Ryan Gropp’s hat trick helps T-Birds defuse Rockets
KENT – Seattle Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk was looking for a stronger effort from his team on Saturday night.
The coach thought his team was flat during a loss on Friday and he got the response he was looking for as the T-Birds took out the Kelowna Rockets 5-3 at the ShoWare Center on Saturday. Seattle (39-18-3-2) feasted on the power play and got a hat trick from Ryan Gropp and four assists from Mathew Barzal in the win.
“After a loss like last night we were frustrated and the guys were really fired up for this one,” defenseman Ethan Bear said. “Especially Kelowna, we hadn’t beat them yet this year so to get this win was pretty special.”
It was Seattle’s first win against Kelowna (36-21-5-0) after three previous lopsided losses. They end the season series on a good note.
But after the loss in Kennewick, the team was more focused on getting their game back to par.
“Honestly, we were worried about what we had to do to bounce back from yesterday,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We didn’t talk about this team really at all. We talked about cleaning up some of the stuff that snuck into our game yesterday.”
There were a multitude of penalties called Saturday night and the Thunderbirds were given nine power-play opportunities. Their power play has been clicking of late and they potted four on Saturday to give them 11 straight contests with at least one power-play goal.
Nine attempts is a lot but they were a result of some strong play by Seattle.
“We earned them,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought we were disciplined early and were controlling our sticks and I thought we were jumping into holes. Guys were rewarded for it and moving our feet.”
Getting nine is one thing, converting is another and the T-Birds did that on Saturday evening. Bear is a mainstay on the Seattle power play and he added a goal on one of the chances.
He says the key to the Thunderbirds power-play prowess is simple.
“I think we’re just moving it well,” he said. “Sometimes we get too fancy but I think we’re keeping it simple. Just shooting the puck and making the play that’s there.”
The T-Birds wasted no time getting going on Saturday.
The opened the scoring on a nice passing play that started with Austin Strand getting the puck out of harm’s way and up to Keegan Kolesar. The big winger flipped it to a speeding Barzal who found Gropp racing down the ice on the wing. Gropp fired a wrist shot that beat Michael Herringer clean.
The lead would grow later in the period on the power play when Bear found Gropp in the high slot for his second goal of the night.
Gropp had a long scoring streak snapped last weekend in Portland but now has started a new two-game streak. He was happier more about the way the team responded than he was about his own statistics however.
“We had a lot of guys who stepped up and said stuff,” he said about the mood in the room on Friday. “It wasn’t even close to the way we know we can play and obviously we wanted to respond.”
Bear would extend the Seattle lead three minutes into the second period when he blasted his 26th goal, again on the power play.
The Rockets cut the lead after Dillon Dube was tripped from behind and awarded a penalty shot. He made a nice move to get Rylan Toth down before sliding a backhanded shot past him.
Toth had a nice game on Saturday, himself bouncing back from a not so standard performance on Friday. The goalie ended the night with 36 saves to earn his league-leading 32nd win.
The Thunderbirds answered the Dube score right away, and did it once again, on the power play.
This time it was Kolesar who got the puck in the slot and fired his 21st of the season. It was Seattle’s third power-play marker of the evening.
In the third period the penalties starting going the other way and the Rockets would make it 4-2 when Reid Gardiner scored a power-play goal from a bad angle. Seattle, and Toth, would get another big kill with just over five minutes to go which all but sealed the win for the Thunderbirds.
Gropp made sure by finishing off the hat trick, on a power play, into an empty Kelowna net. It was his first hat trick of the season and the fifth in his WHL career.
“It was good to finish off the season series like that,” Gropp said. “A big win at home here, we have to enjoy and then move on to the next game tomorrow.”
Kelowna’s Kyle Topping would add a cosmetic goal for the Rockets with 27 seconds left in the game but by then the T-Birds had things well in hand.
The team will now prepare for a big Sunday evening tilt against the first place Everett Silvertips. Seattle trails the Silvertips by three points in the standings and with only two head-to-head meetings left, Sunday is a big game.
“Its going to be fun,” Konowalchuk said. “We’re going to rest, let the guys rest and get focused. It’s always fun anyway but there’s going to be an atmosphere pretty similar to a playoff game.”
• Barzal continues to pile up the assists. He added four more on Saturday which gives him an astonishing 59 in just 36 games this year.
• Bear extended his point-streak to 11 games. Of course, his second period goal gives him 64 in his career which pushes his franchise record for goals by a defenseman higher. He wasn’t aware that he had set the mark for most goals for a blue-liner until asked about it after the game on Saturday. “I didn’t know that,” he said of the mark. “It’s pretty cool but I hadn’t thought about that at all really. I hope I can score some more and help the team.”
• Seattle’s power play continues to climb up the league standings. After the four goals on Saturday it is now up to ninth in the WHL at 21.5 percent. All five of the U.S. Division teams have their power-play units in the top ten.
• Jarret Tszyka was a scratch on Saturday after suffering an injury late in Friday’s game against Tri City. His status for Sunday is not known.