Scott Ratzlaff earns first WHL win as Thunderbirds beat Tri-City
During the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft, Seattle Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge traded veteran goalie Roddy Ross to the Regina Pats for a second-round pick. He used that pick to select another goalie in Scott Ratzlaff whom La Forge described as the ‘goalie of the future.
Seattle got a peek at that future Friday night in Kennewick as Ratzlaff made his first WHL start and backstopped the Thunderbirds to a 5-2 win over the Tri-City Americans. Ratzlaff saw 20 shots, stopping 18 of them, to earn his first league victory.
“It feels amazing, I’m so happy,” the recently turned 16-year-old said.
The fact that Ratzlaff is with the Thunderbirds at all is remarkable in its own right but another reminder of how unique this Covid season of hockey has been.
Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t be in the mix to play for Seattle until the following season but with starter Thomas Milic off at the U18 Championships – where the Thunderbirds goalie won a gold medal – Seattle needed a backup for Jackson Berry.
Ratzlaff joined the team but wouldn’t play until he came in for some relief work during the third period last Saturday in Spokane. The Thunderbirds are playing a three-in-three weekend to wrap up the season and Berry needed rest which thrust Ratzlaff into the net Friday.
It’s a moment that he didn’t see just a few months ago.
“I’m so lucky to be here right now,” he said. “I didn’t think in the summer I was going to get a chance. I’m super fortunate to be here. It’s been amazing, it’s so surreal and, I didn’t think I’d be with the Thunderbirds playing with this great group of guys. I’ve learned a lot, I can’t thank them enough.”
Things could have gone the other way for Ratzlaff and the Thunderbirds Friday.
Despite Seattle heavily outshooting the Americans, Tri-City would strike for two goals against the flow of play to take a 2-0 in the second period.
With the way the game flow was going, Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette didn’t have to change the game plan.
“Obviously you don’t want to give up those two goals to fall behind, but we felt we were doing a lot of good things,” O’Dette said. “It was really a case of just sticking to our game plan. We got that first one and started to roll and really took over the game.”
The first one came from Jared Davidson who scored his eighth of the year from in close. Less than two minutes later Henrik Rybinski tied the game at 2-2 when he pounced on a rebound and popped it in the net. It would be Rybinksi again shortly after that who would put Seattle up for good when he raced up ice for a short-handed breakaway. He slid the puck past Tri-City goalie Mason Dunsford for his second of the night and eighth point in the last three games.
In just under four minutes of play, Seattle had erased the two-goal deficit.
“I knew that we’d get one,” Ratzlaff said. “We had tons of shots on net and I knew it was just a matter of time that we’d get one and it would landslide into more.”
After two periods the Thunderbirds had outshot Tri-City 28-11 on their way to a 45-20 advantage for the game.
As solid as Ratzlaff was, he got help. The Americans’ two goals came off the rush as the Thunderbirds’ defense kept Tri-City from having much of a sustained presence in the Seattle zone.
“It takes all five, defensemen and forwards, who really cleaned up our zone,” O’Dette said of the defensive effort. “We were mindful that we had the young kid in net, and he played well.”
Holding onto a one-goal lead heading into the third period, anything was certain.
Seattle has led in a similar fashion this season only to have one mistake cost them. That wouldn’t be the case Friday as Seattle kept the pressure on with 17 shots in the third period. In their own end, Ratzlaff made nine saves over the final 20 minutes to wrap up his first win.
“He played with a lot of poise and confidence,” O’Dette added of Ratzlaff. “He didn’t look like a 15-year-old and made some big saves in the third period that we needed to keep the score where it was.”
Nico Myatovic would score a late goal to give the Thunderbirds a two-goal cushion and Davidson would seal the win with his second of the night, this one scored on the empty net, to send Seattle home happy.
For Davidson, the goal was his ninth which is a new career-high. Despite the shortened season, he’s already set new marks in goals, assists, and points, all in just 21 games as he’s provided O’Dette and the Thunderbirds with some crucial secondary scoring.
“With (Matthew Rempe) down he’s really stepped up for us,” O’Dette said. “We challenged him and he’s always had that skill and is providing us with that firepower that we need.”
After snapping a six-game losing streak last Sunday, the Thunderbirds have won two of three with their only blemish a shootout loss at Everett Wednesday. They have two more kicks at the can this season, coming Saturday at home against the Silvertips and Sunday when they close out the season against Spokane at the accesso ShoWare Center.
Getting a big win Friday night was a good start to the busy weekend.
“It’s nice to see smiles in the locker room again,” O’Dette said.