Thunderbirds work extra time in Red Deer to pick up first road win of season
It was more dramatic than they wanted it to be, but the Seattle Thunderbirds picked up their first road win, Friday night in Red Deer.
Seattle built a 4-2 third-period lead and was in control. In the blink of an eye, and aided by a couple of giveaways, Red Deer’s Zak Smith scored twice in 16 seconds to even the game with 3:50 left in the third period. After a scoreless overtime, Simon Kubicek would convert on his shoot out attempt while Roddy Ross stopped all three Rebels to steer the Thunderbirds to a 5-4 victory at the Westerner Park Centrium.
“We’ll take it any way we can get it,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said after. “Obviously we don’t like coughing up that two-goal lead in the third, but we find ways to get it done. Two points are two points.”
With the win, Seattle (4-4-2-1) extended its point streak to five straight games and starts the weekend Alberta swing on a positive note. The loss was the sixth straight for Red Deer (4-7-0-2) although the Rebels did pick up a point by forcing overtime.
Four different Thunderbirds scored on the night, including the first WHL goal by rookie defenseman Luke Bateman, and Ross kicked out 32 Rebel attempts. The young Thunderbirds could have folded the tents after blowing the late two-goal lead, but managed to stay composed to earn a second straight victory.
“Earlier in the season, before we learned those lessons maybe we lose that composure after they tie it up and not come out of the game with anything,” O’Dette said. “We know to be prepared for everything. That’s what our guys did, they buckled down.”
Seattle erased a 1-0 and 2-1 deficit over the first 40 minutes and used momentum off three consecutive missed power-play chances late in the middle frame. After the misses, Seattle was buzzing and would tie the game with 20 seconds left in the second when former Rebel Ryan Gottfried found Andrej Kukua on the doorstep for an easy tap in and his fifth goal.
Despite the failed power plays — Seattle would end the night 0-for-4 — the Thunderbirds possessed the puck, got shots off, and came close as Kubicek rang a shot off the crossbar.
“Had a lot of looks and a lot of zone time,” O’Dette said of the second-period power plays. “Our sights were just a little bit off on some of our shots there. It did give us momentum and we carried that for the rest of the period.”
That momentum carried over into the third period as well when the Thunderbirds took the lead thanks to an unlikely source.
Rookie defenseman Luke Bateman, who stands at 6-foot-6 tall, stickhandled his way through the Rebels zone and around defenders just over five minutes into the third period to score his first WHL goal.
“He’s confident right now, that’s for sure,” O’Dette said about the rookie. “With that confidence he can make some plays. We preach to him to keep it simple and he has. He saw an opening there and decided to go for it. It was a big goal for us.”
The rookie’s goal gave Seattle the lead for the first time on the night and the Thunderbirds added to that lead quickly, just over a minute later, when Matthew Wedman stole the puck on a forecheck and found fellow Florida Panthers prospect Henrik Rybinski parked in front of the Red Deer net.
Rybinski got it past goalie Ethan Anders for his first of the year. It was a big goal as the high-energy winger had been coming close all year but had yet to put the puck in the net.
He’d break through Friday by scoring a so-called ‘greasy’ goal from right in front.
“That’s what it takes,” O’Dette said. “You’ve got to be around that paint to be rewarded and that was the case on that goal. He’s been getting his chances, there’s no doubt about that. Hopefully, the monkey is off his back and he can start to roll.”
Rybinski, who also added an assist, played with Wedman and Jared Davidson. The trio had a big game, combining for a pair of goals along with four assists. Rybinski and Wedman teamed up to set up Davidson’s second of the season in the first period — a goal that tied the game at 1-1.
Outside of the point production, the line took 20 of Seattle’s 40 shots on goal and Wedman won 15 of the 27 faceoffs he took.
“Weds is playing hard, those guys are starting to get some chemistry going,” O’Dette said. “We’ve mixed different guys on that line and it seems Davey has clicked with those guys when he’s out there with them. We’ll have to look at the video and see if that’s a line we stick with.”
The Thunderbirds will hope to ride the momentum of two wins in a row and a five-game point streak as they move on to play the Edmonton Oil Kings Saturday night. Getting the win on the first night of a long road trip certainly helps.
“Two long days on the bus,” O’Dette added. “You wonder how you’re going to come out of the gates. I thought we were somewhat flat but we got our wheels going after that. You get that first one and get some momentum going and it can carry into the rest of the road trip.”
• Wedman had three assists Friday for the fourth time in his career and the first time since the 2017-2018 season when he accomplished it twice.
• Kubicek scored on the shootout and while it may have been surprising to see the defenseman get a chance, O’Dette says it’s something that the team works on.
“We’ve been doing some shootouts in practice to identify good shooters,” O’Dette said. “He’s been scoring goals in those shootouts.”