Zack Andrusiak taking advantage of his opportunity with T-Birds
It was late in November when the Seattle Thunderbirds found themselves tied at two in the second period of a WHL Championship rematch with the Regina Pats.
Seattle was on the power play and it didn’t take long for Noah Philp to find teammate Zack Andrusiak alone in the faceoff circle. Philp’s pass got through to Andrusiak and the 19-year-old from Yorkton, Sask. crushed a one-timer for his second goal of the night and his 10th of the season. It gave the Thunderbirds a lead and they would win the game going away.
For Andrusiak, the first half of the season has been a revelation.
He’s scored seven more times since that night and in just 33 games this year, he’s smashed his previous career totals. Finally getting playing time is paying off for Andrusiak.
His role has increased this year, and in turn, so has his scoring.
“It’s the best junior hockey league in the world,” he says. “So, it’s fun to have the chance to play a lot and have a big role on the team and help get wins.”
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Andrusiak knows how to put the puck in the net. On his way up to the WHL, he produced some impressive numbers. His 15-year-old season, playing for the Pursuit of Excellence, saw him pot 35 goals and 82 points in just 66 games.
That got the attention of the Tri-City Americans, who brought him in for an uneventful seven-game stint in 2015-16. He returned to the lower tiers after that year, again puttuing up big numbers, before getting back into the WHL last season – this time with the Prince Albert Raiders.
After eight games in Prince Albert, Seattle came calling and picked up the winger in a trade. He joined a Seattle club last year that was loaded with talent at the forward position and was on its way to winning the league championship. That meant Andrusiak would have to play a different role than he was used to.
Instead of being a top offensive contributor like he had been at the lower levels, he was relegated to a third and fourth line role, which meant limited ice time and opportunity.
“Obviously, with the team we had last year, I had no problem sitting behind those guys because they got the job done,” Andrusiak said. “I think that was the best thing for my career. To be able to play a different role, and a different way, it’s going to help me in the long run.”
He got into 52 games with the Thunderbirds last year and notched five goals, showing signs of his offensive ability. His biggest moment came in Game 2 of Seattle’s second-round playoff series with Everett, where he scored a huge goal to lead the Thunderbirds to a win. Often, the Seattle coaches would comment on his quick shot and that he just needed a chance to show it off.
With the graduation Seattle saw last year, he’s finally getting that chance.
His 17 goals lead the Thunderbirds at the break and he’s fourth on the team’s scoring sheet with 30 points. He’s getting regular shifts in Seattle’s top six forward group along with a lot of power-play time. He’s scored in bunches, including his first hat trick and two other multi-goal games.
He’s scored six times on the power play, second only to defenseman Austin Strand, and most of them have come off of a heavy shot, from the same spot he scored against Regina from.
“Every offensive player wants a chance on the power play,” Andrusiak says. “I’m glad that the coaches have the confidence in me to put me there. I just try to do my best and help the team.”
While the casual observer may not have predicted him having so much offensive success, he’s not surprised at all. He just needed the chance to show off what he could do.
“I’m very confident guy,” he says. “I always knew, with my abilities, that if given the chance, I could get the job done. Just waited for the opportunity and I have to keep working hard to keep proving that I can do it.”
All signs point to him continuing to get the opportunities that he’s earned through the first half of the season. With the season a long way from over, Andrusiak isn’t resting on his first half success and is looking forward to continued growth in the second half of the season.
“Consistency is the biggest thing,” Andrusiak is quick to point out. “To be a great player you have to be consistent. Do the things you do well every night and that’s a biggest thing that I’m trying to do. Be able to bring it every night.”
Seattle knew it would need to find some scorers this season and so far, Andrusiak has fit the bill just fine. As a second-half playoff run will get underway after the holidays, look for Andrusiak to be right in the middle of it for the Thunderbirds.