Gropp’s return not enough as T-Birds lose 3-1 to Spokane

Oct 11, 2016, 10:48 PM | Updated: Oct 12, 2016, 12:49 pm

KENT – The Thunderbirds got one of their big guns back Tuesday night but it wasn’t enough to squeak past the Spokane Chiefs.

Despite outshooting the Chiefs 45-22 and possessing the puck for most of the night, Seattle was unable to solve Spokane goalie Dawson Weatherill and dropped a tight 3-1 decision. The Chiefs’ goalie made 44 saves to pick up his second career WHL win.

Scott Eansor scored Seattle’s lone goal as the T-Birds generated a lot of offense but couldn’t get enough pucks past Weatherill. The loss put a damper on the excitement surrounding the surprise return of T-Bird’s forward Ryan Gropp.

“Usually, with that amount of shots you’ll get more than one goal and we had some good looks,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “A few real quality ones that their goalie saved and some just ended up hitting him. We still have to get to the net in front of him a little bit better at times.”

After arriving in Seattle on Monday night, Gropp played a ton of minutes Tuesday on a line with Alexander True and Sami Moilanen. He had one practice with the team in the morning before getting some game action after a whirlwind 48 hours.

Gropp had been in camp with the New York Rangers and then the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack before getting the call that he was being sent back to Seattle for one more season of junior hockey.

“I got the call Monday morning and they put me on a flight a couple hours later so it was a pretty quick turnaround,” the 20 year old said. “I’m looking forward to playing. The season is pretty young, it’s only October so I’m looking forward to getting going.”

Konowalchuk not only had Gropp play a lot of minutes five-on-five but he also deployed Gropp out on Seattle’s first power-play unit. While they ended the night 0-for-4 with the man advantage, they produced a number of quality scoring chances and shots.

Gropp admitted that being back in Seattle was bitter-sweet but he’s looking forward to the season and improving his game. Getting a taste of the NHL only adds to his motivation.

“You’ve seen it, you’ve seen that you can play with those guys,” Gropp said of the NHL. “I know I can and it’s just a matter of putting it together every single game and being consistent.”

The Chiefs spoiled Gropp’s homecoming with some good goaltending and timely scoring.

After Weatherill and Seattle goalie Rylan Toth traded highlight reel saves in the first period, the Chiefs would open the scoring in the second. Despite Seattle having the better of the play to start the period, Pavel Kousal got Spokane on the board with a goal from the slot.

The T-Birds would tie it up on a pretty goal by Eansor who deked around a Spokane defender that freed him up and he slid the puck past Weatherill for his first of the season. That ignited the ShoWare Center crowd and should have given the T-Birds some momentum heading into the third period.

Kailer Yamamoto – who is a potential first-round pick in this June’s NHL draft – would take that moment away early in the third period. Given room by the Seattle defense, he skated into the zone and ripped a deadly accurate shot that Toth couldn’t handle. It was Yamamoto’s fourth goal of the season.

Seattle would bombard the Spokane net for the rest of the final frame – outshooting the Chiefs 19-8 – but couldn’t get the equalizer. With time running out and Toth on the bench, Curtis Miske ended hope of a comeback with an empty-net tally with just 14 seconds left.

“(Effort was good)for the most part, but not enough,” Konowalchuk said. “Going to the net’s effort. Making sure you get there and not stopping up short. At times it was there but we can always do more.”


• With Gropp back Seattle is over the over-age limit. The league will allow them two weeks to get back to three 20 year old players. Until they make a move they can only have three suit up which meant that Cavin Leth was a healthy scratch on Tuesday.

• Gropp was the story on Tuesday as not many people anticipated he would return. There is obvious disappointment for a player who was looking forward to playing pro hockey only to end up suddenly back in junior but Konowalchuk said that Gropp’s head was in the right place. “He had a really good attitude this morning when I talked to him,” the coach said. “Of course, he wanted different results but he had a really good attitude and he went out and played with the right attitude, it’s a good start for him.”

• Back in the NHL, Mathew Barzal has made the New York Islanders opening day roster which means that he will at least be in the NHL for a nine-game try out. Gropp said that he talks to Barzal almost daily and was rooting for him to stick with the Islanders.

• The road doesn’t get easier for the T-Birds who will host the league-leading Prince George Cougars on Friday before hitting the road to Everett on Saturday.


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