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The Doc Blue Cup adds spark to Thunderbirds training camp

The inaugural Doc Blue Cup will be on the line Friday at Thunderbirds training camp. (Brian Liesse)

KENT – Thunderbirds goalie Roddy Ross found himself in the middle of barn burner Thursday morning. His Team White saw their scrimmage lead cut to 3-2, and he was facing a late push from Team Green. With the extra skater on the ice, Ross held tough and earned his squad a win, inducing loud cheers from the Team White bench.

Seattle’s training camp has a different format this year and it’s led to an increase in the competitive atmosphere.

The players were divided into four teams, Blue, White, Green, and Grey, and they’ve been participating in a round-robin style schedule with a championship game set for Friday afternoon. At stake is the Doc Blue Cup.

“We’ve made a big deal, especially with the older guys, that there’s a trophy on the line at the end of this,” Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge said Thursday. “Anytime there’s a trophy, you’ve got to want to win it. They’re definitely pushing.”

Hockey players like winning cups and with something on the line this year, the scrimmages have had an extra edge to them.

La Forge and the coaching staff instituted a no fighting rule in camp this year and the players have abided. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been post-whistle shoving matches, and some chirping, assuredly of the good-natured variety.

Everyone wants to win.

“It adds a little competitive edge,” defenseman Tyrel Bauer said. “We’re all super competitive guys so when there’s something on the line we always want to grab it. It gives us a little more incentive to get going.”

Bauer and Team Grey provided dramatics Thursday. Trailing Team Green 5-2 with 10 minutes on the clock, they stormed back and tied it. Mekai Sanders scored twice, including the equalizer, and 20-year-old Baron Thompson would pot the game-winner with 33 seconds left.

When Thompson scored, the Grey bench erupted in cheer, making one wonder if this really was just a training camp scrimmage.

To keep the teams on even ground, La Forge, head coach Matt O’Dette, and the rest of Seattle’s hockey operations staff tried to assemble teams that would be even in levels of experience. The goal was to offer each of the four teams an equal shot at success.

“I think we’ve done a good job of that,” La Forge said. “We try to keep the older guys against the older guys, but Matt and I never discuss wanting to see this guy and that guy.”

The training camp championship cup is named after Dr. Alfred Blue who has been the Thunderbirds team physician since the franchise’s inception in 1977. Prior to that, he worked with the Seattle Totems in the old, professional Western Hockey League. In 2017, the Thunderbirds honored Blue by naming the team’s medical room the “Dr. Alfred Blue Medical Room”.

Despite blowing a lead, Team Green will face off with Ross and Team White Friday afternoon for the honor of being the first to win the Cup. Team Blue plays Team Grey at 11 a.m. for the camp bronze medal. 

Payton Mount continues to stay hot

Mount heads into the Doc Blue Cup Finals as the hottest player in camp. He was the early camp scoring leader, finding the back of the net six times over the first three days of competition.

“I’m just trying to play my game and show myself as best as I can to the coaches,” the 2017 first-round draft pick said. “Trying to earn a spot in the top six this year.”

The Thunderbirds don’t yet have a definitive answer about who will end up playing in the top-six forward group. Mount is making a strong case for himself.

“He’s a first-shot scorer,” La Forge said. “And you don’t get a lot of those.”

Of Mount’s six goals, several have come on wired wrist shots, with him on the rush, where his speed has put pressure on the defense. He’s also been playing center in camp. Who will play center behind Matthew Wedman is also an unanswered question for Seattle, one that it hopes to answer before the regular season begins.

Mount is giving it a go.

“I guess the coaches want to see me play center,” Mount said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can. I played center as a kid and trying to get back to it.”

Roddy Ross yet to lose or trail

Not only did Ross hold on to win his scrimmage Thursday morning, but he also has yet to lose all camp. The one blemish on his Doc Blue Cup record is a tie, on Wednesday. He’s won twice and has not trailed in a game while picking up two of Team White’s wins and five of its seven points.

The Philadelphia Flyers prospect is in mid-season form.

“Just Roddy being Roddy,” La Forge said. “I think the only thing he’s missing is the music to dance to during the game. He’s been great and his attitude has been unbelievable. He didn’t come back with any draft hangover or thinking he was too big for the situation. He’s been exceptional that way.”

Big day for 2018 Draft Class

The expectations for Seattle’s incoming rookie class continues to grow and after Thursday’s camp, is going to get more intense.

Sanders scored two big goals in Team Grey’s exciting afternoon comeback, and he has shown a great deal of chemistry with fellow rookie Lucas Ciona. The two have played on a line for most of the scrimmages and look like grizzled veterans.

Ciona is the power forward who matches well with Sanders’ speed. It’s a combination that has combined for goals and scoring chances.

Conner Roulette’s goal-scoring barrage has cooled off since his opening scrimmage hat trick, but the winger from Winnipeg continues to be a threat on every shift. He is creative and the puck seems to have a magnetic pull on to his stick.

As the camp has moved forward, 2018 first-round pick Kai Uchacz has grown stronger, nearly shift by shift. He started scoring goals and would tie Mount for the camp lead by the end of the day Thursday.