Thunderbirds flush Royals 6-3
Sam McKechnie and Scott Eansor clamp down on Victoria’s Tyler Soy during Seattle’s 6-3 win (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — The Seattle Thunderbirds have found their groove again. Saturday night they exploded with four goals over a five minute span in the second period to blow open a tie game against the Victoria Royals and cruise to their third straight win. Seattle got solid performances up and down their lineup, high-lighted by Branden Troock and Roberts Lipsbergs each picking up three points on the night.
“I think the good start was the key,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said after. “Guys came out physical with a lot of energy, played the right way, kept putting pucks behind their D and forcing them.”
Seattle (15-9-3-1) lit up a Victoria team that came into the game riding a five game win streak that saw them only surrender a total of four goals. The T-Birds also cashed in with two power play goals against the Royals’ league best penalty kill.
“We’re going good. We’re getting some chemistry and its carrying over from those last two games,” Branden Troock said. “We’re finding a way to get the puck in the net.”
The tone was set early in the first period as the T-Birds came out playing physically and got up early on the Royals. Alex Delnov continued his hot play by banking the puck off Victoria goalie Patrik Polivka’s skate and in for his 13th goal and fourth in his last three games.
The T-Birds kept the pressure on and 30 seconds later scored again on a Lipsbergs deflection of a Jared Hauf point shot. Suddenly the Royals found themselves in a two-goal hole in the first three minutes of the game.
“It helps a lot getting the good start. If you’re down two in the hole right away, in the first five minutes, obviously you feel demoralized,” Mathew Barzal said. “That’s the way we need to come out every game.”
The Royals head coach Dave Lowry used his timeout after the Lipsbergs goal to settle things down and his club responded. The Royals got a goal back half way through the first when Mitch Skapski knocked home a puck that had banged off the post.
Victoria (18-11-0-1) would then tie it up in the second after a bad Seattle turnover landed on Skapski’s stick and he fed Logan Fisher who beat Danny Mumaugh.
It was then that the T-Birds erupted.
The four goal explosion started when Shea Theodore picked up a puck in the neutral zone and turned on his jets. He blew past the Victoria defense and beat Polivka with a pretty top shelf shot.
“I dished it off and got it back and I got some speed and just put it up stairs,” Theodore said about the play. Saturday night the team gave away Shea Theodore bobble heads to the fans at the ShoWare Center and Theodore came up big with the goal and an assist. Was there any pressure to score on his bobble head night?
“Oh, a little bit,” the defenseman said with a smile. “A few of the guys were giving it to me, but it was OK.”
That goal seemed to spark the T-Birds as shortly after Mathew Barzal knocked home a loose puck in the Victoria crease as he was falling to the ice. The original shot from Lipsbergs hit the post and rattled around in Victoria’s crease. Barzal kept playing despite the goal light and horn going off before the puck crossed the goal line. It was a power play goal and put the T-Birds back up by two.
“Lipsbergs hit the post, he usually doesn’t do that,” Barzal said about the play. “It hit there was just sitting right there (in the crease) and I wasn’t going to miss that one.”
It was Barzal’s fourth goal of the year and first goal scored in front of the home crowd.
“It feels good, there was a little monkey on back the last 15 or 16 games,” he said. “So it was nice to get that one for sure.”
Less than 20 seconds later Ryan Gropp flew into the Victoria zone and fed Troock in the slot, where he picked the puck out of mid-air and past Polivka. That goal ended Polivka’s night as he was replaced by Coleman Vollrath.
Vollrath didn’t find the going any easier as less than a minute later Lipsbergs scored his second of the night, again on a deflection from in front.
When the dust settled the T-Birds had blown the doors off the Royals, scoring more goals than Victoria had allowed since the last time these two teams played. Seattle also ended up chasing a goalie in Polivka that was fifth in the league in goals against and had been the number one star in each of the last five games Victoria played — only allowing four goals.
“The key was traffic,” Konowalchuk said. “I think we deflected one of the first goals in and we had to get guys in front of the net. That team does a good job of boxing out for the most part. With those goalies, if they see the puck they’re going to make the save.”
The T-Birds now have not only a three game winning streak but they have found their offense and their confidence. They continue to roll all four lines and are again generating scoring chances and more importantly, goals. Seattle now has scored 17 goals over their last three games.
The T-Birds now travels to Spokane for a big U.S. Division game against the Spokane Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. It will be Seattle’s first look a the surprising Chiefs and is the first of three straight games against their eastern Washington rivals.
“We’ve got to be careful with (Mitch) Holmberg and (Mike) Aviani” Troock said about Sunday’s game in Spokane. “Those two are obviously very dangerous out there. We’re going to pay a lot of attention to those guys but we’ve got to play our game. We’re going to go out there and play Thunderbirds hockey.”
Coming into the game the Royals had the league’s best penalty killing unit, only allowing a goal 87% of the time. Seattle was 2-for-6 on the night and now have power play goals in five of their last six games — including five in the last two games.
Ryan Gropp continues to improve as the season wears on. He picked up one assist on Saturday night and now has a point in four of his last five games.
Besides Gropp there are several players that are on hot streaks. Troock has a three game goal scoring streak going and Lipsbergs now has six goals in his last seven games.
Danny Mumaugh debuted his new painted goalie mask and so far the mask is 1-0.
Konowalchuk was undecided as to which goalie will start Sunday in Spokane as he felt that both played well this weekend.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.