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Turnovers, penalties cost Thunderbirds bid for week’s sweep against Silvertips

Conner Roulette and the Seattle Thunderbirds came up short Friday night in Everett. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds photo)

EVERETT – At 49 seconds into the third period Friday night at the Angel of the Winds Arena, Everett Silvertips center Jacob Wright had a step on the Seattle Thunderbirds defense. He leveraged that step into the perfect shot that Seattle goalie Thomas Milic couldn’t stop.

The goal jumped Everett to a 2-1 lead and set up a late-game empty-net score that gave the Silvertips a 3-1 win and a split of the week’s two-game series between the Puget Sound rivals.

Wright’s rush up ice came seconds after the Silvertips net was knocked off its moorings when Seattle’s Reid Schaeffer was fighting for position with an Everett defender. Usually, cause for a whistle, none came, and Everett cashed in 200 feet later.

“I’ll have to dig the rule book up on that,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “The net clearly off when a guy clearly knocks our guy into the net. I’ve never seen that before; I’ll have to look that up… Apparently, you can let (the play) go. I wasn’t quite sure on the explanation but apparently, you can let it go if they have control of the puck.”

The exchange capped off a frustrating stretch for the Thunderbirds as they had to kill off five consecutive penalties beginning late in the first period and ending at the start of the third.

Thunderbird penalty killers held up for most of it but did allow Everett’s Gianni Fairbrother to tie the game at 1-1. Otherwise, Seattle was strong on the kill. With five power-play chances during the period, the Silvertips only managed eight shots on goal.

It was the volume of power plays that was the issue, and not only did it lead to the score being tied but it threw off Seattle’s flow. Lines had to be juggled, and Seattle couldn’t get any push going until later in the third period.

“Too many opportunities,” O’Dette said of the penalty kill. “I think it was five. The recipe for us in our wins has been three or less. Those were ticky-tack penalties, give me a break. The refs were intimidated by their coach and that was a factor. Note to self.”

Everett would end the evening 1-for-5 on the power play while the Thunderbirds scored a first-period power-play goal thanks to Payton Mount pinching in from the point for his second of the season. Seattle was 1-for-2.

The penalties in the second period were a factor but the Thunderbirds were not able to duplicate the game plan they executed during Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Everett at the accesso ShoWare Center. In that game, they skated with the Silvertips, outshot them, and spent more time in the Everett end.

Friday, Seattle struggled with puck management early and then was in the box for half of the second period.

“It wasn’t good enough,” O’Dette said. “On the road, you’ve got to be smart at the line with the puck. We didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to do what we did Wednesday night..we weren’t transitioning quick enough or going north quick enough… the things that brought us success Wednesday were not there tonight. The penalties and not being there as much as we needed to be in the first 40.”

It was a valuable lesson for the Thunderbirds, who remain the youngest team in the WHL.

Two games against Everett, a veteran team that is well-coached, has firepower up front, a solid defensive game, and the league’s top goalie in Dustin Wolf provides a tough challenge. Seattle passed the first exam on Wednesday night and came close Friday.

Despite not executing the game plan, Seattle was in the game Friday night and had a chance to win it. They wanted to sweep the week and were disappointed that they did not. That’s the attitude you want from players and coaches after a tough loss.

From the outside, we can judge it differently.

In a year where the standings are a secondary thought, the week was a success and another big step forward for the young players who are logging invaluable ice time during this shortened, development season.

“They’re a great team and these are playoff-type games,” O’Dette said after Wednesday’s win. “Tight checking, every play matters, and you don’t know what play is going to be the difference in the game and that’s what it’s like in the playoffs. Great experience for our guys. We have guys like (Gabe) Ludwig and (Jordan) Gustafson playing against (Gage) Goncalves and (Cole) Fonstad so it’s a great lesson for our guys.”

News and Nuggets

• Milic was sharp again Friday. He allowed two goals while making 25 saves. Wednesday he got the win against Everett by stopping 32 Silvertips bids. The rookie has raised his save percentage to .923 on the season which is fourth in the WHL among goalies who have played five games.

“He was good,” O’Dette said Friday. “When you’re on the road and against a good team there are moments that he’s called upon to make huge saves and he did that all night. He gave us the chance to be in striking distance.”

• After picking up an assist on Mount’s power-play goal, Connor Roulette has points in five straight games. He was blanked in Seattle’s first two games of the season but is starting to heat up.

“He’s dangerous,” O’Dette said. “He’s got a bigger gas tank over the last couple of weeks. He had some restrictions in Manitoba and was behind the 8-ball to start but he’s worked hard to get up to speed and get more gas in the tank. His play has come up and that’s the Roulette that we know and love.”

• The Thunderbirds will enjoy both Milic and Roulette for a couple of more weeks and then will be without them for the remainder of the season. Both players have been selected to play for Team Canada at the upcoming U18 World Championships in Texas which is a major tournament for NHL Draft hopefuls. Both players will leave Seattle on April 11th to quarantine prior to the tournament that runs from April 26th through May 6th. They are not expected to return to the Thunderbirds this season.