T-Birds cut down Wheat Kings 6-4
Seattle entered Friday night’s game in Brandon on a mini two-game losing streak. Those two losses came at the hands of struggling teams, which made the matchup with the Wheat Kings seem ominous.
The Thunderbirds bounced back from those losses, however, and handled the Eastern Conference leading Wheat Kings 6-4 at Westman Place in front of 4,267 fans. Seattle had a big night from its newly-formed top line as Justin Hickman, Scott Eansor and Keegan Kolesar all scored goals. Danny Mumaugh made 28 saves in his third start of the year to pick up his first win.
The win not only snapped Seattle’s losing streak but it ended a run of six straight wins for the Wheat Kings.
The T-Birds were resilient Friday night after they allowed the Wheat Kings to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the second period to tie the game. Instead of letting the flood gates open, the T-Birds stuck to their game-plan and finished with a solid third period.
“We lost our composure a little bit and just started shooting the puck away,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said of the second period. “It was just a situation where guy’s settled down, we were playing well five-on-five, so just settle down and make plays.”
The T-Birds got the lead back from their power play, which had been struggling. The new component to the power play is Shea Theodore, of course, and the high-scoring defenseman’s return paid dividends Friday night. He scored a power-play goal midway through the third on a wrist shot from the point to give the lead back to Seattle.
“That’s a heads-up shot,” Konoalchuk said. “We’ve got a guy right in front and he’s able to pick those corners. He looks one way and picks the open corner.”
It was Theodore’s first goal since returning to the lineup on Wednesday. He added an assist earlier in the game and gave life to a power play that had been struggling. Seattle ended the night 1-for-2 with the man advantage.
The Wheat Kings have a potent offense and Seattle had to know that a one-goal lead in the third period was anything but safe. With just over 7 minutes left in the game, Eansor scored on a crazy and somewhat controversial play to extend Seattle’s lead. He picked off the puck in the neutral zone and turned on the jets to fly past Brandon defenseman Ivan Provorov. Provorov managed to get a piece of Eansor, sending him to the ice just in front of the goal, which caused the puck and Eansor to crash into goalie Logan Thompson and dislodged the net.
The officials initially waived off the goal but went to the scorer’s box to talk to the video replay judge. The replays showed that the puck crossed the goal line before the net was knocked off, meaning the goal would stand and give the T-Birds a 5-3 lead. It was Eansor’s fourth goal of the year and one that is the epitome of everything his game has in it, a combination of skill and tenacity.
“Its something he’s getting better and better at,” Konowalchuk said. “That’s how he’s going to score a lot of goals. He’s getting better and better at it and I love to see him get rewarded, that was a big goal”
As the game was winding down, the Wheat Kings would make it interesting again when Jesse Gabrielle tapped in a rebound to cut Seattle’s lead to one with just under 4 minutes left. Seattle wasted no time in getting that goal back though as Kolesar walked around a defenseman and beat Thompson with a forehand. It was Kolesar’s sixth goal of the year, Seattle’s sixth of the night and it put the game away.
“It was a good win,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought everybody was a factor in the game. We used a lot of players. It was a good solid team win from start to finish.”
The T-Birds were solid all night but fell behind in the first period when Duncan Cambpell scored on his own rebound. As they would do to end the game, the T-Birds wasted no time in answering the Brandon score, this time only 4 seconds. On the ensuing faceoff, Calvin Spencer picked up the puck and fired a long shot that Thompson could not handle.
That got the T-Birds going and they added another goal midway through the period when Ryan Gropp deposited a back-hand shot from right in front for his 10th of the year. Seattle extended its lead to 3-1 early in the second period when Justin Hickman jumped out of the penalty box and got a pass from Kolesar that sprung him all alone into the Brandon zone. He got Thompson down and beat him for his sixth goal.
It was then that Seattle’s parade to the penalty box began. Brandon ended up with five power-play chances in the second period and scored twice to even the game up at three. The first came from Peter Quenneville and then a few minutes later his brother, John, scored the equalizer.
This was a big win for the T-Birds and they got big performances from their top line and goalie Danny Mumaugh. The new top line – Eansor, Hickman and Kolesar – combined for three goals, four assists and were plus-eight on the night. The line was put together at the start of the road trip when Seattle learned it would be without Mathew Barzal due to injury. Since then it has gelled and is dangerous each time on the ice.
“Its a tough line,” Konowalchuk said. “You’ve got two big physical bodies there that crash and bang and will drop the gloves if they have to. Then you have Eansor, who is so quick and tenacious on pucks. It’s a line that can definitely wear you out.”
Mumaugh gave up four goals but was good for Seattle on Friday. Making only his third start against a tough opponent on the road is no easy task. He made some huge timely saves all night long, especially in the second period. The four goals may seem like a lot but it came against a Wheat King squad that came into the game averaging five goals per contest.
“That’s a very good offensive team out there and he made some big time saves at key times,” Konowalchuk said of his goalie.
The win sets up the T-Birds now for the rest of the weekend. They will move on to Regina Saturday to take on the Pats before wrapping up their road trip with a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Swift Current Broncos. That’s a tough stretch of games, but getting the first one was a good first step.
“When you’re winning you feel a little less tired, even when you’re playing three-in-three,” Konowalchuk said. “Winning gives you a little extra energy.”
• Keegan Kolesar had one of his better games of the season Friday night and it came in front of friends and family. He hails from nearby Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the three points he scored was a career high. His 12 points on the season has already surpassed his totals from his rookie season last year. He also picked up his second “Gordie Howe hat trick” — a goal, an assist and a fight.
• Speaking of improvement, Scott Eansor has also surpassed both his goal and point totals from last year. His two-point night Friday gives him four goals and nine assists on the year and the 13 points surpasses the 12 he managed last season. He is turning into one of the strongest two-way centers in the WHL.
• Mumaugh’s numbers on the year are probably not what he wants them to be. His goals-against average is over four and his save percentage is under .900. You have to take a step back though and look at who his competition has been. In his three starts, two have been against the Kelowna Rockets and now Brandon. Those two teams are the two top scoring clubs in the WHL – by a wide margin – and are tough on goalies.
• While the T-Birds were in penalty trouble in the second period, they didn’t take any other penalties on the night. All five of Brandon’s power-play chances came in the second period. Seattle had a clean sheet in the first and third.