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Jackson Berry ready to take over Thunderbirds net for remainder of season

Seattle goalie Jackson Berry will be the Thunderbirds top guy for rest of season. (Brian Liesse)

KENT — Jackson Berry took over as the Seattle Thunderbirds number one goalie Tuesday night and didn’t blink an eye. With Thomas Milic off at the U18 Championships, Seattle has turned to the 18-year-old Berry and he responded by making 32 saves to backstop the Thunderbirds in a 4-2 win against the Tri-City Americans.

It wasn’t his first start for Seattle, nor was it his first win, but it was night number one with him in the top goaltender spot.

“He was really good,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Several key saves, some Grade A chances that he turned away. Not ideal defensively, some plays tonight, but heck of a job by Jackson to turn those aside and keep his head in the game.”

Berry’s head was in the game and those early saves kept Seattle in the game.

The Thunderbirds defense was leaky in the first period and leaned on Berry who made 13 stops in the first 20 minutes. As O’Dette mentioned, many of those saves were of the high danger variety.

He stopped a Tri-City chance that turned into a two-on-none down low. Later he stoned Tri-City’s Samuel Huo who had sprung free while short-handed and followed that up with a couple of saves made on Colorado Avalanche prospect Sasha Mutala from the slot.

“It brings you confidence and lets the guys know they’ve got someone behind them,” Berry said of the early saves. “It gives them confidence. You don’t want too many of those but it’s a good opportunity to make some saves.”

The players in front of Berry have played with him since the start of the season. He’s been in practice and has three starts.

He’s won two of those starts while posting a .911 save percentage with a goals-against of 2.67. Milic won’t be returning this season and Tuesday night should give the team confidence as Berry takes over.

“I think the guys had a lot of confidence, to begin with,” O’Dette said. “He’s been really good in practice, his first start was great for us, so it’s not surprising for the guys. The performance tonight solidified the confidence the players and coaches have in him.”

Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, Berry’s WHL experience was limited.

He appeared in five games with the Moose Jaw Warriors last year while splitting time with the Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

When Blake Lyda decided not to return to the Thunderbirds, a goalie was needed, and Seattle brought Berry on board. So far, it’s been a great match.

“It’s been the best junior experience of my career so far,” Berry said. “I’ve never felt comfortable or that I had a home somewhere else until I finally came here and started to put some performances together The group here has been unbelievable and we’re growing together. It’s so inclusive, it’s been unbelievable, and I hope I’m here for a long time.”

Berry is an active, athletic, and entertaining goalie.

He’s noticeably chatty on the ice, talking with his teammates, the officials, and the opposing skaters. It turns out that, like most goalies, he has some endearing quirks.

“I’ve always been like that,” he said. “It keeps me in the game. Just some lighthearted chats with the refs, we chat about saves and plays. It’s good to get those mental breaks. As for other players, I’ve always studied verbal warfare. Everybody knows that when you’re in somebody’s head they can’t score on you.”

Whether it’s verbal warfare or just plain old good goaltending, Berry appears set to carry the Thunderbirds goaltending duties forward through the second half of the season.

Nico Myatovic with a debut for the ages

The tradition in hockey is to give a rookie making his debut a solo lap at the start of warmups. Seattle rookie Nico Myatovic made his debut, and solo lap, Tuesday night and it turns out he was just getting started.

Seattle’s sixth-round pick in the 2019 Draft was brought to Seattle from his home in Prince George a week ago as a fill-in for the injured Matt Rempe. Showing off a great deal of speed he wasted no time making a mark on his first shift.

“Starting off I just wanted to make an impression and not do anything too fancy,” Myatovic said. “The puck just came to me and I was able to bury it.”

That’s right. He scored his first goal on his first shift and shot in the WHL.

He wasn’t cheated either. The goal came after he raced down the ice along the boards and behind the Tri-City defense. He cut in front of the net and scored on the backhand.

Turns out, he wasn’t done.

In the second period, the 16-year-old accepted a pass from Lucas Ciona and flipped a backhanded shot up and in for goal number two. Two shots, two goals.

Tuesday night was also the first organized hockey game he had played since October when his season was shut down. When Seattle called, he was ecstatic to get an opportunity to come and play in the WHL this year and so far is taking advantage of his chance.

The Thunderbirds are ecstatic as well and now the rookie has a couple of pucks to remind him of his great debut.

“Probably going to keep them in my stall as a reminder at how it starts off and all the hard work that got me here,” he said of the game pucks.

Keltie Jeri-Leon streaking

Recording a career-high 23 goals last season, Keltie Jeri-Leon was the definition of a classic streaky goal scorer. He’d go scoreless for a stretch only to explode and look unstoppable for the next run of games.

It happens a lot in hockey with players like Jeri-Leon.

With a goal and an assist during Tuesday’s night win, Jeri-Leon extended a point streak to five games. So, is this an upswing? Maybe not because this year he’s been consistent and his longest streak without a point is just two games.

That’s led to him picking up 13 points in the Thunderbirds first 12 games. The 20-year-old is playing the best hockey of his WHL career.

“I want to contribute every night whether I’m on the scoresheet or not,” he said Tuesday. “Last couple of nights I feel I’ve contributed and also been on the scoresheet. It’s nice.”

Jeri-Leon is a leader in the room and on the ice for Seattle. He works well with the young players while elevating his game at the same time.

Chief among that improvement is scoring on a more consistent manner.

“It’s knowing how to handle the ebb and flow of the season, changing linemates, things like that,” O’Dette said. “He’s not getting too high, or too low. When the pucks not bouncing your way he’s kept the right mindset. I think that’s confidence and maturity.”