Thunderbirds extend point streak with win over Prince Albert
KENT – The Thunderbirds were clinging to a 2-0 lead midway through the third period Tuesday night against the Prince Albert Raiders when things started to look eerily familiar.
The Raiders Brayden Watts scored on the power play to cut the lead, which was the same situation Seattle faced in an overtime loss Friday to Brandon, after blowing a 2-0 lead. Tuesday would be different.
Seattle (3-4-2-1) withstood the Raiders push and scored an empty-net, power-play goal in the dying seconds to secure a 3-1 win which handed the defending WHL Champions their first regulation loss of the season.
“That’s the game that we’ve been looking for, for a while now,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Everybody chipped in and that’s what we need. Prince Albert is a great team, they work hard and play with structure. We needed everybody to get it done. We’ve been saying ‘keep pounding the stone and it will turn around for us’ and it feels good to get that win.”
The win was reminiscent to last January when Seattle handed Prince Albert (7-1-3-0) only its third loss at home. It came days after the Thunderbirds shook up the roster and Roddy Ross was making his second career WHL start.
That win was a defining moment in the Seattle season and the Thunderbirds hope the same will happen with Tuesday’s win.
“We saw this game as an opportunity to springboard a little bit,” O’Dette said. “It was a good team coming into our building, ranked in the CHL, defending champions with no regulation losses. We wanted to be the team to crack that zero. There was a little bit of motivation, but we knew we had to play a complete game.”
The Thunderbirds extended their point streak to four straight games thanks to 24 stops from Ross in net and rookie Lucas Ciona whose first WHL goal in the second period ended up being the game-winning score.
In the last four games, the Thunderbirds have been stingy on defense and have only allowed two even-strength goals. That play continued Tuesday night.
It just happens to be the four games that defenseman Tyrel Bauer has played in after missing three with an injury.
“That’s something we worked on early in the year,” Bauer said. “We were struggling in the D-Zone a little bit. We’ve cleaned that up and in my game, that’s an area that I take pride in.”
Bauer isn’t the only defenseman playing well. The whole group is and they’re keeping shots to the outside. When shots do get through, Ross has been there.
Over the four-game point streak, Ross’ save-percentage is .947 and he’s posted a goals-against of 1.67.
“Roddy’s been huge for us each and every night,” O’Dette said. “It’s nice to close out a game for him. It starts with the goalie and I think everybody has confidence. (Bauer is) sound and solid and plays the hard to play against game. For their offensive guys, he’s tough to play against. (The defense) is coming along, (Luke) Batemen is playing some great minutes for us and stepping up his game and all those guys have been good.”
It was a defenseman who opened the scoring for Seattle on a five-on-three power-play chance in the first period. After Matthew Wedman worked the puck down low, he found Simon Kubicek in the high slot and the Czech defenseman blasted his second of the season.
The goal snapped a Seattle streak of 0-for-12 with the man advantage.
In the second period, it was the rookie who got on the ledger for the first time. Ciona got a feed from Kai Uchacz, tipped it on goal where goalie Boston Bilous stopped it. Ciona kept driving the net and poked his own rebound in.
“It felt like it took a little while, but I went to the net and tapped it in, it felt awesome,” Ciona said of the play. “Ucachz made a little dangle and got the pass there.”
After Watts cut the lead the Raiders had a push. Seattle learned from its past troubles and not only pushed back but drew a penalty and it resulted in Andrej Kukuca scoring into the open net with eight seconds left on the clock to seal the win.
“Those aren’t new situations now,” O’Dette said. “We’re getting better at knowing how to handle them with more composure. They had us hemmed in there a bit but for the most part, we kept them to the outside. Every game is a learning process and I think we’ve learned some lessons over the last few.”
The Thunderbirds will take the lessons from the past week and head out on a five-game road trip that starts Friday in Red Deer.
“This win will make for a nice relaxing drive tomorrow,” O’Dette said.
• The Thunderbirds were 2-for-7 on the power play Tuesday and 1-for-3 on the penalty kill.
• Ciona’s first goal came in his ninth game of the season but the lack of scoring doesn’t represent his play. The rookie has played well and been a physical presence.
“He’s been doing well giving us a lot of good minutes,” O’Dette said of Ciona. “Playing on the PK, a little bit of power play. He’s gaining the confidence of the coaching staff.”
• Kukuca’s power-play goal and assist put him in the lead for team scoring with 10 points in 10 games.
• Defenseman Ryan Gottfried added an assist on the Ciona goal for his first point as a Thunderbird.