T-Birds notebook: Swinging through the Eastern Conference

Nov 6, 2014, 10:24 PM | Updated: Nov 7, 2014, 3:49 pm

The Thunderbirds arrived in Saskatchewan Thursday as their six-game road trip, the longest of the season, kicks off Friday evening in Prince Albert. The next couple of weeks will feature a lot of bus rides, hotels and games for the T-Birds – and hopefully some wins.

Here’s the latest news surrounding the team:

Bear goes home

With the T-Birds headed to the Eastern Conference, it’s a chance for a number of their players to play in their hometowns and see friends and family. Five of the six games on this trip will be played in Saskatchewan, and the T-Birds currently have six players who hail from that part of Canada.

Among all the homecomings, none may be more unique and special than the one Ethan Bear has coming. On Nov. 10, the T-Birds will take a bus ride and get a practice in at the Ochapowace First Nation Reserve, which recently completed the construction of a brand-new facility. The reserve is where Bear grew up and the team will be greeted by family, friends and members of the community.

“It will be one of the highlights of the trip. I’m pretty excited,” Bear said. “I have a lot of friends and family there, pretty sure they’re bringing most of the school. I think it’s pretty cool that they are going to have everyone come and watch us practice.”

After the practice there will be a public skate with the players along with a community dinner. Bear is one of only a handful of players from the Ochapowace Reserve to make it as far as the WHL so this will be a unique opportunity to see one of their local heroes up close. Of course, the always humble Bear doesn’t see himself as the big man on campus.

“I don’t know about big man, but a lot of people really appreciate and give me a lot of respect,” Bear said of his hometown. “They really enjoy having an athlete (from the reserve). There’s a lot of really good athletes there. I think they’re really excited to have a WHL team come and practice.”

Big points on the prairies

Winning on the road in the WHL is never easy, and the T-Birds will have to play well over the next couple of weeks, but they will be playing winnable games. The East Division is not very strong this year and a good trip could result in Seattle climbing the standings.

Of the six teams the T-Birds will face on this swing, only the Brandon Wheat Kings and Swift Current Broncos have winning records. Brandon is perhaps the top team in the WHL and features an electrifying offense and a roster full of NHL prospects, so it will be a tough one for the T-Birds, as will the game in Swift Current. But the rest of the games are there for the taking.

You would think that the T-Birds will want to be at least 4-2 on this trip for it to be considered a success. Can they do it?

U.S. Division arms race heats up

It started with the Everett Silvertips picking up Montreal Canadiens first-round draft pick Nikita Scherbak at the beginning of the season. Then this week the Tri-City Americans responded by acquiring 20-year-old import Richard Nejezchleb from the Wheat Kings.

Is Seattle next?

Both Everett and Tri-City have similar issues that Seattle does. They are teams with good goaltending, solid defense but inconsistent scoring. These trades help that, and we’ve seen Everett vault to the top of the division since picking up Scherbak, who has potted 10 goals in 12 games. Seattle is scoring a U.S. Division-worst 2.5 goals per game and could use a spark.

There is offensive talent to be had via trade in the WHL. While the official trade deadline is still two months away, teams are maneuvering now. Thursday the Calgary Hitmen sent forward Greg Chase home, and he has requested a trade. Chase, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, has not been happy with Calgary management. The speculation is that he has been deployed on Calgary’s third line, despite scoring 35 goals and 85 points last year, and is not pleased.

Will Seattle make a play for Chase? Is there another player that owner/general manager Russ Farwell is looking to bring in?

Certainly the T-Birds can use more scoring, but getting it through a trade may not be necessary. It appears that Shea Theodore will return to the team after the Subway Series Nov. 10-11, where he will represent the WHL.

Getting Theodore back will be a giant boost to the club. He kick-starts Seattle’s offense by moving the puck, setting up the forwards and is deadly on the power play. Seattle’s power play has struggled of late, scoring only one goal on its last 15 power-play chances. Look for those numbers to improve once Theodore is patrolling the point again.

Don’t be surprised if the T-Birds wait to see what their offense looks like with their leading scorer from last year back on the ice before making any trades.

The weekend ahead

The T-Birds kick off the trip Friday evening with a tilt against the Prince Albert Raiders. The Raiders have had some turmoil in recent weeks as they became the first club to make a change behind the bench. Prince Albert fired head coach Cory Clouston, replaced him with Marc Habscheid and immediately responded with two wins. The Raiders are still trying to find someone to fill the goal-scoring skates of Leon Draisaitl, who has remained in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. They still feature Josh Morrissey on the back end, who jump starts their offense like Shea Theodore does for the T-Birds. The Winnipeg Jets prospect is off to a good start with 12 points in 13 games.

Saturday night the T-Birds will face the rebuilding Saskatoon Blades. The Blades have only won five games and are in last place in the East Division but have a couple of familiar faces. Former T-Birds Sam McKechnie and Adam Henry will skate against their former club for the first time with the Blades. They are both having good years, as Henry has chipped in nine points from the blue line and McKechnie leads the team in scoring with 13 points.

This will also be a homecoming for Turner Ottenbreit, who started the season in Saskatoon and came to Seattle in the trade for Henry.

The Blades have struggled defensively, giving up more goals (78) than any other team in the WHL, and this could be a chance for Seattle to get its offense going.

Both of these games are being played in Central Standard Time, which means they will face off at 5 p.m. Seattle time.

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