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T-Birds notebook: Leadership, even-strength scoring, reunion and rivalry games

Seattle Thunderbirds forward Conner Bruggen-Cate will face off against his former team Friday night. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

There is something special about wearing the ‘C’ on a hockey sweater. It designates you as the team captain and leader both on the ice, and off. The captain represents the team, is an extension of the head coach, and sets the tone for the rest of the club.

Matthew Wedman is wearing that letter on his sweater this season. He was named captain after returning from training camp with both the NHL’s Florida Panthers and their AHL affiliate in Springfield.

As a 20-year-old, Wedman has played 259 regular-season games in a Thunderbirds jersey and alongside a number of notable captains. That list includes Jerret Smith, Mathew Barzal, Scott Eansor, Turner Ottenbreit, and Nolan Volcan.

“Huge honor,” Wedman said. “Working with the captains before me, they’ve all showed me great leadership. I’m looking forward to passing that on to the young guys here.”

Leadership comes in many forms.

There isn’t one true way to lead as some players are vocal, get up in the dressing room and yell types, while others lead by example. The list of captains before Wedman plotted along that spectrum.

Wedman says that Ottenbriet was the most outspoken of all the captains he has played with, while Volcan was more of a quiet leader. Both were effective.

“I’m kind of a hybrid of all of those aspects,” Wedman said. “I’m vocal out there on the ice. I lead by example and I like to play within the T-Bird culture. I think I can bring all those together.”

After playing in a couple of AHL preseason games with Springfield, Wedman jumped right into the action with Seattle last week.

He has the task of not only helping Seattle’s young roster but improving his game to allow him to make the jump to professional hockey next season. Drafted in the seventh round by Florida, he is looking to cash in on the pro experience he took part in this fall.

“Getting a taste of professional hockey is a really cool experience,” Wedman added. “Getting to see those guys, how they work, how they treat their body gives me a good measuring stick for where I need to be next year.

“They’re really big on improving your pace. That’s what they told me when I left. They need to see me playing at a higher pace and I think I need to work on that in practice and translate it into games.”

Here’s the latest news surrounding the Thunderbirds.

Power play breaks through, is even-strength scoring next?

After two lopsided losses to Kamloops and Spokane on the road last week, the Thunderbirds had a bit of a get-right game Saturday against Victoria.

They scored a season-high five times and the struggling power play found some life. The power play started the season 1-for-17 but would convert three times against Victoria. Having Wedman back and some stability on the top unit helped.

Seattle now will look to get more consistent playing at even strength. The Thunderbirds have eight goals at even strength in five games and have yet to see their top players cash in.

The key scorers at the top of the lineup, Wedman, Henrik Rybinski, and Andrej Kukuca, have combined for one goal and three assists at even strength.

They are getting looks, however, creating chances and have 44 shots on goal. In the three games Wedman has played in, he’s thrown 16 pucks at the net. The law of averages dictates that at some point, those chances will go in the net.

“I’ve been through this throughout my career,” Wedman earlier in the week. “I know that if I play the same way and keep working hard, chances will come and we’ll start scoring goals.”

Since his return, Wedman has centered the top line with Rybinski on one wing. In the two road games, rookie Conner Roulette was his other winger and Kukuca joined the top line in the Saturday win against Victoria.

Former T-Birds square off in the NHL

Eight players from the roster that won the WHL Championship for Seattle in 2017 are playing pro hockey at some level. Two of them are in the NHL and were on the ice together Tuesday night.

The Edmonton Oilers, with Ethan Bear, faced off against Mathew Barzal and the New York Islanders in Brooklyn. Bear’s team would get the upper hand in a 5-2 win thanks to four goals from the Oilers James Neal.

Neither of the former Thunderbirds figured in the scoring but were on the ice against each other for 6:29 of game time and Bear’s Oilers had 10 shot attempts during that time compared to eight from the Islanders. Advantage Bear?

Overage deadline looms

WHL rules allow for three 20-year-olds on the roster and Seattle currently has four. The deadline to cut down to three was Thursday however, Seattle has until Monday to make an official decision. Since Wedman was in a pro camp and was not returned to the Thunderbirds until Sept. 30th, Seattle is granted a 14-day period to cut down.

No official announcement has been made from the team yet but Jaxan Kaluski has not played since the 30th while Wedman, Kukuca and Conner Bruggen-Cate have been in the lineup.

Weekend ahead features reunion game and rivalry

Seattle enjoyed its week off but will have two big tests in the coming weekend.

The Kelowna Rockets come to the accesso ShoWare Center on Friday night for a reunion. Three former Thunderbirds – Dillon Hamaliuk, Jake Lee, and Cole Schwebius – will return to face their former club for the first time. Seattle’s Bruggen-Cate will also be facing the Rockets for the first time after playing in 201 games for them.

All four players were part of a blockbuster trade during May’s Bantam Draft and will certainly be amped to see their former mates.

Outside of that, Seattle will have to deal with the Rockets top line of Hamaliuk, Nolan Foote, and Kyle Topping. The trio has combined for 10 goals and 13 assists in Kelowna’s seven games this year.

Saturday, the young Thunderbirds will get their first taste of one of the most heated rivalries in the WHL as Seattle heads to Everett to face the Silvertips. A big crowd is expected as it’s ‘Pink the Rink’ night at the Angel of the Winds Arena.

Like Kelowna, Seattle’s defense will have its hands full with a top Everett line that features the WHL’s leading scorer in Bryce Kindopp. The 20-year-old is coming off a big year for Everett and out to an eight-goal, six-assists, and 14-point start.

This weekend would be a good time for Seattle’s top line to find its scoring touch.