THUNDERBIRDS

Thunderbirds scratch out win over Prince George

Dec 16, 2017, 1:08 AM
Austin Strand celebrates his third period goal during Seattle's 5-3 win over Prince George (Brian L...
Austin Strand celebrates his third period goal during Seattle's 5-3 win over Prince George (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)
(Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – After giving up another lead in the second period, Seattle’s Nolan Volcan came out breathing fire in the third period Friday night.

With his club training 2-1 to the Prince George Cougars to start the third, the speedy winger would pick the puck up along the boards, wheel out to the high slot and loose a deadly wrist shot through traffic. The shot found its way through a sea of bodies and into the Prince George net to tie the game at 1:40.

Seven minutes later Volcan would feather a pass across the zone while on a Seattle power play to Austin Strand. The big defenseman one-timed the pass into the Cougars goal to give the Thunderbirds a 3-2 lead and spark them to a 5-3 victory in front of 4,061 fans at the accesso ShoWare Center.

“Just rolled it off the wall,” Volcan said of the power-play goal. “Saw Strander going down and thought I’d rip him one through (Noah) Philp’s legs and he was good enough to put that in.”

Five different Seattle (14-14-3-1) players would find the back of the net while goalie Matt Berlin made 34 saves to snap a two-game Thunderbirds losing streak.

Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette was looking for his club to regain its identity, and while it took some time Friday night, they finally found it to pick up two big points in the standings.

“It wasn’t perfect for 60 minutes,” O’Dette would say afterwards. “We had some not great stretches in the second there, in particular, but it’s a big two points against a team that’s right there with us in the standings.”

The return of Strand was a big boost as the Thunderbirds had been relying on rookie defensemen over the last weekend. He not only helped on the back end, but he continued his hot start offensively, by picking up his 11th goal of the year.

“He’s huge,” O’Dette said of Strand. “He can lug the puck up the ice, find ways to get it set in traffic. When he gets the puck on his stick he can put it in the back of the net.”

It would be Reece Harsch’s fifth goal of the year that would open the scoring for Seattle at 11:26 of the first period. He whistled a shot past a heavily screened Prince George goalie Tavin Gant.

While Seattle didn’t have the disastrous second period that it suffered from last weekend, Prince George would take the lead in the second on Friday.

It started at 4:28 of the period when a Thunderbirds’ turnover sent Prince George (12-15-3-2) the other way on a two-on-none break. Ethan O’Rourke had goalie Matt Berlin down and slid the puck to Vladislav Mikhalchuk for the easy tap in.

As the second wore on, the Thunderbirds troubles grew. They started getting hemmed in and the Cougars would take the lead late when a shot from the wing off of Josh Maser’s stick hit the post and rebounded off of Berlin’s back and in. That goal came with less than two minutes left in the period and gave Prince George a 2-1 lead.

Seattle would end the middle frame out shot 13-8.

The Thunderbirds went to the room down a goal and desperate to change their recent fortunes.

“Biggest 20 minutes of the season so far,” O’Dette said of his second intermission message. “We needed to dig deep and find some energy there.”

The team got going on the forecheck. They harassed Cougar defensemen, caused havoc and created offensive zone time and shots.

“All week we worked on our forecheck,” Volcan said. “In the first, we did that well but fell off in the second. It was nice to see us respond in the third and be able to get back into the game.”

That forecheck set up Volcan’s goal, the Strand goal and led to an insurance goal at 14:51 when Zack Andrusiak fed Donovan Neuls in front of the net to make it 4-2. Prince George’s Aaron Boyd brought the Cougars back to within one at 4-3 when he scored late with the extra skater on. Andrusiak would then score on the empty Prince George net in the waning seconds to ice it for Seattle.

The Thunderbirds have Saturday night off but will finish the first half of the season on Sunday in Spokane.

“Big bounce back from last weekend against Spoke,” Volcan said. “It was good to see our guys respond. We still have one more, it’s not holidays yet. We’ve got to buckle down and get ready for Sunday.”

Notes

• Seattle signed forward Mike MacLean prior to the game. MacLean is a 19-year-old forward who stands at an imposing 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds.

• Former T-Bird Nic Holowko was signed earlier in the week by Prince George and played on Friday night. He took two shots but didn’t figure in any of the scoring.

• After being outshot 27-16 through two periods, the T-Birds bounced back to outshoot the Cougars 15-10 in the third.

• Sunday’s game will be the last one before the WHL shuts down for the holidays. Seattle will have 10 days off before playing Spokane on December 27th in Spokane.

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