’s earning his ice time.”

Even after McNelly’s goal, the Thunderbirds had to hang on as the Royals would get to within 4-3 two minutes later on a Scott Walford goal.

The Royals kept pushing and had many great chances with the extra skater on but goalie Roddy Ross made some big saves and after multiple icing calls, a tired Matthew Wedman chipped the puck to himself to buy room in order to send a shot into the empty net to seal the win.

“The whole third was scary to be honest,” O’Dette said. “We’re not going to save that in the vault and put it in a museum.”

Seattle (20-24-5-1) leaned heavily on the rookie, Ross, in net. He made a career high 41 saves to push his season record to 7-2-0-1. Wedman added a pair of goals and Payton Mount, playing in his hometown for the first time, added two assists in the win.

It wasn’t the prettiest game for the Thunderbirds, but they found a way to win.

“We didn’t play well,” O’Dette added. “Obviously we’re happy to come away with the two points but definitely not happy with the way we played. A lot to improve upon but sometimes you count your lucky stars and move on. It was a complete opposite of what happened last year when we deserved two wins and got nothing.”

In last year’s visit to Victoria, the Thunderbirds heavily out shot and out chanced the Royals only to lose on late goals in each of the two games.

Tuesday it was Victoria (25-21-1-2) that feelt like it deserved a better fate after out shooting the Thunderbirds 44-21 on the night. The Royals had odd man rushes throughout the night, they hit posts, they missed empty nets and when they did get shots on, Ross was there.

“He was good for sure,” O’Dette said of the rookie goaltender. “He had to make some big saves early. He had some help some his friends with the posts and a cross bar. It was a pin ball at both ends, I think we hit a few as well.”

The Thunderbirds were playing without defenseman Jaret Tyszka who was injured in Saturday’s game against Everett.

That left O’Dette with a young defensive corps and the Royals tried to take advantage, as best they could. The Thunderbirds found the offense, despite the flow of the play, and then had to hang on in the third period as Victoria pushed hard for the comeback.

“There were some tough moments there for sure,” O’Dette said. “They have some speedy forwards who try to get behind our D and I thought at times we didn’t handle that well enough and we didn’t manage the puck well enough. We didn’t move it up and transition it like we needed which led to a lot of D Zone time.”

Wedman gave Seattle the lead with four minutes to go in the first period after he stole the puck on a forecheck. Then Jake Lee would convert on the Thunderbirds lone power-play chance of the night with his third of the year.

Victoria would cut into that lead just under five minutes into the second on a marker from Kaid Oliver.  Owen Williams would answer back for Seattle, to make it 3-1, at 10:43 of the second period to set up the dramatic third period.

The Royals blitzed the Thunderbirds to start the third and Kody McDonald would cash in to make it 3-2 at the 9:39 mark, setting up McNelly and Wedman to finish.

Mount helped set up the McNelly goal and was given his second assist on the night. He had a strong game and nearly scored earlier in the third period but his shot rang off the cross bar.

“He was one of the few guys who had a solid game,” O’Dette said. “We needed him too, we needed someone to step up and stop the bleeding. I thought his line put some good shifts in at the right times. He had a high engine tonight.”

At the end of the night, the Thunderbirds escaped with a win and that is hockey. Some nights you can play well and lose and others, like Tuesday, end up winning a game that you probably didn’t deserve to.

For Seattle’s coaches, they get to work with their team on making corrections without the added sting of a loss.

“Sometimes when you get these wins and you don’t play well, you can crack down on the guys a little bit,” O’Dette said. “There will be a lot of video clips to be shown. We can be stern with the guys and ramp them up for a better effort tomorrow.”

Notes

• Wedman’s scores give him 25 on the season and he has stepped up his play since Nolan Volcan went down in injury. In the five-plus games since Volcan’s injury, Wedman has seven goals.

• Lee’s goal was his third and his first since Oct. 19th, a 40-game span. Williams also ended a long goal drought with his score on Tuesday as he broke a 41-game cold streak.

• The win allowed the Thunderbird to jump back into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are one point ahead of the Kamloops Blazers, who were idle on Tuesday night.