Thunderbirds find a way in 3-2 win over Chiefs
KENT – Shaking off some holiday rust Tuesday night, the Seattle Thunderbirds found a way to win.
Seattle was heavily out shot by the Spokane Chiefs in front of a sold out ShoWare Center but got a big night from their goaltender and timely scoring to open the second half of the season with a 3-2 win.
Goalie Rylan Toth was the star of the night as he kept the T-Birds in it early and held off a third period push while making 41 saves on the night.
“He was awesome tonight,” Seattle’s Scott Eansor said of Toth. “and you can really rally around your goalie when you see he’s going.”
Toth made 14 saves in the first period and one of the best chances came off some friendly fire. Early in the game Eansor attempted to clear the puck safely behind Toth’s net and the shot came a little too close for comfort, barely missing the Seattle net.
“I kind of panicked,” Eansor said with a grin. “It was the first shift back and I was super rushed so I just tried to put in an area where nobody was and it was the wrong spot.”
It was a harmless play in the end but it got everybody’s attention.
“It woke me up a bit I guess,” Toth said with a laugh.
It was the second straight big night for Toth who was coming off of his first shutout of the season last week against Tri City. He followed that up with another gem Tuesday.
“Games like that are fun when you get lots of shots,” Toth said. “You always feel a little rusty after being off but I thought I felt pretty good for the most part.”
Seattle had to scramble on their blue line prior to the start of the game. Defensemen Bryan Allbee and Brandon Schuldhaus did not return to the team after the Christmas break. The team acquired Aaron Hyman in a trade with the Calgary Hitmen on Tuesday morning and he was put into action right away.
“You come off the break and you’re throwing a new defenseman in there,” Steve Konowalchuk said. “He’s had a lot going through his mind coming off the break and next thing you know, he’s on a plane.”
Hyman played a lot of minutes paired up with Turner Ottenbreit.
The Chiefs were the team that started the game ready to play. Spokane out shot Seattle 15-6 in the opening frame and if not for Toth standing tall in the T-Birds net, would have had a lead.
Going against the flow of the play, the T-Birds managed to get on the board first on a slap shot from Ethan Bear that rang off the post and in. It was Bear’s 11th goal of the year.
Spokane kept pushing the pace and would get the game even later in the period. Kailer Yamamoto worked the puck down low and drew three Seattle defenders. That left Jaret Anderson-Dolan all alone in the slot. Yamamoto found him and he beat Toth easily for his 18th marker of the season.
“That team played hard like they always do,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought a couple of our key guys stepped up to do it. At times we did some good things and found a way to win.”
The T-Birds responded with a much stronger second period.
They out shot the Chiefs 13-8 and took a 2-1 lead after Nolan Volcan won a race for a loose puck. He passed it back to Eansor who beat Dawson Weatherill for his 17th goal of the season.
“We needed to raise it up another notch,” Konowalcuk said. “It’s hard sometimes that first period out of the break. I thought we came back in the second period, it was a good period for us.”
The third period resembled the first as Spokane outshot the T-Birds 14-1 early and tied the game back up. Tyson Helgesen crashed the Seattle net just as a Chiefs’ power play was ending and deflected a shot past Toth.
The Chiefs poured it on in the final frame and ended up outshooting Seattle 20-5. The T-Birds hung in though and would grab the lead for good after Weatherill stopped a Bear slapper but couldn’t control the rebound. Sami Moilanen was there for Seattle and knocked the puck in for his 12th goal of the year.
It was a strong night for the Eansor, Volcan and Moilanen line. They combined for two of the Seattle goals and had to match up against Spokane’s top line centered by Kailer Yamamoto. The 2017 draft eligible Spokane star did end up with a pair of assists but had to earn them against Eansor and company.
“I love playing against Yamamoto and good players,” Easnor said. “He’s obviously a good player and another U.S. guy so it’s always fun. My linemates did an awesome job. Volcan played a good game as did Sami.”
Tuesday was Seattle’s second straight win and hopes to keep its momentum going as they head to Spokane for a rematch with the Chiefs on Wednesday night.
“Its good, its confidence,” Konowalchuk said. “With a couple guys out to the World Juniors its confidence for the guys in there that they can step up.”
• Allbee did not return to the T-Birds and instead is going to stay home in Prince George. Seattle general manager Russ Farwell said “Allbee wants to play more and knows he won’t in our league so he is going to go play in Tier 2.”
• Schuldhaus also did not return after the break and is looking for a trade. “He is unhappy with his playing time and has asked for a trade. We hope to find something by the trade deadline,” Farwell said. The WHL trade deadline is January 10th.
• Tuesday was the first win against Spokane on home ice in three tries for the T-Birds. In the two previous losses it was Seattle that heavily out shot the Chiefs. Tuesday’s 43-24 shot advantage for Spokane represented a reversal of fortunes.
• The win was also the first win for the home team in the Seattle-Spokane season series.