Matthew Wedman returns to help Thunderbirds double up Vancouver
LANGLEY, British Columbia – He hadn’t played a game in a month but Seattle Thunderbirds center Matthew Wedman made up for lost time on Friday night.
Making his season debut after nursing an injury, Wedman scored twice to pace the T-Birds to a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants at the Langley Event Centre.
“I was saving them up,” he said with a smile afterwards.
The game was also highlighted by rookie goalie Carl Stankowski, who in his first WHL start made 15 saves to help earn the T-Birds their first win of the season. The Giants’ early season struggles continued as they fell to 0-4.
It was a big night for Wedman, who had been out with a lower-body injury. He is entering his draft year and was on the NHL’s Central Scouting Watch List that came out this summer. He’s also being counted on by Seattle to help pick up some of the scoring slack that’s left with players gone from last season.
Friday night he made a strong statement and showed that he is healthy and ready to go.
“It’s really tough,” Wedman said about missing games. “You see the guys out there and you really want to get back out and help them out.”
He helped out on Friday. His first goal tied the game at one in the first period when he beat Vancouver goalie David Tendeck with a nice back-handed shot. His second-period goal came after he won a faceoff back to the point and then went to the net, where he picked up a loose puck and swept in the goal.
That goal gave the T-Birds a commanding 3-1 lead, and they were off and running.
“We definitely missed him when he was out,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said of Wedman. “He’s a guy that can make some plays around the net, we’ve seen that in the past and those were a couple of big goals for that line.”
The other big story was the play of the 16-year-old Stankowski.
His WHL debut got off to an odd start as he ended up allowing a goal on the first shot he faced. Vancouver’s Radovan Bondra flung a puck towards the Seattle net, where it deflected off of a T-Birds skate and past Stankowski.
There was nothing he could have done about it, but as he showed all preseason, Stankowski remained calm. He made his best saves in the second period when Seattle was up by one goal but Vancouver had some push. Late in the game, after Bondra scored again to pull the Giants to within two, Stankowski made the save of the night as he sprawled out and got a pad on a Vancouver attempt.
“He goes in there, he’s ‘Steady Eddie’,” Konowalchuk said of his young goaltender. “You can’t fault him on that first goal, went off a skate. He gave us a chance to win tonight.”
Seattle also got a boost on the back end where Ethan Bear was making his season debut after returning from Edmonton Oilers training camp. He was back in a pairing with Turner Ottenbreit and it helped solidify the Thunderbirds’ blue line.
While Bear didn’t figure in the scoring, he might have been Seattle’s best player on the night.
“When Bear’s out there he usually keeps things pretty calm,” Konowalchuk said. “He’s a 25- to 30-minute guy and the puck’s usually moving up the ice.”
After Wedman tied the game at one in the first, the T-Birds would grab control of the game in the second. A nice play early in the period between Cavin Leth and Alexander True ended with True scoring his first of the season. Wedman’s second would put Seattle up two heading into the third period.
The T-Birds didn’t let up and Layne Bensmiller would tip a Scott Eansor shot past Tendeck early in the third to give Seattle a 4-1 lead. Bondra would score again late to get the game closer for Vancouver, but the Seattle defense and Stankowski shut them down the rest of the way.
“Guys were ready to play mentally,” Konowalchuk said. “It’s one thing to go out and work hard but you’ve got to play smart and I thought we played a smart game tonight.”
Seattle will now head back to the ShoWare Center for their home opener on Saturday evening against the Portland Winterhawks. The game will feature a ceremony beforehand to celebrate last year’s U.S. Division and Western Conference titles.
• Friday was the first mutli-goal game for Wedman in his WHL career and only his third multi-point effort. He scored six goals last year as a 16 year old but it is safe to say that number may rise this year.
• Seattle picked up defenseman Anthony Bishop just before the start of the year in the Logan Flodell trade. Bishop played in 40 games for Saskatoon last year and only recorded two assists. He’s turned in two solid games with Seattle so far and picked up two assists on Friday.
• Three of Seattle’s four goals were the result of a player attacking the Vancouver net. Konowalchuk preaches traffic in front of the goalie and it paid off on Friday. Those are the types of goals that the T-Birds are going to have to continue to score.
• Friday was Seattle’s first appearance at the Langley Event Centre, which is the new home building for the Giants. They have moved out of the old downtown Vancouver Pacific Coliseum to the smaller and more intimate building in the suburbs. The building and ice got rave reviews from the T-Birds players and coaches.