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T-Birds notebook: Hockey is back, roster updates and an NHL debut

The Seattle Thunderbirds and the U.S. Division are set to start play March 19th. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

The WHL is back. Well, at least the U.S. Division is back.

March 19th the Seattle Thunderbirds will begin play for what will be a 24-game season. All the games will be within the division and unfortunately, no fans will be allowed in the ShoWare Center or any of the division’s arenas.

We know the start date, but we still don’t know a number of other details.

The league has yet to release a schedule as well as other dates like when the players will return or what kind of training camp they’ll be able to have before playing. Seattle’s players are currently spread throughout Western Canada and most likely will have to isolate and quarantine before returning to Kent.

This season will be one for player development and the Thunderbirds will use it to work their younger players into the lineup. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also want to win.

“They’re still keeping score,” Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge said earlier this week. “Our group is young but it’s good. We’re not backing off that. We’ve built around these guys for a reason. This is the year we can say every guy in this group has been selected to be here. We’re proud of the guys we’re putting out there. We’re still going to go out there and try to win every single shift.”

Here is the rest of the latest Thunderbirds news:

Roster updates

Seattle’s roster will look a bit different than it did last season.

Defenseman Owen Williams is not returning to the team for what would have been his 20-year-old season. Along with Williams, goalie Blake Lyda will also not be with the Thunderbirds this year.

The Thunderbirds picked up goalie Jackson Berry to serve as Thomas Milic’s back up. Berry, 18, was a 2017 sixth-round draft pick of the Moose Jaw Warriors and has appeared in five WHL games, all with Moose Jaw.

With Lyda out, Milic will be the number one starter and should get the bulk of the starts this year.

“We think Thomas is our goalie of the future and the future starts now,” La Forge said.

With Williams not returning the Thunderbirds are left with one over-ager in Keltie Jeri-Leon. Since the season is just 24 games with a focus on development, La Forge does not see the team signing another 20-year-old.

“We’re really comfortable with the group we have,” La Forge said. “Keltie is an exceptional human being, so is Owen Williams for that matter, and having him around our young group makes a lot of sense to us. We think we have a group of great young people and really good hockey players. We’re going to be competitive every night and be a good team but we’re going to work to get better every day.”

Former T-Bird Austin Strand makes NHL debut

After two seasons in the minor leagues, former Thunderbirds defenseman Austin Strand made his NHL debut with the Los Angeles Kings last week.

Strand came to Seattle in a trade with the Red Deer Rebels during their WHL Championship season. He found his offensive game with the Thunderbirds, scoring eight goals in 36 games before finishing his WHL career with a 25-goal, 64-point season as a 20-year-old in 2017-2018.

That attracted the Kings who would sign a free agent deal with Strand in 2017. After splitting his first two professional seasons between the Kings’ ECHL and AHL affiliates he got the call up on February 2nd. He’s played three games with Los Angeles so far but has yet to register a point.

With the call up he joins Mathew Barzal, Ethan Bear, Alexander True, and Keegan Kolesar as members of Seattle’s championship team to play in the NHL.