T-Birds come back to crack Ice in overtime
KENT – A night before the Thunderbirds were to take on the league’s top team, they had to play the worst, and may have overlooked them.
Seattle fell behind the five-win Kootenay Ice Friday night and had to come from behind to squeak out a 4-3 overtime win at the ShoWare Center.
“We definitely made it tougher than it should have been,” Seattle’s Scott Eansor said. “We came out thinking it was going to be easy and it wasn’t. Give that team credit, they battled us hard.”
Eansor ended up the hero as he scored the second of his two goals 1:24 into overtime to give the T-Birds their 14th win of the season and stave off what would have been an embarrassing loss. Ethan Bear added a goal and two assists while Mathew Barzal chipped in with three helpers.
Seattle (14-9-2-1) ended up outshooting Kootenay (5-17-6-1) by a lop sided 42-19 margin but wasn’t playing its best until late in the game.
The game got off to a dubious start when the Ice scored 1:13 into the first period. Barret Sheen took a shot that Rlyan Toth stopped but Fedor Rudakov crashed the net and knocked the rebound through the goalie and in the goal.
“Holy moley, that was a bad start,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “You could tell we thought it was going to be an easy game. I thought as the game went on we got better and better.”
Toth was playing in his first game since being injured in a game against Everett on Nov. 23rd. He ended the night with 16 saves to get his 10th win.
Seattle responded and got the game even a minute later when Bear blasted a slap shot from the point that goalie Jakob Walter got a piece of but couldn’t hold. It was Bear’s fourth straight game with a goal and ninth of the season.
The T-Birds seemed to relax after that and allowed the Ice to push back for the remainder of the period. Whether it was thinking Kootenay would be an easy foe or looking ahead to Saturday’s game, the T-Birds got off their game early.
“It’s human nature a little bit,” Konowalchuk said. “As much as you tell them that’s a good hockey team over there, they look at the five wins they have and to create that sense of urgency, it’s tough sometimes.”
Seattle would take a lead in the second period when Eansor tipped a Bear slapper past Walter for a power-play goal. Seattle out shot Kootenay 11-4 in the second period, but as they did in Kamloops on Wednesday, would suffer from a couple of casual moments.
Kootenay got the game back even on a Jake Elmer goal and then inexplicably took a 3-2 lead after Vince Loschiavo was given room to walk in front and beat Toth. Despite only four shots in the middle frame, Kootenay scored twice.
“You have to give them credit too,” Konowalchuk said of the Ice. “They came in here and played a hard game and they played a smart game. We had to work tonight and give them everything we had to get a win.”
The T-Birds played a stronger third period and out shot Kootenay 17-3 but had trouble beating Weaver.
Seattle finally broke through to tie it up just before the 12-minute mark when Matthew Wedman poked home a puck during a mad scramble in front of the net. To make things hard on themselves the T-Birds took three late penalties that gave Kootenay 1:07 of a two-man advantage under five-minutes left in the game.
The T-Birds penalty kill held their ground by not allowing the Ice a shot on the power-play and were able to steer the game into overtime.
“It was a good PK for a long time there,” Konowalchuk said. “When you get a five-on-three for that long. They did a great job, even got a breakaway there that could have created a power play the other way.”
Eansor took one of the three penalties, a slashing call, and joined his two teammates in the box. He was glad the guys on the ice got the job done.
“They bailed me out,” Eansor said. “Bear had a lot of really big blocks. A kill like that with three penalties in a row is excellent. Give all the guys credit.”
In the overtime period Eansor would win it after Ryan Gropp gave him the puck and he beat Walter with a nice move in close. It was Eansor’s second of the night and 13th of the season as he is one goal away from tying his career high.
“Groppy saw me,” Eansor said of the play. “I knew he saw me. We made eye contact and he waited the defenseman out and he made a really nice pass. I had all day to make the play.”
With the win against the worst team in the league under their belt, the T-Birds will now have to step it up as the WHL’s best Medicine Hat Tigers will be at the ShoWare Center on Saturday.
• With three more assists Friday night, Barzal moved into third place all time in franchise history. He passed former T-Bird Lindsay Vallis who played for Seattle from 1987 to 1991. Barzal has 160 assists in 171 WHL games.
• The T-Birds have out shot their last three opponents by a total of 131-59.
• Not only did Seattle avoid an embarrassing loss, they also avoided a tough practice. “I told those guys, they probably avoided the biggest bag skate in the history of bag skates by pulling out a win,” Konowalchuk said.
• Seattle has several players on fire. Bear’s four-game goal scoring streak gives him nine points in his last four games. Gropp has a four-game scoring streak with three goals and six points. Barzal also has a four-game scoring streak with two goals and 10 assists. He has picked up three assists in three out of the last four games.
• Donovan Neuls left the game in the first period after taking a slash to the back of his leg. He did not return and Konowalchuk thought the winger would be day-to-day.