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Slow start in Spokane leads to Thunderbirds third straight loss

New Jersey Devils 2018 first-round pick Ty Smith scored twice as the Spokane Chiefs dropped the Thunderbirds (Larry Brunt)

The return of Spokane Chiefs star Ty Smith did not help the Seattle Thunderbirds rebound from Wednesday’s blow out loss in Kamloops.

Smith scored on his first shot of the season Friday 2:14 into the game at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and that led to three Chiefs goals in the game’s first eight minutes.  The early outburst set the tone for the night as Seattle dropped a 5-1 decision for its third straight loss.

“Our start wasn’t good enough,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Playing on the road you’ve got to string some good shifts together early and settle into the game. We had a couple of miscues there, defensively, to start. They seized momentum right away and we couldn’t reel them in during the first period.”

Facing the Chiefs with Smith was tall order enough, but Seattle (1-3-0-0) had to do it while dealing with a rash of injuries.

Defenseman Tyrel Bauer was injured in Kamloops on Wednesday and did not play Friday and was joined by Payton Mount, who was dealing with an illness. With the injuries the Thunderbirds already were dealing with it meant they were missing two of their top-four defensemen and two of their top-six forwards.

“Adversity is going to come during the season, it’s a long season,” O’Dette said. “There are stretches where things aren’t going your way and you deal with injuries and whatnot. You’ve got to stick together and keep battling. You eventually come out the other side if you keep doing that and you’re a stronger team.”

Smith, New Jersey’s 2018 first-round pick, scored twice for Spokane (2-1-1-0), as did San Jose Sharks prospect Jake McGrew to pace the Chiefs in the win. Goalie Campbell Arnold stopped 30 of the 31 Seattle shots he saw for his first WHL win.

O’Dette was looking for a push back on Friday and at times, the Thunderbirds were game, but the first-period hole was too much to overcome. It was the third straight game that Seattle had surrendered an early goal.

Down 3-0 to start the game, the Thunderbirds did manage to calm things down a bit.

Keltie Jeri-Leon scored his first of the season at the 11:05 mark of the first period. Seattle created chances after that but wasn’t able to get anything more past Arnold. The Thunderbirds would outshoot Spokane 21-19 over the final 40 minutes.

“I thought some guys dug in and kept battling the rest of the game,” O’Dette said. “I thought our young guys gave us some jump and kept pushing. That’s the thing on winning on the road, it can’t be some guys, it’s got to be everybody. There can’t be passengers. We had a handful of guys who weren’t going.”

The young guys included rookies Kai Uchacz and Lucas Ciona, who played on a line with Jeri-Leon, and set up the goal. Even when Seattle was down 5-1 in the third, the two played hard and created offensive looks.

“They kept pushing and battling.,” O’Dette added. “Playing downhill, winning battles and trying to get pucks to the net. That’s what those guys can do and I liked the effort that those guys put in. There’s going to be mistakes, we understand that, but play hard and we can live with the mistakes. We’re going to be patient with the kids.”

Special teams failed the Thunderbirds again on Friday.

Spokane converted on two-of-four power-play chances while Seattle went 0-for-5 with the man advantage. At times, especially in the third period when the Thunderbirds drew three power plays, Seattle came close and looked dangerous.

The Thunderbirds will look to build on that as they have started the season 1-for-17 on the power play, which is worst in the league.

While they didn’t score, they did generate momentum, but it didn’t carry over into their five-on-five play. In four games, Seattle has scored six even-strength goals, four of which came on opening night.

“There are some positives in that we’re getting chances, but our key guys have to bear down and put the puck in the back of the net,” O’Dette said. “It comes to a point where the guys that you count on have to produce. We’re looking for some of that.”

After two tough road games against a pair of the top teams in the Western Conference, the Thunderbirds will get some home cooking Saturday night when they return to the accesso ShoWare Center to face the Victoria Royals.

Game Notes

• Ciona recorded an assist on the Thunderbirds’ lone goal for his first point in the WHL.

• Blake Lyda made his first start in net as a Thunderbird and kicked out 27 of the 32 shots he faced.

• O’Dette said that it would be ‘unlikely’ that Bauer and Mount would be back in the lineup Saturday night.

• Smith scored on two of the three shots on goal he took Friday night. There was thought around both the NHL and WHL that the high-scoring defenseman had a chance of sticking with New Jersey this year. If there was a disappointment in being returned, it didn’t show in his first game.