THUNDERBIRDS

Memorial Cup Day 4: T-Birds staying positive

May 22, 2017, 10:10 AM | Updated: 3:43 pm
Mathew Barzal and the T-Birds were off Monday as they hope to rebound ( Aaron Bell/CHL Images)...
Mathew Barzal and the T-Birds were off Monday as they hope to rebound ( Aaron Bell/CHL Images)
( Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

WINDSOR, Ontario – Monday saw the Thunderbirds still licking their wounds from a 7-1 loss to the host Windsor Spitfires on Sunday evening.

The team decided to forgo any on-ice workouts and instead will head to nearby Detroit for some team activities. That may be just the trick for a Seattle team that doesn’t feel like its played its best hockey at the Memorial Cup.

“Just get our minds away from the rink for a little bit,” Mathew Barzal said Monday. “Do a little bonding, hang out and have fun and when we get back to the hotel tonight, its business as usual again.”

Head coach Steve Konowalchuk had a chance to re-watch Sunday’s loss to Windsor and despite the score, still thinks there were good things that happened in the game.

The Thunderbirds did have moments on Sunday where they were playing their game but were burned by some bad turnovers. Windsor took advantage and tied a Memorial Cup record by scoring three goals over a 38 second span in the first period.

“A real bad minute,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought we got ourselves back in the game and then I thought we shot ourselves in the foot with bad penalties to kill our momentum.”

Seattle will have one more chance on Tuesday to find its game and stay alive in the tournament. They will face the Saint John Sea Dogs in a game that will be do-or-die for the club.

The Thunderbirds have not faced elimination since last spring’s WHL Finals against Brandon but the team is confident as they prepare. They also know that if they win, then they have a chance not only to stay alive, but still win the whole thing.

“With junior hockey and these young guys, momentum is so important,” Konowalchuk said. “You get one game and then you start feeling better about yourself again, and then you never know what could happen.”

Bear still battling

Ethan Bear has had a tough tournament. He has struggled with the puck and has committed some uncharacteristic turnovers that have led to goals.

The WHL Defenseman of the year is still playing with an injured hand, one that required surgery prior to the finals. He has been fighting through the injury but is still wearing a protective cast on his hand.

“He ‘s the one that’s losing the most sleep over it,” Konowalchuk said of his defenseman. “But when he’s doing it with what he’s trying to play through, you don’t fault the guy. We wouldn’t be here without him. He’ll be better and we’ve got to support him better.

“The kid has so much heart and character. Then you get out there and it’s not normal. If he doesn’t have a cast, he doesn’t fumble that puck.”

Exhaustion not an excuse

You have to wonder how tired or mentally exhausted the T-Birds are. After four grueling playoff rounds that saw them travel everywhere from Kennewick to Kelowna to Regina, the T-Birds have been through a gauntlet.

They won the WHL Championship just over a week ago and then had one day at home before heading back out on the road to Windsor.

It would be understandable if they weren’t at their peak mental capacity, but the players are having none of it.

“We really wanted to come in here and make a difference,” Scott Eansor said on Monday. “Being tired, there are other teams that are tired as well. I don’t think that’s really an excuse.”

The magnitude of the Memorial Cup makes things seem worse than they are. Had they dropped a regular season game 7-1 on a random Tuesday night, it wouldn’t seem as concerning as it does here, with all of the junior hockey media gathered around to watch and comment on.

“We’re obviously on national television and all my buddies back home and family are watching,” Barzal said. “It’d be nice to get a win for first and foremost the guys in the room but also everyone that’s supported me and the team.”

Game 4 goes Monday night

While the Thunderbirds are off on Monday, they will be watching the Saint John-Erie game with interest. The Sea Dogs are hoping to avoid going 0-2 and being in the same position that Seattle is on come Tuesday.

If they lose, then the Seattle will know that they will simply have to win on Tuesday to advance straight to the semi-final game on Friday. Game time on Monday is 4 P.M. Pacific time and the game will be carried on the NHL Network in the Seattle market.

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