Top ten moments from the Thunderbirds 2018-2019 season: 1-5
With the second half surge that the Seattle Thunderbirds went on, the majority of their memorable moments from the 2018-2019 season occurred after New Year’s Day.
Every night over the second half felt like a playoff game as the club was in desperate need for points. There was a lot of wins and a lot of drama that came out of that desperation.
With that in mind, here is the second part of our look back at the Thunderbirds 10 most memorable moments from the 2018-2019 season.
The Thunderbirds opened March with a big road test in Kamloops. Seattle had caught the Blazers for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot and held a three-point lead heading into the game. Kamloops had a game in hand and with the schedule winding down, this was a must win.
The Thunderbirds never trailed in this one but let the Blazers off the hook through the first two periods. Tied at four in the third, Henrik Rybinski would put Seattle ahead and then Volcan struck for an insurance goal that cinched the two points.
Wedman added two goals while Philp scored once to go with two assists. Goalie Roddy Ross held the fort in the third period and Seattle struck for two power-play goals as well as a short-handed score.
“Your top guys have to be your top guys and they were,” head coach Matt O’Dette said after the game. “Philper, Weds, Volcs, they all had great games. This time of year, you need those guys to step up.”
Things did not start well in Game 4 of Seattle’s first round playoff series with the Vancouver Giants. Trailing the series 2-games-to-1, the Thunderbirds dug themselves a 3-0 hole early in the first period.
It was a daunting task as the Giants were one of the top defensive clubs in the WHL, but Seattle started to chip away in the second period thanks to a spark from Keltie Jeri-Leon. He had been scratched early in the series but took advantage of being back in the lineup with a momentum-swinging goal to cut the lead.
Philp and Andrej Kukuca would then score to tie the game in the third before Rybinski fed Wedman in front of the Vancouver net for the game-winner. The win knotted the series at 2-2 and sent it back to Vancouver for a Game 5.
In the win, Volcan tied a Seattle franchise record by playing in his 53rd career playoff game as a Thunderbird. He would play two more to set a new mark.
Defenseman Owen Williams would be the hero in a mid March game against the Tri-City Americans. He scored an overtime winner to give Seattle a 6-5 win and clinch a playoff spot for the Thunderbirds.
Just as their season had played out, the game was an up and down roller coaster ride for the Thunderbirds, who had built a 4-2 lead on the home-standing Americans early into the third period. The Americans responded and scored quickly to stun the Thunderbirds and take a 5-4 lead heading into the waning minutes of the contest.
The Thunderbirds recovered from the turnaround in time for Volcan to tie the game with under five minutes to go. He forced overtime which set up the heroics from Williams.
After giving up the lead in the third the night looked like it would end bitterly for the Thunderbirds, but it turned out to be sweet.
“We’ll stop and get some candy and enjoy the ride,” O’Dette said about the celebratory trip home.
Seattle was blasted in Portland on New Year’s Eve and found itself dead last in the Western Conference with just 11 wins. General Manager Bil La Forge wasted no time and as the new year was being rung in and changed the look, feel, and future of his roster.
La Forge swung a number of trades, including moving leading scorer Zack Andrusiak to Everett. Goalie Liam Hughes was sent to Lethbridge while the listed Ross was signed. Seattle also made a deal with the Medicine Hat Tigers to bring Rybinski in. The next day, Reece Harsch was sent to Saskatoon.
At first glance, the moves appeared to be what you usually see from a team in last place. This certainly was La Forge and the Thunderbirds waiving the white flag on the season, throwing in the towel in favor of future prospects.
“I don’t even own a white towel,” La Forge said the morning of the trades. “That’s how I look at it… It’s not a give up, it’s a reset.”
Seattle ran off 20 wins in the second half to be one of the hottest clubs in the WHL and got into the post season. Not only did the team become competitive again, but they stocked up on promising players. Rybinski became a top six forward, Ross solidified the Seattle net and the Thunderbirds added draft picks and younger prospects.
It was a reset.
It was just a week after the major shake up of the Thunderbirds roster when they found themselves at the Art Houser Centre for a game with the CHL’s top ranked Prince Albert Raiders. Surely, this was going to be a loss for the new look Thunderbirds.
Prince Albert had only lost twice at home all year – and just four times overall – and were the top scoring team in the WHL.
Seattle didn’t stick to the script.
Jaxan Kaluski, playing in front of 50 friends and family, scored the first hat trick of his career while Ross stopped 32 shots in just his second WHL start as the Thunderbirds earned a 4-1 win.
The Thunderbirds limited Prince Albert to mostly outside shots and killed off a tough five-on-three Raiders power-play chance in the first period. Seattle hit Prince Albert, playing a heavy game, and it had a resounding affect on the rest of the season.
As the Thunderbirds scorched their way to the postseason, players and coaches alike pointed to this game as the night they put it all together. It was a new roster playing with a new attitude and it got results.
O’Dette sensed the importance of the win right away.
“You kind of circle key moments of the season that can be turning points and this can definitely be one for us,” he said. “I think the moves that we made have energized us, some fresh energy in the room and guys have bonded together quickly. We hope to use this momentum moving forward.”
The Thunderbirds did, indeed, use that momentum.