Rockets ride momentum swings past Thunderbirds
KENT – The middle is usually neutral territory but for the Seattle Thunderbirds this year, it’s been anything but.
Friday night the Thunderbirds were blitzed by the Kelowna Rockets for four goals in the last five minutes of the second period – the middle frame – and watched a 2-0 lead turn into a 4-2 deficit. The Thunderbirds pushed in the third to try and tie but another momentum swing would work against them as the Rockets skated away with an 8-3 win.
“It was an emotional game, a lot of key moments,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “I thought we had a pretty good grasp of the game there, 2-0. We take that penalty there that was a head-scratcher. I don’t know what the call was there…that gave them momentum. We talk about it all the time, it’s a momentum game.”
Seattle (2-4-0-0) looked to have wrestled the momentum back with two quick goals in the third. First, it was Keltie Jeri-Leon with his third and then defenseman Ryan Gottfried fired what looked to be the tying goal past Rockets goalie Roman Basran.
On the play, Seattle’s Alex Morozoff’s momentum carried him into the crease and the officials determined that he interfered with Basran’s ability to stop the puck. With the score reset at 4-3, Kelowna would score on the next shift and take the momentum right back to blow open the game.
“He said our guy was deep in their crease,” O’Dette said of the call. “I don’t think their goalie fought to see the puck. I disagree with the call but that’s the way it goes.”
Kelowna (5-2-1-0) was led by a pair of scores from Tampa Bay Lightning first-round pick Nolan Foote and two points from former Thunderbird Dillon Hamaliuk who was making his return to Seattle.
The second period has been a struggle for Seattle this season.
In six games, the Thunderbirds have been outscored 13-2 in the middle frame while being outshot 94-54. Friday night Kelowna outshot the Thunderbirds 17-12. It’s the period with the long change at the benches and Friday was the second time Seattle has allowed four goals or more during it.
“I think it’s just coincidence,” O’Dette said about the second-period problems. “We’ve had good firsts, bad firsts, and good thirds and bad thirds. We’re trying to piece together a full game and keep the momentum together when we’ve got it. Not have the five or 10-minute lapses.”
Things had been looking good for the Thunderbirds up until the 14:47 mark of the second period. Seattle had built a lead on power-play goals from Matthew Wedman and Simon Kubicek. Things turned quickly and it started with a Rockets power play.
Foote scored his first on a power play to cut the Seattle lead. He would score less than two minutes after that to tie the game thanks to a Seattle turnover. Former Seattle Bantam Draft pick Alex Swetlifkoff would put Kelowna on top 20 seconds later and Pavel Novak would finish the goal explosion on a breakaway goal with 28 seconds left in the period.
After the Gottfried goal was waived off in the third period, the Rockets answered with four more goals during a four-minute stretch.
“I loved the response, coming out in the third, to come out and to tie the game,” O’Dette said. “We were amped up there and then obviously the bubble burst pretty quick with the disallowed goal and the ensuing shift where they got the fifth goal. Then, we lost some composure.”
Friday night was an emotional game as four players were facing the team that traded them away last May. For the Rockets, Hamaliuk, Jake Lee, and Cole Schwebius were back in Seattle while Thunderbirds forward Conner Bruggen-Cate faced his former club. The four were part of a blockbuster trade during the Bantam Draft.
The game was chippy, with scrums after nearly every whistle and after the swing in the third, the Thunderbirds lost their steam.
“We’ve got to learn to stay composed when things don’t go our way,” Wedman. “That’s the biggest issue, that five minutes in the third period really could have gone either way. We lost composure after the goal didn’t go our way.”
The Thunderbirds will have to regroup quickly as they will head to Everett Saturday night to face the Silvertips in what will be a full house.
“Just keeping things simple,” Wedman said about Saturday. “That’s a loud barn in there and it can be intimidating at times. We need to get pucks deep, get in on the forecheck and wear them down.”
• Five-on-five scoring continues to elude the Thunderbirds. Jeri-Leon’s marker in the third was the only goal that came at even strength and Seattle has scored just nine times while even in six games.
“I thought once we got it down low in their end and made them play below their goal line,” O’Dette said. “I thought we did some good things there. We just didn’t have it in their end enough. We want to avoid the track meet type games and play down low in their end.”
• Roddy Ross was relived by Blake Lyda in the third period after giving seven goals on 35 shots.
• One positive on the night was the Thunderbirds power play, which scored twice and has converted on 5-of-10 over the last two games.
• Wedman led Seattle’s offense with a goal, his first of the year, and an assist while Andrej Kukuca chipped in with two assists.