Top ten moments from the Thunderbirds 2016-17 season: 6-10

Aug 15, 2017, 9:11 PM

There was a lot to celebrate for the Thunderbirds last season (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)...

There was a lot to celebrate for the Thunderbirds last season (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

(Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

While summer is still hanging on in the Seattle area, the defending WHL Champion Seattle Thunderbirds are just one week away from opening up this season’s training camp.

Seattle is coming off of its most successful campaign in franchise history and this summer has brought about a number of high-impact changes to the Thunderbirds. With new faces and players the Thunderbirds will have a new look this year as they try to defend their league title.

There will be plenty of time to dive into who will play where for the T-Birds but before that happens, we thought it was worth one more look back at the season that was. Here are the thrills, the ups and downs, and all the heart-stopping moments that made 2016-2017 a memorable one for the Thunderbirds.

Starting with six through 10, here are the 10 most memorable moments from the Thunderbirds championship run.

  1. Mathew Barzal returns to the fold

Last summer the number one question surrounding the Thunderbirds was whether or not Barzal would be back for one more year in junior. He started the season with the New York Islanders and even got into two NHL games at the start of the season.

A couple weeks after Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar returned it was announced that Barzal would be coming back as well.

The Thunderbirds had played 16 games and were hovering around the .500 mark when they headed north to play the Vancouver Giants. Barzal met the team bus in the Langley Event Centre parking lot and suited up.

Always the competitor, he had some incentive for his teammates.

“I had a bet today that if we won I’d buy the boys Chipotle,” he said after the game.

Seattle would beat Vancouver 5-3 with Barzal chipping in with an assist in the win. While the game itself wasn’t overly spectacular, it was Barzal’s first game back with Seattle and a signal that the T-Birds would be back to being a contender in the WHL.

  1. Scott Eansor reinvents the hat trick

It was early November and Seattle was in Moose Jaw at the end of its six-game, Eastern Division road swing. This is before the return of Barzal and Eansor stepped up to fill in the gap.

He ended the night with his second career hat trick, scoring three times in Seattle’s 5-1 win over the Warriors at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw. Scoring a hat trick is always a memorable feat but the way Eansor did it this night was special.

Of his three goals, he scored once while playing at even-strength, once while on the power play and once while short-handed. He started the scoring barrage in the first period with the short-handed tally. That was followed by a power-play goal early in the second period after getting a nice pass from Gropp. With a late three-goal lead, Eansor finished up the night with a wrist shot while playing five-on-five.

Eansor was on his away to a career year before injuries sidelined him for most of the second half of the season. He would return before the playoffs and help Seattle win the Championship. After the season he was signed to an American Hockey League deal by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers – the New York Islanders affiliate.

  1. Rylan Toth with the epic poke check

The Thunderbirds found their legs in the second half and were at Spokane late in January for a division match up with the Chiefs. They came into the game winners of seven of their last nine and they were looking for third straight win over the Chiefs.

Seattle built up a 2-0 lead and was holding on late when Spokane scored a pair of goals in the third period to get the game even and send it to overtime. In the overtime period, things looked bleak as Spokane star Kailer Yamamoto stole the puck at the blue line and was off to the races.

Goalie Rylan Toth stood strong however and was aggressive in swinging his big goalie stick to poke the puck off of Yamamoto’s stick and back the other way. The Thunderbirds picked it up, worked it to Austin Strand who fired a shot that would find the back of the net to give Seattle a big 3-2 win.

“It was great play,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said afterall. “I think with most goalies you score that but our goalie won the battle.”

  1. Carl Stankowski stands on head against Americans

There was some trepidation when the Thunderbirds took the ice to open the first round of the playoffs at home against Tri City. Toth, who was the number one goalie, was hurt and it wasn’t clear if he was going to be able to play. It turns out he wouldn’t as rookie Carl Stankowski led the Thunderbirds onto the ShoWare Center ice.

The 16-year-old had been injured himself most of the season and only had seven WHL games under his belt. How would he handle the pressure of the playoffs?

It turns out, he did just fine.

He stopped 33 shots in Seattle’s 4-2 win and in the third period showed everyone in attendance that he was the real deal. With his team up 3-1, Stankowski had to face four Tri City short-handed breakaways over a four-minute period. Tri City scored on one of them, but Stankowski shut the door on the other three.

The highlight was a penalty-shot stop on 35-goal man Morgan Geekie, who tried to go five-hole, only to find the goalie’s stick.

After the game, Stankowski’s teammates were impressed and feeling confident in the back stop moving forward.

“He was unbelievable,” Kolesar said. “It was huge game for him and that’s what we need.”

Stankowski would go on to play every second of the playoff run for the Thunderbirds as a new cult hero and Seattle legend was born.

  1. Where did Barzal go?

It was early March and the Thunderbirds were locked into a back-and-forth battle with the Everett Silvertips for first place in the U.S. Division. They were hosting the Silvertips in what was a huge, late-season match up at the ShoWare Center.

Seattle’s lineup was riddled with injuries but they had been winning, and had momentum. Everything seemed normal as the teams took the ice to start the game. The lights were out, a children’s choir took the ice to sing the national anthem and then things got weird.

As the children began, Barzal was standing at the blue line with the starters. He suddenly skated to the Seattle bench, said something to Konowalchuk and then left the ice. There was no word as to what had happened, and Barzal did not return to the game.

Seattle would gut out a big 3-2 win behind a third-period strike by Ethan Bear. It would be the first in a string of gutty wins from the Thunderbirds as they had to deal with a number of injuries. Despite that, they kept finding a way to win.

“They’re good character guys,” Konowalchuk said about his team. “Why would they quit today? In the biggest game. They’re not going to quit on the biggest game of the season so far. They buckled down.”

Barzal would miss the next month with an illness and did not return to the lineup until the second round of the playoffs.


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