Thunderbirds off to best second-half start in 14 years

Jan 2, 2015, 12:51 PM | Updated: 1:00 pm
Lane Pederson has stepped up in the absence of a number of top forwards. (T-Birds photo)...
Lane Pederson has stepped up in the absence of a number of top forwards. (T-Birds photo)
(T-Birds photo)

On Christmas Eve, Seattle’s Taran Kozun was straightforward about the importance of the games immediately following the WHL’s holiday break.

“The games right after the break will probably decide what we do,” said the 20-year-old goaltender just one week ago in regards to whether Seattle would be buyers or sellers at the league’s Jan. 10 trade deadline.

If Kozun’s instincts were correct, the T-Birds’ four-game winning streak to start the second half and five-game streak overall – their longest of the season – will position Seattle as buyers come the deadline.

General manager Russ Farwell indicated that he wasn’t looking to sell despite a start that was a bit slower than anticipated, likely as a result of Seattle missing some of its top players for the first half of the season.

Even without Shea Theodore, Mathew Barzal, and Alexander True since the break, Seattle has played its best hockey of the season, showing the poise necessary to win four of those five games by one-goal margins.

The T-Birds have historically performed very poorly coming out of the midseason hiatus, usually forcing themselves into a hole that they’ve had to dig their way out of late in the year. In the first five games following the holiday break since the 2009-2010 season, Seattle is a combined 4-18-3-0. The T-Birds’ four victories to start the season’s second half are the most since the 1999-2000 season.

The strong play of late should serve as confirmation that the T-Birds will approach the trade deadline looking to make a move – or moves – that will upgrade the team in the present. It’s likely they won’t sacrifice much by way of players currently on the roster, as they have positioned themselves to be upper-echelon contenders with a talented group of 16- and 17-year-old players.

With the four consecutive victories, Seattle has moved within one point of Portland for third place in the U.S. Division with two games in hand. Before the streak, Seattle sat behind Tri-City, last in the standings.

The absence of some of the team’s top talent has allowed others to flourish with more ice time, which will pay enormous dividends later this season and beyond. Keegan Kolesar and Ethan Bear each have six points during the win streak. Lane Pederson has four after only having six points during the season’s first 29 games. Players like Nick Holowko and Donovan Neuls are seeing a huge increase in minutes on lines with some of the team’s more veteran players, and their play has improved as a result.

As players begin to return from injury and the World Junior Championships, those players will return to their usual roles on the third and fourth lines, but the extra experience acquired now will make them far more effective, and potentially give the T-Birds the secondary scoring they’ve been missing for a good portion of the season.

The Thunderbirds will shoot for their sixth straight win tonight as they host another division rival, the Tri-City Americans, as they attempt to remain undefeated in the second half.

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Thunderbirds off to best second-half start in 14 years