Thunderbirds’ second line continues to play big

Apr 5, 2016, 12:41 PM | Updated: Apr 14, 2016, 3:18 pm

Seattle’s Nolan Volcan and his linemates will be in the thick of things against Everett. (T-B...

Seattle's Nolan Volcan and his linemates will be in the thick of things against Everett. (T-Birds photo)

(T-Birds photo)

It was sometime in February when Seattle Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk made what seemed like a minor tweak to his lines.

He moved forwards Donovan Neuls and Nolan Volcan to the wings on a line centered by Scott Eansor. It was a reunion of sorts as the three had played together last season and were one of the better shut-down lines in the league.

Back together again, the line picked right up where it left off a season ago.

They play a tough, fast, 200-foot game, making life miserable for opposing players and not giving them much room on the ice. They’ve been shutting people down, but now they’re also putting the puck in the net themselves.

Seattle’s top line, headlined by star Mathew Barzal, still drives the team’s offensive motor, but the Eansor line has become just as valuable over the past month.

“They all three play a complete hockey game; they’re tenacious and compete,” Konowalchuk said of the line. “Simple, give-and-go, strong on pucks, they win puck battles and create with second or third efforts.”

In Seattle’s first-round sweep of Prince George, the Eansor line did a great job shutting down the Cougars’ top scoring line led by Chase Witala. They went beyond just shutting them down, however – they scored themselves.

The three combined to score five goals to go with eight points and were plus-7 in the four game series. Clearly, more than just a shut down line.

“Obviously in playoffs we want to contribute offensively but also be solid in our own zone,” Volcan said about his line’s philosophy. “I think we’re doing that so far. The best way to shut down a line is puck possession and playing in their end.”

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect about the line’s performance is that they hadn’t played together all year. The team deployed a number of different combinations during the season and the three moved up and down the lineup before the eventual reunion.

And once they were back together, that chemistry kicked in and they picked up right where they left off last season.

The three players come from different backgrounds yet mesh together. Volcan hails from Edmonton, Eansor from Colorado and Neuls from Grenfell, Saskatchewan. Big city or small, the chemistry is there.

“All three of us take pride in our work ethic and it makes it easy,” Eansor said. “They’re always in the right spot and they’re two great players. It’s easy to play with great players.”

The uptick in scoring has not diminished how tough these three players are. Neuls is the tallest of them at 5 foot 10 and none of the three are over 200 pounds.

The lack of size doesn’t stop them from being one of the grittiest and hardest lines to play against in the league. They’re not afraid to throw a check or take a hit to make a play. They often resemble pin balls on the ice as they hurl themselves relentlessly after the puck.

So who’s the grittiest of the three? The consensus seems to say it’s Volcan.

“He’s heavy, a heavy guy,” Neuls said about his teammate with a smile. “He’s a stocky stature and likes to throw the body around.”

Tremendous speed is another attribute the three possess as a unit, although all three guys agree that Eansor is the fastest among them.

That speed helps them excel at creating havoc on the forecheck as well, often flustering the opposing defenseman trying to move the puck. That results in turnovers and extra possessions for the T-Birds. It also creates energy that can spread through the rest of the team.

“They’re an energy line and a puck possession line,” Konowalchuk says. “If the other team’s trying to get momentum you can throw them out there and usually they’re doing things right and putting pucks in the right areas and get the momentum for you.”

As Seattle continues to prepare for its second round playoff series against Everett, the Eansor line will play a key role. You can expect them to spend a lot of time matched up against the Silvertips top line made up of Dawson Leedahl, Remi Laurencelle and Carson Stadnyk.

The three are well aware of the task ahead of them and look forward to the challenge.

“It’s going to be a really great matchup,” Eansor says. “We expected to see them in the playoffs and they’re a great team, play really well defensively, and we have to match that. It should be a lot of fun.”

For Game 1, the line might start split up as Keegan Kolesar will be out serving a suspension. In the last game against Prince George, Eansor moved up to the top line in his place. While the game on Friday may start that way, don’t be surprised if Eansor is with his normal running mates during key points of the game to take on Everett’s top scorers.

Moving through what should be a low-scoring affair, the Volcan-Eansor-Neuls line will be a factor for the T-Birds. If they can contain Laurencelle and mates, or whoever they’re on the ice against, while chipping in offensively themselves, the T-Birds stand a good shot at advancing.

Game 1 of the second-round series with Everett begins Friday evening at the ShoWare Center. Faceoff is at 7:30 p.m.

Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.


Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge has some moves to make this offseason. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds photo)...

Andy Eide

Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge dishes on the upcoming offseason

Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge will make some moves this summer to improve his club. Will they be big ones?

2 years ago

Seattle’s Keltie Jeri-Leon celebrates his final WHL goal Sunday against Spokane. (Brian Liess...

Andy Eide

Thunderbirds end strange and hard season on a high note with dominating win over Spokane

The Seattle Thunderbirds dealt with a lot of adversity this season but end on a high note.

2 years ago

Keltie Jeri-Leon plays his final WHL game for the Thunderbirds Sunday night. (Brian Liesse)...

Andy Eide

Keltie Jeri-Leon set to play his final WHL game as Thunderbirds face Spokane Sunday

After five seasons, Seattle's lone over-aged player, Keltie Jeri-Leon will play his final junior game Sunday night.

2 years ago

Seattle rookie Scott Ratzlaff won his first WHL game in his first start. (Judy Simpson/TC Americans...

Andy Eide

Scott Ratzlaff earns first WHL win as Thunderbirds beat Tri-City

Behind a rookie goalie, the Thunderbirds kicked off the season's final weekend with a 5-2 win in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans.

2 years ago

The Seattle Thunderbirds celebrate after snapping a six-game losing streak Sunday night. (Brian Lie...

Andy Eide

Thunderbirds enjoy winning again after snapping six-game losing streak

The Seattle Thunderbirds have been scuffling but battled against a good Portland Winterhawks club to snap a six-game losing streak.

2 years ago

Thunderbirds forward Reid Schaefer fights for position Sunday in Portland. (Megan Connelly/Winterha...

Andy Eide

Dealing with adversity, young Thunderbirds drop pair of games in Portland

Injuries and penalties have thrown a ton of adversity at the young Thunderbirds which showed up in a pair of losses at Portland this weekend.

2 years ago

Thunderbirds’ second line continues to play big