NHL lockout could help Northwest Junior hockey

Sep 20, 2012, 10:00 AM | Updated: 10:03 am

By Bill Swartz

An NHL player lockout went into effect last weekend, and with no new bargaining sessions scheduled it appears the season won’t start on time.

The labor unrest could benefit junior teams like Seattle, Everett, and Vancouver skating in the Western Hockey League. Their seasons fire up this weekend.

Seattle Thunderbirds coach Steve Konowalchuk expects to see some larger crowds when his team plays in British Columbia later this month.

Konowalchuk092109
Konowalchuk

“Vancouver (Giants) have scheduled several home games early in the season knowing the Canucks might not be playing,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll get more fans.”

Konowalchuk added: “In Canada, they eat, sleep, and die hockey, so they need to find some games somewhere. It will be fun for our young players to experience larger crowds and be the main focus of hockey going forward for the near future.”

Hockey legend Pat Quinn, part owner of the Vancouver Giants hockey club, predicts many fans will see the speed and talent at the junior level and make the switch. Vancouver is offering cut-rate tickets in sections of Pacific Coliseum for the first several games.

There are many future NHL stars competing in Northwest junior hockey. Slovakian left winger Marek Tvrdon leads the Vancouver Giants’ attack. Seattle acquired 20-year-old promising goalie Brandon Glover from the Calgary Hitmen in the offseason.

Konowalchuk enjoyed a 15-year NHL career with the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche. He believes there are four criteria young players must have to reach the highest level of the sport.

“Obviously, skating is a big part of it. Skill in shooting and passing is important. You must have hockey sense with the ability to read the play and think on your feet,” he said. “Competing means the willingness to block shots, and get into battles to win the puck.”

The 39-year-old Konowalchuk is in his second season as Seattle’s head coach. He began his playing career in a Portland Winterhawks’ sweater, which makes him the target for friendly barbs.

“I played with a few Seattle guys in the NHL, and they phoned me when I took the job and said, ‘How can you be coaching Seattle now, you traitor?’ It is a fun ribbing in the rivalry, so when I’m on the other bench now it’s easy to get on me.”

The T-Birds see plenty of the Winterhawks this weekend, opening the 2012-2013 season Friday night in Portland then skating against the same team at ShoWare Center in Kent Saturday evening.

Thunderbirds

Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge has some moves to make this offseason. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds photo)...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge dishes on the upcoming offseason

Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge will make some moves this summer to improve his club. Will they be big ones?
2 years ago
Seattle’s Keltie Jeri-Leon celebrates his final WHL goal Sunday against Spokane. (Brian Liess...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds end strange and hard season on a high note with dominating win over Spokane

The Seattle Thunderbirds dealt with a lot of adversity this season but end on a high note.
2 years ago
Keltie Jeri-Leon plays his final WHL game for the Thunderbirds Sunday night. (Brian Liesse)...
Andy Eide

Keltie Jeri-Leon set to play his final WHL game as Thunderbirds face Spokane Sunday

After five seasons, Seattle's lone over-aged player, Keltie Jeri-Leon will play his final junior game Sunday night.
2 years ago
Seattle rookie Scott Ratzlaff won his first WHL game in his first start. (Judy Simpson/TC Americans...
Andy Eide

Scott Ratzlaff earns first WHL win as Thunderbirds beat Tri-City

Behind a rookie goalie, the Thunderbirds kicked off the season's final weekend with a 5-2 win in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans.
2 years ago
The Seattle Thunderbirds celebrate after snapping a six-game losing streak Sunday night. (Brian Lie...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds enjoy winning again after snapping six-game losing streak

The Seattle Thunderbirds have been scuffling but battled against a good Portland Winterhawks club to snap a six-game losing streak.
2 years ago
Thunderbirds forward Reid Schaefer fights for position Sunday in Portland. (Megan Connelly/Winterha...
Andy Eide

Dealing with adversity, young Thunderbirds drop pair of games in Portland

Injuries and penalties have thrown a ton of adversity at the young Thunderbirds which showed up in a pair of losses at Portland this weekend.
2 years ago
NHL lockout could help Northwest Junior hockey