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Thunderbirds enjoy winning again after snapping six-game losing streak

The Seattle Thunderbirds celebrate after snapping a six-game losing streak Sunday night. (Brian Liesse)

SEATTLE – With the accesso ShoWare Center clock winding down to under two minutes left in the third period Sunday evening, Thunderbirds center Jared Davidson found the puck at his feet. A Portland Winterhawks player had fallen, leaving it for Davidson to pounce on. Once he had it, he sped down the boards and wired a wrist shot past Portland goalie Dante Giannuzzi for Davidson’s seventh goal of the season.

The goal put Seattle ahead 5-4 and snapped the Thunderbirds’ frustrating six-game losing streak.

“It’s massive, massive for morale,” Thunderbirds captain Tyrel Bauer said.

That sentiment was obvious after the final horn sounded and the Seattle bench emptied in a hurry to mob goalie Jackson Berry in front of his net.

Things have been rough on Seattle.

Dealing with a ton of adversity, the Thunderbirds have been navigating key players out of the lineup due to injury — such as Matthew Rempe and Payton Mount — or playing in international tournaments — as Conner Roulette and Thomas Milic have done. The missing players forced the youngest team in the WHL to get even younger.

The losses piled up but not for a lack of effort. The Thunderbirds have been in most games, sometimes outplaying the opponent, only to have a mistake or two sink them. Saturday night, they were blown out in Spokane 8-3, the first time all year they lost in such a fashion.

“(Spokane) was the first time we felt a little sag in our team,” head coach Matt O’Dette said. “It was something that we addressed after the game last night and this morning through some video. We challenged our guys to respond and getting back to the T-Bird identity. It took every single guy to get that win.”

Every player in the lineup contributed. That includes a game-opening goal from defenseman Ryan Gottfried, a goal from Cade McNelly, a big three-assist night from Henrik Rybinski, and a big game-tying goal from Keltie Jeri-Leon.

Seattle had every reason to let this one slip away. Twice the Thunderbirds watched as Portland erased a lead. They had to kill off two lengthy five-on-three power plays.

The latter of those chances came late in the third period with the game tied at 4-4.

Going against one of the hottest power-play units in the WHL, one that is loaded with speed and talented NHL prospects, it felt like this would be the moment that a valiant Seattle effort would again come up short.

Bauer and Gottfried were parked in front of the Seattle net. They blocked shots, they cleared away pucks, and they persevered. The Thunderbirds killed off the penalties allowing for Davidson’s heroics.

“We put it all on the line today,” Bauer said. “A big block on Gottfried, I got a piece of another one. Just guys selling out, willing to eat one-timers from the point against a pretty dangerous power-play unit. It shows the character we have in this room.”

For the first time in six games, they were able to fight through all that to get a much-needed win.

“It feels good, it’s been a rough little stretch for us,” O’Dette said. “Our kids have worked extremely hard so it’s nice to see them having some fun in the locker room.”

Seattle’s roster is loaded with youth and inexperience. The talent is there and while the Thunderbirds were prepared at season’s start to go with that youth, they couldn’t have foreseen the injuries making the go tougher than anticipated.

These young players were all successful in their minor youth hockey careers prior to the WHL. Most didn’t lose six games in a season and losing that many in a row is a new experience. It would be easy for them to hang their heads and give up with just four games left in the season.

Turns out, that’s not the makeup of the team and its players.

“We’ve got a lot of heart in this room and we showed that in the third,” Bauer said. “That’s a good glimpse of what we’ve got and what we’ve got coming in the future. A lot of emotions let out, a lot of relief. We’re fired up with that one.”

Seattle has four games left on its shortened season and ending with a long losing streak would have put a damper on what has been a promising season.

The win Sunday will go a long way to letting the Thunderbirds’ young players get back to enjoying hockey and send them home excited for the future to come.

“It’s going to give us a boost over the next four games,” O’Dette said. “That’s part of the development process, playing competitive hockey and being in tight, rivalry games. Guys enjoying the winning feeling with a big win against a rival. Seeing our guys smiling and enjoying it in the room, guys are going to want to keep that feeling.”

Seattle will next be in action Wednesday night as they travel to play the Everett Silvertips at the Angel of the Winds Arena.