T-Birds notebook: Regular season finale, goodbyes and ice dancing
With the Western Hockey League playoffs looming, the Thunderbirds were on the ice Thursday to prepare for their last three regular season games.
They have a playoff spot secured but still have something to play for this weekend, beginning Friday in Portland. The focus at practice Thursday was not the playoffs, but rather, finishing strong.
“I guess it’s one step at a time,” head coach Matt O’Dette said Thursday. “We still have three games to play before we get there. We don’t have an opponent. These games still have implications so it’s business as usual. We have a game tomorrow and we’re going to try to win it.”
Seattle trails Tri-City by five points for the first wild card slot in the Western Conference and if the Thunderbirds want to catch the Americans, they have to win. Friday and Saturday’s opponents, the Portland Winterhawks, also have something to play for. They still have a shot at catching Everett for the U.S. Division’s top spot.
The games this weekend still have importance and the Thunderbirds are going to treat them like any other game.
“I just think that when there’s so much at stake, the right thing to do is to play for the win,” O’Dette said. “You can talk about Karma, or however you want to put it. We want to put our best foot forward in meaningful games and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Even if Seattle doesn’t improve its playoff positioning, the team wants to head into the post season playing good hockey.
“You want to go in there winning,” captain Turner Ottenbreit said about the post season. “I think the last couple of years we’ve gone in on a streak and that’s what we want to do this year. Go in on a high.”
There is a chance that all the playoff seeding could be settled after Friday’s results. If Seattle beats Portland and Everett picks up a win, then the Silvertips will have clinched the division top spot. Meanwhile, Tri-City can clinch the first wild card with a win on Friday as well.
In that case, while the Thunderbirds still try to win, don’t be surprised if O’Dette tries to get some of his guys a bit of rest.
“That would be ideal for sure,” the coach said about getting rest for some of his players. “I think that would be a luxury. I think there is a possibility we’d be able to do it.”
After travelling to Portland Friday, the Thunderbirds will host the Winterhawks at home Saturday before finishing the regular season Sunday in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans.
Here’s the latest surrounding the team:
Home farewell for overagers
Saturday’s home finale will mark the last regular season home game for Seattle’s three 20-year-old players. Austin Strand, Donovan Neuls and Ottenbreit will all be playing their last regular season home game.
There will still be playoff games to be played, but Saturday will still be a special moment for the three overagers.
“I think I’ll take it all in and just try to enjoy it all,” Neuls said about Saturday. “It’s been a great four years here and we’ve accomplished a lot.”
Strand joined the Thunderbirds just before last season’s trade deadline and was a key cog in the run towards the WHL Championship. This year, his offensive game has blossomed and he was rewarded with an NHL contract with the Los Angeles Kings.
Neuls has spent his entire career with Seattle and has become a fan favorite for his work ethic and willingness to play any role asked of him. Coming into his last regular season weekend with the club, he’s played 281 regular season games in a Seattle sweater.
Ottenbreit came to the Thunderbirds in a trade with the Saskatoon Blades. He’s played 270 regular season games with Seattle and has developed into a solid and consistent presence on the Thunderbirds blue line. He’s chipped in with a career year offensively this year, and of course, was named tam captain prior to the start of the season.
He’s looking forward to Saturday’s game.
“You’re always thinking about it,” Ottenbreit said about Saturday. “I’ve been here a long time and it will be an emotional one but it’s something to look forward to.”
Former Bird inks NHL deal
After scoring 16 goals for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League, former Thunderbird Scott Eansor agreed to a two-year contract with the New York Islanders on Thursday. Eansor was invited to Islanders camp last summer and impressed enough to sign an AHL deal with New York’s affiliate in Bridgeport. He has now turned that chance into an NHL contract.
No love for ice dancing
Wednesday night in Spokane, defenseman Jake Lee scored what would turn out to be the game-winning goal in the Thunderbirds 6-3 win over the Chiefs. To celebrate the goal, the 16-year-old rookie danced on the ice. It turns out that didn’t go over well with everyone.
“No comment,” fellow blue-liner Ottenbreit said with a smirk when asked about it.
Hockey tradition often clashes with youthful exuberance and while Lee was obviously excited about his big goal, the team would prefer a more low-key approach.
“I did not like it, at all,” O’Dette said of Lee’s jig. “I guess you just chalk it up to kids these days. You try to teach them the right way. That can be frowned upon. You want to be humble and act like you’ve been there before. We’d like him to tone it down.”
Lee has had an impressive rookie campaign and O’Dette and the Thunderbirds hope he will be there more as his career progresses. Just perhaps with a more traditional goal celebration.