Memorial Cup Day 5: Thunderbirds look to survive
WINDSOR, Ontario – It’s time to pull out all of the tried and true sports clichés for the Thunderbirds.
Do or die. Backs against the wall. Whichever is your favorite, that’s where Seattle finds itself on the 2017 MasterCard Memorial Cup’s fifth day.
The Thunderbirds will play the QMJHL Champion Saint John Sea Dogs Tuesday night at the WFCU Centre and need a win to stay alive. Both clubs have not fared well in the tournament to date, losing both of their opening games.
Seattle took Monday off to get away from the rink and try to regain the fire it needs to extend the season and get into Friday’s semifinal game.
“It was nice to just relax yesterday, hang out with the guys and just talk about things a little bit,” Mathew Barzal said. “We watched last night’s game with Saint John and Erie and it put us in a decent spot today, the winner goes to the semifinal.”
The team was on the ice Tuesday morning for a spirited skate in preparation.
“I think guys had a pretty good day away from the rink yesterday for the most part,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We still have a really good opportunity in front of us, so there shouldn’t be anyone down right now.”
Stankowski back in net
Konowalchuk announced after the morning skate that he was going with goalie Carl Stankowski in the Saint John game.
The rookie goalie was pulled from Sunday’s contest against Windsor after giving up three quick goals in a 38-second span of the first period. Rylan Toth came in for relief and after the 7-1 loss. Konowalchuk didn’t immediately say who would play in Tuesday’s elimination game.
“A big part of it is what Carl has done for us,” Konowalchuk said. “He’s played and played well for us in big games so that gives me the confidence in him. I do have two good goalies, I wanted to talk to them and see where they were at. Carl was real excited and wanted the opportunity and gave me a lot of confidence.”
Gropp back on top line
Konowalchuk made an adjustment during the WHL Finals against Regina. He moved Gropp down to Alexander True’s line and Donovan Neuls to Barzal’s wing. The move worked and provided Seattle with a bit more scoring depth up and down the lineup.
Over the first two games in the Memorial Cup, Konowalchuk has kept those lines mostly intact, although has made in-game adjustments that saw Gropp take shifts with Barzal and Keegan Kolesar.
For Tuesday, he’ll start things that way.
“Still have to play my game,” Gropp said of the change. “Move my feet and be good without the puck. Hopefully, we can create some things off the cycle and get things going down low.”
Gropp, Barzal and Kolesar have played a lot of games together with the Thunderbirds over their junior careers. It shouldn’t take too long for them to get back in the groove of things.
“Neuls and Gropp are a little different but both bring a lot of hard work and skill,” Barzal said. “He likes to score goals and whenever I can get him the puck in scoring areas I will. Hoping we can get our chemistry back, right where we left off.”
With the Qubec league champions in action, there were a number of French-speaking media members in Windsor on Tuesday. Barzal showed off his bilingual chops and conducted an interview with RDS Sports in French.
He answered several questions, we think about Tuesday’s game, with ease.
Sea Dogs just as desperate as T-Birds
Saint John is looking to bounce back after getting drubbed by Erie on Monday night by a 12-5 score. The Sea Dogs allowed the Otters to set a Memorial Cup record for goals in a game Dylan Strome set a record with seven points in a game.
Their backs are against the wall as well.
“Both teams have hit some adversity,” Konowalchuk said of the matchup. “I know our guys, you have to respond from adversity and we focus on one game here tonight.”
The player to watch for Saint John is defenseman Thomas Chabot. The Ottowa Senators prospect is a slick skater who drives the Saint John offense. He racked up 45 points in 34 games for the Sea Dogs during the regular season and Seattle will have to be aware of him.
Barzal is familiar with Chabot as both players represented Team Canada at this past year’s World Junior Championship. Like his teammates did, Barzal watched Monday’s game with interest.
“He’s obviously a pretty special player,” Barzal said of Chabot. “He’s super dangerous wherever he is on the ice, we have to try to contain him as much as we can. He’s that good, he’s always going to create.”
Game time is 4 p.m. pt, and the game will be televised on the NHL Network in the Seattle area.