T-Birds explode in third-period to comeback against Chiefs
KENT – Seattle Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette had some things to say to his club after two periods Friday night.
The Thunderbirds had surrendered two goals in the last two minutes of the middle frame as the Spokane Chiefs broke a 2-2 tie. The goals should have been back-breakers as the Chiefs took what felt like an insurmountable 4-2 lead. Trailing, Seattle came out to start the third period on fire and would score three times to comeback and win a big 5-4 decision at the accesso ShoWare Center.
“Quite a bit,” O’Dette responded when asked what he said to the team between periods.
It wasn’t just the goals that Spokane (19-14-1-2) scored, its how they were scored. The first was by Riley Woods from behind the goal line for his second of the night. Less than a minute later, Spokane’s Eli Zummack broke free short-handed to slide his 18th past goalie Matt Berlin.
Two goals in two minutes, on two mistakes.
“Some guys had to step their game up,” the coach added. “We had guys playing so hard out there and for some guys not to be going, its unacceptable. Credit to the guys, they responded.”
After scoring twice to tie it in the third, captain Turner Ottenbreit would pot the game winner at the 11:49 mark. He picked up a pass from Donovan Neuls and raced down the ice on a two-on-one with Zack Andrusiak. Instead of passing, the defenseman shot the puck and beat Spokane goalie Donovan Buskey for his fifth of the year.
Ottenbreit did a little bit of everything Friday night.
“Otto, he’s playing out of his mind,” O’Dette said. “He’s doing whatever it takes for the team.”
In a season where the T-Birds have suffered some heart-breaking losses, giving up two goals in the final two minutes of a period usually means lights out.
“At the start of the year that probably would have deflated us and we would have been down another five or six there,” Ottenbreit said. “But we’ve been through that and seen the other side of it. It’s nice to turn the tables and get a couple in the third.”
The comeback for Seattle (16-14-4-1) started early in the third period. Russian import Nikita Malukhin potted his third goal in three games at 1:41. Eight minutes later, Neuls spotted Reece Harsch coming off the bench and got him the puck. The defenseman fired a wrist shot that Andrusiak tipped past Buskey to tie the game at four.
That set up the game-winner as Neuls again, started the play.
“We never quit,” Neuls said. “We just came out in the third period and threw as many pucks as we could at the net. That’s the identity we want to show every period.”
Once they had the lead, the Thunderbirds still had some work to do.
Berlin, who ended the night by stopping 29 shots, made several jaw-dropping saves to preserve the one-goal lead. Those were highlighted by stoning Jaret Anderson-Dolan on the doorstep with under two minutes to go. Then, with the Chiefs net empty for the extra skater, he somehow kept the puck out during a mad scramble as the clock wound down.
“He’s just being him,” Ottenbreit said of his goalie. “He’s been light’s out for us. He’s our last line of defense and we trust him back there.”
Nolan Volcan would strike for his 15th goal at 11:21 of the first period to open the scoring for Seattle. The Chiefs started the second period by pressuring Seattle and would ride that momentum to tie the game at 2:08 when Woods took a shot that hit traffic in front of Berlin for his first of the night.
Anderson-Dolan put Spokane ahead 2-1 when he got a pass and turned on the jets to free himself down the ice. He made one move and deposited his 18th with just over two minutes left in the period.
The Thunderbirds would tie the game back up at two, seconds later, on a confusing and fluky play. Noah Philp crashed the Spokane net and made contact with Buskey. The contact caused Buskey to fall to the ice and when Austin Strand flung a puck that hit Philp and landed in the net, it was initially waived off.
After a lengthy discussion among the officials, it was determined that since Philp had been pushed into Buskey, the goal would count.
“How many calls have we had this year?” O’Dette said. “Not many, it’s rare for us to get a call like that. But, their guy directed our guy into the goalie, and then another one of their guys kept shoving him into the net. I thought it was the right call.”
The Thunderbirds’ weekend gets busier after Friday’s win. Saturday, they host the Portland Winterhawks before a New Year’s Eve rematch Sunday evening in Portland. They’ll hope to ride the momentum of a remarkable comeback win.
“They have a lot of character and courage,” O’Dette said of his team. “Stepping up for their teammates, stepping up for themselves with those fights. It’s great to see. We’ve said it all year, we’re going to empty the tanks and give it what we have and we did that tonight.”
• Seattle’s comeback is even more impressive considering that entering the game, the Chiefs were 13-1-1-0 when leading after two periods.
• Berlin appeared to be in discomfort after the last scramble at the horn. He was attended to by the team trainer, Phil Varney, but O’Dette wasn’t sure of the goalie’s status.
• Harsch had his four-game goal streak snapped Friday, but he did pick up an assist on the Andrusiak goal to extend his point streak to five games.
• Volcan has enjoyed playing Spokane. In the last nine periods – all played in the last week – he has three goals and four assists.