Familiar faces occupy three stars for T-Birds
By Tim Pigulski
After a disappointing weekend that saw the Thunderbirds miss an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot by losing to two teams below them in the standings, the ‘Birds redeemed themselves with a huge statement victory over a solid Tri-City team.
The victory, along with a Prince George loss to Spokane, put Seattle back in the playoffs, and may have created some momentum heading into the regular season’s final weekend. The Cougars, who almost completed a furious third period comeback against the Chiefs, still have a chance to catch Everett, but are mathematically eliminated from obtaining the No. 7 seed.
With that, this weekend’s stars.
First Star: Luke Lockhart
For the third straight week, the captain takes home our award as the Thunderbirds’ top player. Pointless against Prince George on Friday night (like most of the roster), Lockhart got the T-Birds off to a good start against Everett with a shorthanded goal, his sixth of the season, which tied him for the league lead.
However, the reason that the 20-year-old leader sits as our first star for the week is for his clutch performance in the playoff-clinching victory over the Tri-City Americans Tuesday evening. Lockhart had two goals in the game, including another shorthander that gave him the league lead, and an assist. He was also just inches away from a hat trick when what appeared to be his third goal of the game was waved off due to goaltender interference.
At this point, it goes without saying that Lockhart was a factor in all situations, especially on the penalty kill, where Seattle allowed only one goal on 12 opposing power plays.
Second Star: Seth Swenson
Like our first star, Swenson came up big when it mattered most. He began the weekend with an assist in each of the losses, but then registered a goal and two assists against Tri-City. The goal, which came on the same penalty kill as Lockhart’s shorthanded goal, provided the T-Birds and the crowd a major spark that they clung to for the rest of the game.
With 44 points in 70 games and a minus-6 rating that ranks among the better on the team, Swenson is making a strong case to occupy one of Seattle’s three overage spots next season. He’s proven to be a smart player capable of impacting the game in all situations.
Third Star: Connor Honey
In his first weekend since returning from injury, Honey got off to a slow start as Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk placed the 18-year-old wing on the fourth line in an effort to get him back up to game speed. However, it didn’t take long for Honey to move back up the depth chart (about a period or so) and return to the form we’ve become accustomed to seeing.
Against Everett, Honey potted one goal that, at the time, gave the T-Birds the lead, an advantage they eventually surrendered.
However, like the two players above him on this list, Honey impacted the game against the Americans in a huge way.
While his goal and one of his assists came when the game appeared to already be well in hand, he assisted on Lockhart’s first goal of the game, a power play marker, which set the tone for the rest of the contest.
Despite having just recently returned from injury, Honey was fearless all weekend on the forecheck and in the corners. Even though they lost two of three and only picked up half of the points possible during this important weekend, the T-Birds played much more competitive hockey, and a big part of that was a strong forecheck and increased responsible physical play.
Shea Theodore: Theodore provided another highlight reel goal that we’ve become used to seeing in the Saturday night game against Everett, and he also scored against Tri-City.
Roberts Lipsbergs: Lipsbergs had two assists on the weekend as well as the game-winning goal on Tuesday night.
Adam Kambeitz: The recently-acquired Kambeitz also had a goal and two assists, but did an impressive job getting under the skin of the Americans, frustrating them and drawing penalties. He spent his fair share of time in the sin bin, but his impact on the game was noticeable every time he stepped on the ice.
Danny Mumaugh: The 16-year-old Colorado native chose a good time to get his first WHL win – shortly before his 17th birthday, but more importantly, in the game that would eventually seal the Thunderbirds’ return to the playoffs after a three-year absence. In the one game he started this weekend, Mumaugh stopped 28 of 31 shots and gave the Thunderbirds an opportunity to win.
Brandon Glover: The 20-year-old dropped his blocker and trapper in a fight with Everett goalie Austin Lotz this weekend. Despite losing both of his starts, that was pretty entertaining and deserves a shout out.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski