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Opening night is a special night for the Seattle Thunderbirds players

The Seattle Thunderbirds open the WHL season Saturday night and are hoping for many celebrations. (Brian Liesse/ T-Birds)

KENT – There’s nothing quite like a home opener in hockey. The crowd has extra juice, there’s a light show, and each player is introduced individually. It can be a goosebump-inducing experience.

The Seattle Thunderbirds open their Western Hockey League season Saturday night with a game at the accesso ShoWare Center against the Kamloops Blazers at 6:05 pm.  It’s an exciting time of the year for everyone involved.

A good crowd will be there, their throats fresh from a summer that was quiet so the noise levels will be elevated. As amped up as the fans get for the home opener, the players are right there with them.

We caught up with several of the Thunderbirds this week to ask them what opening night means to them, what their favorite opening night memories are, and what they’re looking forward to Saturday evening.

Cade McNelly – Defense. Saturday will be his third home opener with the Thunderbirds.

“My first opening night game that we won. It was pretty cool because it was my first game too. It just showed me how cool it was to win in front of the crowd. It was exciting. It was a great experience knowing they won (the WHL Championship) the year before and all the fans were screaming.”

Matt O’Dette – Head Coach. He remembers that same night, in 2017, when Seattle raised the Championship banner.

“I think the game two years ago against Tri was pretty memorable. We had a little bit of a rough preseason but when the lights came on the guys played with the T-Birds mentality. Blocking shots with all parts of their bodies and playing with that tenacity and in your face style that we’ve grown accustomed to. That was a big statement that we still had that identity and vaulted us into the season. It was special.”

Henrik Rybinski – Forward. Saturday will be his first home opener with the Thunderbirds.

“It’s just a little extra to start the season. I’m expecting a packed and energetic crowd. It’s going to be exciting. The first game of the year and the fans will be on their toes. I’m looking forward to it.”

Payton Mount – Forward. Mount is entering his second season with the Thunderbirds.

“The preseason was amazing, the fans that came out for just a preseason game. But, when we have that full barn, stepping on the ice for the first time, that’s a cool experience for sure, hearing all the fans. It’s motivating. My first game was crazy. The fans were loud all game, my first Portland game. I got a little taste of the rivalry and it was an amazing experience.”

Blake Lyda – Goalie. Saturday will be his first home opener with the Thunderbirds since being traded from Everett.

“Last year, I was in Everett for their opening night and it was a packed place. They came out with all the lights. It was pretty cool. I think it’s going to be pretty awesome. It’s going to a loud place and I’m excited to start the season.”

Owen Williams – Defense. Williams is entering his third season with the Thunderbirds and Saturday will be his second opener in Seattle after starting with the Regina Pats.

“It’s got to be the first time I ever experienced it. I was in Regina and it was my first real experience of a regular-season crowd, the light show and the introductions, and everything. It was fantastic. Everyone is always excited and chomping at the bit to get things started.”

Conner Bruggen-Cate – Forward. After being traded this offseason to Seattle from Kelowna, the overager has seen his share of openers.

“I think just the atmosphere, the fans are usually electric on opening night. It picks you up and gives you goosebumps when you’re standing there. When I played here with Kelowna, every night, no matter if it was a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday it was always the loudest rink I’ve ever played in. I can only imagine what Saturday is going to be like.”

Keltie Jeri-Leon – Forward. After arriving in Seattle via a January trade, Saturday will be Jeri-Leon’s first opener with the Thunderbirds.

“I think every single opening night is a special night. The building is always packed, always loud. It’s the first game of the season and everyone is hyped up and ready to play. You kind of work the whole summer with that opening night game in your head. Pushing extra sets and reps to get ready.

“It will be my first one here. I’m expecting it to be crazy as always, I think we have the best fans in the WHL. I remember my first game here last year after the trade was sold out, Teddy Bear Toss Night, so I can only imagine it will be crazy loud. I’m pretty excited.”

Jaxan Kaluski – Forward. As a 20-year-old, Saturday will be his last home opener in the WHL.

“Probably the first time I had a season opener here, which was last year. It was a crazy atmosphere. I got to see that for half a year before that but nothing’s like the home opener. I’m excited to see that again with all the fans going. Just all of it, the crowd is all on their feet, cheering and we have the light show going. It makes for a cool atmosphere and our chant gives me shivers every time I come out and gives me an extra boost of energy.”