Down 2-0, Thunderbirds need some bounces to start going their way
After the first two games of the WHL Championship, the Thunderbirds are exactly where they don’t want to be.
It’s been a thrilling series so far to say the least. Two games, two overtimes and two 3-2 final scores. Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds, it’s been the Brandon Wheat Kings that have put the “3” up on the scoreboard in Games 1 and 2.
The Thunderbirds are in no way out of the series, and a couple of shots either way could have things looking very differently. But as it stands, Seattle now has to find a way to come together after facing the most adversity it has seen in three months.
Half of the Wheat Kings’ six goals so far have been the kind that leave you shaking your head, and it’s been those goals that leave us where we are now.
In Game 1, Brandon’s Tanner Kaspick batted a puck that had rebounded off the end glass out of the air and into the net behind Seattle goaltender Landon Bow, who has been spectacular in both games so far.
On average, a hockey stick is just over an inch wide. A hockey puck’s diameter is three inches. That leaves a lot of room for error, especially when that puck is rotating like a curveball.
If Kaspick fans on that puck, which we see players do so often, we might still be trying to determine Game 1’s winner. One must give credit to the 6-foot-1 inch wing whose hand-eye coordination, with the help of perhaps more than a bit of luck, had the Wheaties up 1-0 in the series.
After such a heartbreaking loss, Game 2 was sure to have the Seattle bench inspired. And they were, playing a far more complete game than we saw in the championship’s initial contest.
But like Game 1, the bounces just seemed to be going Brandon’s way.
With 5:22 remaining in the third, and Seattle again up by one goal, a clearing attempt somehow bounced off of Tyler Coulter and into the Seattle net.
T-Birds defenseman Ethan Bear had the puck find its way onto his stick just a few feet in front of Bow and, after a long shift, was just trying to get the puck out of the defensive zone. Coulter, who was forechecking hard, did what he could to get in front of the puck and, in the blink of an eye, tied the game.
Then, in overtime, it was the Wheat Kings’ Jayce Hawryluk who was smiled upon by the hockey gods. Just under seven minutes into the extra period, he chased a puck into the corner to Bow’s left. With three T-Birds converging on him, his only move was to send the puck to the front of the net and hope for the best. The best was exactly what he got, as the puck bounced off of what appeared to be Bow’s right skate and slid across the goal line, sending the series to Seattle with Hawryluk’s Wheat Kings up 2-0.
Perhaps the least lucky bounce for Seattle so far is the one that doesn’t show on the scoresheet.
With seven-and-a-half minutes remaining in the second period the score was still even at one and Seattle had just killed a Turner Ottenbreit interference penalty. Ottenbreit skated from the penalty box back to his bench and Seattle traded their penalty killers for their top line. Seattle’s Keegan Kolesar carried the puck up the left wing before centering a pass from the corner to Mathew Barzal. The puck bounced on Barzal, but he was able to control it to Brandon goaltender Jordan Papirny’s right. Papirny had come out of his net to try and jump on the loose puck when Barzal settled it down and passed to Ryan Gropp in front. Gropp, with Papirny down and three Wheat Kings defenders converging, wasn’t able to get his shot through, but the puck sat loose in the crease. Papirny just barely got his stick on top of the puck before Kolesar, who had re-inserted himself into the play, tapped it into the back of the net.
Seattle sticks went in the air to celebrate, but not before the referee waved his arms to indicate “no goal,” as the whistle had already been blown while the puck was still loose. Watch the replay and it’s clear the whistle had sounded before the puck went in, but at no point was it covered. The explanation was that the referee lost sight of the puck and the play was not reviewable.
“Luck” is a tough term to apply in hockey. You often create your own luck by being in the right place at the right time, as Kaspick and Coulter both were. And even when good fortune isn’t on your side during these isolated incidents that last a few seconds each, there’s about 59 minutes and 56 seconds of hockey that aren’t necessarily influenced by karma.
In this context, it doesn’t feel so much like Brandon is lucky to be up 2-0 as much as Seattle is unlucky to be down. The Wheat Kings have played well and, at times, it’s taken everything in Seattle’s arsenal, and an unreal Bow, to keep Brandon from blowing the game open. But Seattle has also had enough chances in two relatively evenly matched games where one bounce could have changed everything.
Over the course of a season, you forget unlucky situations such as these. They happen to everyone and things usually even out over time. But in a seven-game series, especially for the league championship, those tough breaks are magnified a hundred times.
It’s a situation where Seattle could easily have split the series on the road and been in a comfortable place headed back home, if not taken each of the first two games.
Instead, they’ll hope their fate changes Tuesday night in front of an anxious ShoWare Center crowd in Kent.