Captain Nolan Volcan leads young Thunderbirds into playoff action
Mar 22, 2019, 7:43 AM | Updated: 7:45 am
Seattle Thunderbirds captain Nolan Volcan battles for position in front of the net. A shot from the point hits the goaltender behind him and he forces his way through a body to find the rebound and flip it into the goal. It wasn’t a game. This was practice at the accesso Showare Center earlier in the week as the Thunderbirds prepare for their first-round best-of-seven series with the Vancouver Giants.
Volcan has played in a lot of WHL playoff games and the high-energy 20-year-old doesn’t plan on changing his normal practice routine.
“You keep it the same and don’t change anything,” Volcan said about his preparation. “Throughout the season when you’re playing well its usually because you’re going in clear minded and that’s what we want to do.”
The Captain knows what he’s talking about.
Coming into Friday’s Game 1, Volcan has played in 49 post season contests, which is four games away from tying a Seattle franchise record. He has the experience but overall the Thunderbirds are green when it comes to the playoffs.
Volcan is one of three hold overs from Seattle’s 2017 WHL Championship team. Along with Matthew Wedman and Jarret Tyszka, the three have combined to play in 133 playoff games. Sean Richards, who was part of the Everett Silvertips run to the finals last season, has played in 44 post season games.
The rest of the team has played in just 56 games.
Neither of Seattle’s goalies have seen any post season action and outside of Tyszka, Seattle’s defense can count on just 12 games of experience.
Rookie defenseman Tyrel Buaer is one of those guys looking to get his first taste of the post season pressure cooker.
“Its super exciting,” the 16-year-old Bauer said. “Being young and the way this season has gone, it’s been pretty eye opening. To get even more experience in a post season atmosphere is pretty exciting.”
Bauer missed the final two games of the season but is hopeful to play against Vancouver. He, and the rest of the young Thunderbirds will certainly lean on veterans like Volcan for queues on handling the playoffs.
It’s still hockey but the game does change when the pressure rises.
“I think it’s a heavier game in the playoffs,” Volcan said. “More big hits with no repercussions, really. You see a big hit and you don’t really have two or three guys challenging that player. I think the intensity, how far guys are willing to go to get the win (raises). It comes down to little things like that.”
Volcan remembers the first of his 49 games well.
That Seattle team, in 2015, didn’t have a roster full of grizzled playoff veterans. They took on the Portland Winterhawks and were able to squeak out a 4-3 win in Game 1, on the road. Volcan had an assist in the game but that’s not what stood out to him.
“I remember I was on the ice for the end there and we were just diving around, blocking shots,” he said of the game. “Got the win but I think that kind of shows what it’s like. Its Game 1 of the first round and you’re up by a goal and guys are diving in front of pucks with their heads. I think that’s just the intensity that playoffs bring.”
While Friday will technically be the first playoff experience for several of the Thunderbirds, in reality, they’ve been in the playoffs for two months now.
Seattle was in the cellar of the Western Conference at the start of January. They turned a corner however and with some new additions acquired at the trade deadline, started playing good hockey. They began to string some wins together and got back in the playoff race.
Night in and night out they were playing for their post season lives. Desperate for points, the games felt like a run of Game 7’s.
“It’s not the way we would have drawn up entering the post season, but we persevered hard and showed that we can compete with any team at this level,” Bauer said about the stretch run. “The desperation levels grew, and it definitely helps when you’re playing in a seven-game series and it’s do or die.”
The first-round series with Vancouver will go a minimum of four games which means Volcan should at least tie the franchise record of 53 post season games. He’ll tie a former teammate and linemate, Scott Eansor.
There was a time, not too long ago, that the Thunderbirds had missed the playoffs for three straight seasons. That time, and culture, has changed now. Volcan cherishes being able to play in so many big games throughout his five-year Seattle career.
He very likely will end up playing in more big games than any Thunderbird before him.
“That’s pretty cool,” Volcan, who was unaware of the record, said. “Obviously that’s a lot of games and I’m pretty fortunate to make the playoffs every year. There’s a lot of players who don’t ever get a chance…To be able to play five years of playoff hockey, I’m really fortunate and just blessed to have that opportunity.”
The Thunderbirds are hoping that he ends up playing more than 53 post season games as that would mean they go on a run. That quest begins Friday night, 7:30 pm, at the Langley Events Centre.