Notebook: T-Birds are a gateway to pros for more than just players

Jul 29, 2016, 6:11 PM

It's not just the players in the WHL who have pro aspirations. The off-ice staff does, as well. (T-...

It's not just the players in the WHL who have pro aspirations. The off-ice staff does, as well. (T-Birds photo)

(T-Birds photo)

The Western Hockey League prides itself as being one of the top developmental leagues in North America. The vast majority of the league’s coverage and spotlight is on the players who are striving to earn a pro contract somewhere. It’s not just the players who have pro aspirations, however.

Over the last few seasons the Seattle Thunderbirds have sent several off ice staff into pro hockey.

The team announced earlier this week that it had hired Brent Seidel as its new hockey operations assistant. Seidel replaces Brady Morgan, who earlier this month was hired by the Phoenix Coyotes’ new AHL affiliate in Tucson. Morgan only spent one year with the Thunderbirds after taking over for Hunter Cherni, who moved onto the Boston Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence.

“The whole league – our referees, our coaches, our trainers and guys like our hockey opps – are all trying to advance and move on,” T-Birds general manager Russ Farwell said. “Everyone would ideally like to get to the NHL at some point. Coincidentally for us it’s been a lot of turnover in this position lately.”

The T-Birds have also seen former head scout Colin Alexander move on to the NHL to join the scouting staff with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and prior to last season equipment manager Benny Calkins left the team to join the Anaheim Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego.

Farwell said having that many guys move up to the pro ranks isn’t necessarily because the T-Birds are doing something special, yet they do offer experience in the kind of work that every team, at every level of hockey, is looking for.

The hockey operations assistant, for example, travels with the team for every road game and sets up any hotel arrangements needed as well as handling league correspondence and registration. The assistant is also busy on game days with video and will head down to the dressing room between periods so that head coach Steve Konowalchuk and his staff can review video and make adjustments. The same goes for a post-game film review.

Farwell said that the position also gets involved with scouting at the end of the year, joining the team’s scouts at year-end tournaments, and working with the team on the Bantam Draft each spring.

“You get to see all aspects of all of it,” Farwell said of the team’s Hockey Operations position. “So it’s a pretty good job for someone looking to get into (hockey).”

Morgan spent a year with the T-Birds, coming to Seattle after playing hockey at Arizona State University and interning with the Coyotes. Farwell said the combination of Morgan knowing people in the organization as well as his work with the T-Birds made him an attractive candidate for his new role in Tucson.

He added that Morgan didn’t get to experience all that the WHL has to offer, however.

“It’s odd a guy can say he worked in the WHL but never got to Saskatchewan,” Farwell quipped.

Down to two over-agers

Seattle forward Josh Uhrich announced on his Instagram account that he will not return to the Thunderbirds or the WHL in what would have been his last season. The 20-year-old forward played in 39 games for Seattle after being acquired from the Saskatoon Blades in a mid-season trade. He potted two goals on four points and added three more tallies during Seattle’s playoff run.

His biggest goal came in Game 4 of Seattle’s second-round playoff matchup with the Everett Silvertips. Crashing the net, a rebound went off his shin pad and in the net, which caused a long and somewhat controversial replay review. After two looks at it by the officials it was ruled a good goal, giving Seattle a lead in a game they would win 2-1.

His departure leaves Seattle with an open over-aged spot as Scott Eansor and Cavin Leth are the only remaining 20-year-olds left. This is the time of the year that you normally see over-aged players moved from teams that have too many, but the market is somewhat thin so it will be interesting to see what Farwell and the T-Birds decide to do.

T-Birds at NHL camps

For junior hockey players, summer often means NHL development camps. The T-Birds had six players play in various camps this past month.

Mathew Barzal was in camp with the New York Islanders while defenseman Turner Ottenbreit and forward Ryan Gropp both participated in the New York Rangers camp. Gropp is technically still eligible to return to the T-Birds – and could fill the vacant over-age spot – but he is signed by the Rangers and eligible to play in the American Hockey League. In most cases, NHL teams will send their signed prospects to the AHL once they are eligible, so the chances Gropp returns are pretty slim, although the T-Birds would welcome him with open arms.

Keegan Kolesar was also in camp with the Columbus Blue Jackets while Ethan Bear skated with the Edmonton Oilers. A summer after being in Toronto’s camp, Scott Eansor got to don another Original Six sweater as he was in camp this summer with the Montreal Canadiens.


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Notebook: T-Birds are a gateway to pros for more than just players