Conner Roulette hat trick busts Royals as Thunderbirds snap losing streak
KENT – The Thunderbirds were holding on to a two-goal lead in the final three minutes at the accesso ShoWare Center against the Victoria Royals Saturday night when rookie Conner Roulette missed a chance to ice the game with an empty-net tally.
He had already scored twice to help stake the Thunderbirds with a 4-2 lead but the Royals responded with a goal by Gary Haden moments after the miss to cut the lead to one. Roulette was on the bench, stressed about missing a chance to put the game away.
“I panicked for sure,” Roulette said about his shot that went wide. “I hooked it on the toe. I was kind of down on myself for a bit.”
With the Victoria net still empty, Roulette got one more shift as the clock moved to under a minute left. He found the puck, skated behind the Royals defense, only to be tripped as he entered the zone.
It was a penalty and because he was in the clear with the net empty, he was awarded the goal for his first career hat trick and more importantly, it sealed a 5-3 win for the Thunderbirds.
“I was looking for it,” he said of the call. “When I first got tripped I didn’t think I was quite on the breakaway. I saw him give it to me and I didn’t know what to do, I just kind of jumped around. I didn’t even have to shoot. A hat trick is a hat trick at the end of the day and I’m happy with it. I’m happy we got the win.”
It was a needed win for Seattle (2-3-0-0) that snapped a three-game losing streak. Roulette scored the goals while Payton Mount chipped in with three assists and the Thunderbirds struggling power play converted on three of its six chances.
Like Seattle, Victoria (2-2-0-0) was dealing with injuries and only had nine forwards available to play. The Thunderbirds have had their share of injury problems and didn’t take the Royals lightly.
“The way the last few games have gone we’re not taking anyone for granted for sure,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “We have some injuries, they’ve had some injuries obviously but we responded well while being a little tired. We were more efficient than last night.”
Roulette, 16, opened the scoring with a putback on a rebound in the first period as the Thunderbirds built a 2-0 lead to start the game. He scored his second on the power play in the third and finished with the hat trick late.
The 2018 second-round pick has four markers on the season, leads the Thunderbirds in goal scoring and is tied for the lead in goals by rookies. He was all smiles after the game but isn’t resting on his laurels.
“I’m just trying to keep level headed,” Roulette said. “Just keep coming to the rink every day to earn my spot and working hard.”
He scored his first career goal Wednesday in Kamloops but enjoyed his first in front of the home fans.
“I was waiting for that,” Roulette said. “Everything I saw last year watching the games. It was loud, the fans, the goal horn. I didn’t know how to react. I was looking at the fans and everyone was standing up. It’s something I’ll remember for a long time.”
Mount’s return to the lineup buoyed the Thunderbirds and while his Saturday wasn’t as flashy as Roulette’s, he was a key player.
The 2017 first-round pick, playing against his home town team, missed Friday’s game due to an illness and was cleared to play Saturday afternoon.
“He was great,” O’Dette said. “If he isn’t playing tonight I’m not sure how we win that game. He had three, maybe four points, and was really good on the penalty kill with big block shots. Just playing smart.”
It was Mount who the dug the puck out of the corner on a Seattle power play with time running down in the second period, and Seattle leading 2-1. He got it to Brendan Williamson whose shot rebounded off Victoria goalie Brock Gould to Keltie Jeri-Leon who buried it with less than a second left on the scoreboard clock.
The officials reviewed, and confirmed, that the puck was in before the horn.
“We knew we had 10 seconds,” Mount said. “I just tried to jump the D-Man and put it on net. Willie tried to throw it back and it went to Keltie, he did the rest. It was a big momentum goal heading into the third.”
Seattle’s power play had been struggling and came into the game 1-for-17 on the season.
It got a boost with three conversions Saturday and the Thunderbirds would need the three goals because Victoria fought back in the third with a power-play goal and the extra-skater goal after Roulette’s miss to make a game of it as Seattle showed some fatigue.
With the win, the Thunderbirds will enjoy a week off before facing the Kelowna Rockets at home next Friday. They do so with a win but also with some corrections to make.
“It was a learning opportunity for us to learn how to hold a lead,” O’Dette said. “We took a couple of penalties there by not controlling our emotions. A tired group dug in there and found a way. There’s still a lot to clean up from that game. We’re not delusional after but we feel a lot better.”
• Andrej Kukuca gave Seattle a 2-0 lead late in the first with his third of the season. It came off a slapshot on a four-on-three power play. The 20-year-old import also added an assist.
• Williamson’s assist late in the second period was his first WHL point.
• Roulette was excited to check his phone for social media notifications from Manitoba, where he was sure friends and family were watching.
“My Mom has the projector set up and has watch parties every night,” he said. “When I scored my first goal she was crying so I’m pretty sure she’ll be happy tonight.”
• Roddy Ross picked up the win for Seattle by stopping 25 saves, including a highlight-reel quality stop on Victoria’s Kaid Oliver in the third period.