T-Birds hold on to nip Rebels in shootout

Nov 5, 2014, 6:02 AM | Updated: 9:51 am
Jerret Smith races with the puck during Seattle’s 3-2 win Tuesday night. (T-Birds photo)...
Jerret Smith races with the puck during Seattle's 3-2 win Tuesday night. (T-Birds photo)
(T-Birds photo)

KENT – The Thunderbirds are one of the youngest teams in the WHL but Tuesday night they leaned on two of their older players to gut out a win.

The T-Birds held on to earn a 3-2 shootout victory over the Red Deer Rebels in front of 4,031 fans at the ShoWare Center. Seattle was led by two of its 20-year-olds as goalie Taran Kozun stood on his head to make 37 saves and Justin Hickman scored both Seattle goals along with the lone shootout tally.

Kozun kept the Rebels at bay long enough for Seattle to get the game into the shootout with several big saves and a few spectacular ones. He stopped all three Red Deer shooters and Hickman sealed the deal by beating Rebels goalie Rylan Toth through the five-hole.

“That’s the first time in my career doing the shootout,” Hickman said. “I’m just horrible at them. Don’t miss the net, put it on the ice, right in the middle.”

The puck went down the middle and in, and after Kozun stopped Tyler Sandhu, Seattle’s bench emptied to celebrate a big win.

“I think our leaders had the guys ready to make sure that we came out and establish our home identity in the first part of the game,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “They came out in the first two periods and played good hockey.”

The Rebels came to play Tuesday night as well and the first period was a spirited affair that saw four scraps, two by forward Luke Osterman. There was a lot of hitting and a lot of chirping but Seattle managed to draw first blood.

Mathew Barzal stole the puck deep in Red Deer’s zone and cycled it to Hickman, who glided behind the net, made a move and fired a wrist shot from the circle to beat Toth for his third goal of the year.

Hickman would score again in the second to extend Seattle’s lead. On the power play, Ethan Bear pinched in and fired a shot on Toth that rebounded to Hickman, who found himself all alone in the slot. He slammed the puck home for his second goal of the night.

“That was probably the easiest goal I’ve scored in my career,” Hickman said. “Bearsy, good play on him, I just crashed the net.”

The goal was a much needed one for the ailing T-Birds power play. Coming into the game Seattle was in an 0-for-11 slump. After failing to score on their first two attempts Tuesday, Seattle finally cashed in.

Red Deer is a good team, played a tough game and did not go away quietly. The Rebels fought back in the second period and would get right back in the game. Less than 2 minutes after Hickman’s power-play goal, Adam Musil beat Kozun at the side of the net for his seventh goal of the season to cut the lead to one.

Seattle, on its heels a bit, then started taking penalties. Red Deer had over a minute-and-a-half of a two-man advantage in the second but could not score. Seattle’s penalty kill was outstanding on the night. Scott Eansor and Jerret Smith stood out with several shot blocks and Kozun at the back end was huge.

“Huge penalty kills for us,” Konowalchuk said. “I can’t say enough for the way Smith and Eansor blocked shots, huge kill and obviously any penalty kills you need some saves from your goaltender.”

On the night the Rebels were unable to score on five power-play attempts.

In the third period the Rebels got the game even early in the third period on a strange goal. Seattle was on the power play and coughed the puck up in its own end. Brooks Maxwell picked the puck up and beat Kozun with a big slap shot.

Riding that momentum, the Rebels then poured it on for the rest of the third period. If not for Kozun’s heroics the game could have been lost. Red Deer out-shot Seattle 17-8 on the period and came close to taking the lead on several occasions.

“We stopped moving our feet with the puck through the neutral zone and we didn’t get as good entries” Konowalchuk said of the third period. “We didn’t get as many pucks deep, let them come at us.”

As good as Kozun was, he also got some help. With just over a minute left in the third Red Deer beat Kozun but could not beat the post as the puck rang off it and out to safety.

“I’m just thanking the posts after that one,” Kozun said. “For staying out and staying small and letting it bounce out. Its an up and down game and then they do that … you have to keep competing.”

The T-Birds kept competing and were able to hang on and get the game to overtime and eventually the shootout where Hickman and Kozun teamed up to win it. The T-Birds are hoping the win – which now gives them wins in two out of the last three games – will give them some big momentum moving forward.

Seattle hits the road this week for a long six-game road trip through the Eastern Conference. The trip starts Friday night in Prince Albert as the T-Birds will take on the Raiders.

Notes

• Now that Hickman is 1 for 1 in his career on the shootout, might he start campaigning for more chances? “I don’t know, it gave me a little heart attack there, we’ll see,” he said.

• Konowalchuk mixed up his lines on Tuesday to try and generate more offense up and down his lineup. Most notably he split up the top line and moved Ryan Gropp to a line with Scott Eansor and Donovan Neuls.

• WHL Commissioner Ron Robison was in attendance Tuesday night. No word if he was there to personally collect the $750 fine the league gave Konowalchuk last week.

• Hickman’s two goals give him four on the season and it’s the second time he has scored twice in a game.

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