Thunderbirds come back to top Medicine Hat in overtime
KENT – Three minutes into overtime Saturday night, Seattle Thunderbirds forward Matthew Wedman picked up a pass off the boards from Andrej Kukuca.
The 19-year-old center had a step on the Medicine Hat defense and cut in front of the net where he lifted a back-hand shot over Tigers goalie Jordan Hollet. The goal gave the Thunderbirds a big 4-3 win and Wedman’s teammates mobbed him in the corner of the accesso ShoWare Center ice.
“Just trying to give the fans a flashback to 2016,” Wedman said with a smile about his team-leading 27th goal.
Wedman’s winner was very similar to the double overtime goal he scored in the Western Conference Finals against Kelowna in 2016 – a goal that sent Seattle to the WHL Championship Series.
The fact that Seattle (21-26-5-1) was in position to win the game in overtime was somewhat remarkable.
Medicine Hat (30-18-3-2) had taken a 3-1 lead at 4:51 of the third period when Ryan Chyzowski broke in on the Thunderbirds net and scored his 19th of the season. The Thunderbirds had played well all night, but it looked like they were going to lose a tough game.
“Credit to the guys, we stuck with the game plan,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “We kept managing the puck and over the course of the game, sticking with it and continuing to do it we overpowered them, and we got them to their breaking point in the third. Not easy to do, they’re a good team. That’s the type of hockey we need to play.”
The Thunderbirds out shot the Tigers 15-8 in the third period and began tilting the ice in their favor.
A relentless forecheck gave Medicine Hat fits and Seattle was stringing several strong shifts together but as the third period hit its midpoint, still the Thunderbirds were trailing by two goals.
“Everyone was staying positive on the bench,” Sean Richards said. “We had a couple switches on the lines, and I thought that worked out well for us. We switched our forecheck there half way through. We kind of figured out what they were doing, and we switched our game plan.”
Richards helped spark the comeback.
At 10:18 of the third Jake Lee hit a speeding Richards inside the Medicine Hat zone. Richards fired a shot that was blocked but the rebound came right back to him. He fired again and the shot was tipped by Andrej Kukuca and in. It was Kukuca’s second goal of the night, 18th of the season and it gave the Thunderbirds sudden momentum.
Three minutes later Richards forced a turnover with a check deep in the Tigers end. The puck got out to the point where Jake Lee ripped a shot for his fourth goal of the season. Initially the goal was credited to Noah Philp, who was parked in front.
The two players pointed at each other after the play and then celebrated together.
“He was looking me weird, so I thought maybe he didn’t tip it,” Lee, who also had an assist on the night, said. “I was getting ready to do some crazy celly. I have no idea, I just close my eyes when I shoot, I guess.”
It would end up being Lee’s goal and it tied the game at three to set up overtime.
Seattle had started the season struggling in overtime, but Saturday would end up winning its second straight such game. It didn’t come without some trepidation.
Goalie Roddy Ross, who was strong all night in making 27 saves, made his biggest just prior to Wedman’s winner. The puck hit him in the shoulder, and he had to juggle it several times before finally falling on it in the crease on a play that gave the home crowd a scare.
With two straight overtime wins, it’s becoming old hat for the Thunderbirds.
“I think we’re attacking more, not as conservative,” O’Dette said. “We’re looking to score that goal instead of trying to wait it out for the shootout. That worked last year but this is a new year.”
Seattle got contributions up and down the lineup Saturday, led by Kukuca’s two goals and two assists, Wedman’s goal and assist, along with Philp’s two points.
Other players, like Henrik Rybinski, Payton Mount and Tyler Carpendale, had big games without it showing up on the score sheet. They helped control the puck, push the pace and wear down the Tigers in the end.
“We just needed to stick to the game plan, and we did that perfectly I thought,” Wedman said. “Everyone was going, everyone was giving it their all and it paid off.”
The win paid off in the Western Conference standings as the Thunderbirds moved three points ahead of the Kamloops Blazers for the eighth, and final, playoff spot.
“It was a tough week, but it was a huge two points for us,” Lee said. “Being such a tight playoff race we needed those points.”
• Rybinski was playing against a Medicine Hat team that he started the season with. Seattle acquired him in a trade just prior to the trade deadline.
• Former Thunderbirds first-round pick Elijah Wood played for Medicine Hat Saturday in his first game back in Seattle since being traded to the Tigers last season.
• Medicine Hat entered the game with the fifth best power-play unit in the WHL. They scored on a first-period chance, but the Thunderbirds would kill off the remaining three chances. Seattle ended the night 0-for-1 on the power play.
• With the snowy weather in the region, Saturday night’s crowd was again smaller than normal. That didn’t stop the ones who showed up from being loud and creating a fun, playoff type atmosphere in the arena. It was noticed by the team. “The fans are awesome here,” Wedman said. “Always love the support, can’t believe they made out with the roads like this. That’s awesome that they’re here.”