Top 10 moments from the 2015-16 Thunderbirds season: 6-10

May 27, 2016, 12:12 PM

Seattle advanced to the WHL finals for the first time since 1997. (T-Birds)...

Seattle advanced to the WHL finals for the first time since 1997. (T-Birds)


It’s been a couple of weeks since the Thunderbirds lost the WHL Championship to the Brandon Wheat Kings.

While that loss stung, enough time has now passed to recognize that the season the T-Birds just finished was a great one that was full of many memorable moments. They won the U.S. Division for the first time since 2004 and then blasted their way through the Western Conference to make the finals for the first time since 1997.

There were ups and downs as there are in every season, but this past campaign will go down as one of the most memorable in the history of the franchise. As summer approaches, let’s relive the top 10 moments from the 2015-16 Season. Here are moments 10-6:

10. March 1, Double Hatties

It was early on in the T-Birds’ second-half hot streak when the Tri-City Americans visited the ShoWare Center for a Tuesday night game. Seattle had won eight of the nine games leading into the matchup and was starting to put pressure on Everett for the division title.

The T-Birds held a tight 3-2 lead after two periods but exploded for four goals in the final frame to rout the Americans 7-2. The goal-scoring barrage was highlighted by both Mathew Barzal and Ryan Gropp picking up hat tricks.

For Barzal, it capped off a week that saw him score seven times in four games and his third goal that night was a spectacular between-the-legs put-back. He also added two assists for a big five-point evening. Gropp then scored his third of the night a little later in the period. The ShoWare Center fans had already thrown hats on the ice for Barzal’s hat trick, which left Gropp to quip afterwards, “He took all the hats.”

9. Oct. 4, Comeback in Kennewick

It was the third game of the season on a Sunday afternoon in Tri-City. The T-Birds had won their home opener the night before but were not ready for game-time on Sunday.

The Americans came out firing and built a 5-0 lead early in the second period. Seattle pulled starting goalie Taz Burman for Logan Flodell for what looked like mop-up duty. Instead, the T-Birds clawed their way back.

Alexander True banged home a rebound to get the T-Birds on the board. That goal was followed quickly by a score from Kaden Elder, who had sped past a Tri-City defender. Import Gustav Olhaver then scored to make it 5-3 as things were getting a bit interesting. While short-handed, True scored on a breakaway to pull the T-Birds within one goal heading into the third period.

Seattle wasted no time tying it up in the third on a Keegan Kolsear goal from the slot. The game went into overtime and the Americans got the game-winner, but the T-Birds picked up a big point.

After the game, head coach Steve Konowalchuk said, “We just needed to take it one shift at a time,” in describing the comeback. That was the same sentiment he would preach in the second half of the season as the team became the hottest in the league.

8. Oct. 27, Shredding the Wheaties

In what turned out to be a preview of the WHL Championship Series, the Brandon Wheat Kings made their only regular-season appearance at the ShoWare Center. Both teams had started the season hot and the game was touted as a good early-season test.

Seattle blew the game open in the second period with three goals by Kolesar, Gropp and Ethan Bear. Kolesar went on to score two goals – one in the empty net – in the third period to pick up a hat trick against his hometown team. Barzal had a big night with a career-high five assists.

Just before Kolesar’s hat trick goal, Barzal had missed the empty net himself, but after the game he was glad to miss it to allow his teammate to get the hat trick. “I’ll take five assists and ‘Keegs can have the hat trick because he got the empty net later. It’s all good, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

The game was also memorable because Seattle lost two key players in the win. Jamal Watson went down early in the game with an injured knee and Scott Eansor left late with an injury. Both would miss a string of games which the T-Birds would struggle through.

7. Nov. 13 and 14, Sweep in Victoria

The T-Birds had just completed a brutal Eastern swing that saw them blow leads and play flat for most of the trip. They then had to travel to Victoria for a pair of games against a Royals team that ended up with the league’s best regular-season record.

Seattle had no trouble with Victoria, however, and swept the weekend games to right the ship and get back to playing good hockey.

In the first game, the T-Birds overcame a 2-0 deficit in the third period with four big goals. Kolesar, Gropp, Nolan Volcan and True all scored as the T-Birds held Victoria to only two shots in the final 20 minutes.

The next night, the teams played a penalty-filled game that saw them combine for 15 power-play chances. Seattle’s penalty kill only allowed one goal as the T-Birds won 3-1. Barzal scored a goal as did Nick Holowko in the win.

The win sparked Seattle into winning the next five in a row for an eight-game win streak. After the tough road trip, it was a nice bounce-back. Again, this was an early sign of the resiliency that the T-Birds would show throughout the second half of the season.

6. Jan. 6, Hello Bow

Despite losing their U.S. Division lead just after Christmas, the T-Birds were buyers at the trade deadline. They made several moves and picked up the likes of Cavin Leth and Bryan Allbee in separate moves. But the big fish came when they acquired goalie Landon Bow from the Swift Current Broncos for goalie Taz Burman and over-age forward Jamal Watson.

Bow came in sporting mediocre numbers playing behind a defensively challenged Broncos squad. But if you had seen him play, you knew that the 20-year-old from St. Albert, Alberta had talent.

He wasted no time showing T-Birds fans what they could expect when he made 24 saves in a 3-1 home win against the Portland Winterhawks just a couple of days after the trade. He went on to give Seattle top end goaltending the rest of the way. With the T-Birds, Bow was 16-6 with a goals-against of 1.76 and a .938 save percentage. He also recorded five shutouts in his 23 games with Seattle to close out the regular season.

In the playoffs, he was even better. Bow played every game of the postseason for the T-Birds as he was 13-5 as they made their way into the finals.


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Top 10 moments from the 2015-16 Thunderbirds season: 6-10