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Slow start burns Thunderbirds against the Kamloops Blazers

Seattle's Matthew Wedman looks for room during the Thunderbirds 7-4 loss Friday night. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – For a Thunderbirds club that has struggled to score more than two goals a game, falling behind 4-0 early in the second period was not a recipe for success Friday night against the Kamloops Blazers.

The visiting Blazers had Seattle on its heels at the start, scoring twice in the first seven minutes to take early control of the game. They added to that lead as the game went on and won 7-4 to hand the Thunderbirds their third straight loss.

“When you’ve got a good team coming into your building you can’t spot them three goals (in the first period),” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “You can’t come out flat as a pancake.”

Kamloops (11-6-0-0) got big offensive nights from Connor Zary, who scored twice, and Brodi Stuart who had a goal with three assists. In total, the Blazers had six players with multiple points in the win.

The goals came quickly for Kamloops thanks to a mixture of speed and questionable puck management by the Thunderbirds.

“They’re fast and they look really fast if you’re stuck in quicksand,” O’Dette said. “They’ve got some good players, they’ve got some snipers and if you give them clean looks, they don’t miss too often. That was the case tonight.”

After Ryley Appelt found a loose puck in Roddy Ross’ skates to score his first of the year, a goal which made it 2-0 at the 6:50 mark of the first, O’Dette used his one timeout to settle his team down.

It worked at first as Seattle (5-8-2-1) seemed to calm the game down.

Kamloops had taken the game’s first seven shots, but the Thunderbirds started to get looks and build momentum. A Blazers penalty with four and a half minutes left in the first presented the Thunderbirds with a golden opportunity to cut into the lead and get the game leaning back in their favor.

A turnover near the blue line would lead to a short-handed Kamloops’ two-on-one, however.

Stuart got the puck to Zary who would snap it up and over Ross’ shoulder to make it 3-0 and wrench the momentum back.

“That was a goal at an inopportune time,” O’Dette said. “And we talk about it all the time, managing the flow of the game. Obviously, the start of the game is a big part of the game. You’ve got to come out well and set the tone.”

That momentum carried into the second period when the Blazers made it 4-0 two minutes in when Luke Zazula was allowed to walk right in on the Seattle goal.

Michael Horon and Matthew Wedman would each score in the second period to cut the lead to 4-2 heading into the third period. A two-goal deficit can be overcome and Wedman’s score, his sixth of the year, came with 47 seconds left in the middle frame.

It was another chance for the Thunderbirds to ride some momentum but an early third-period power-play goal by the Blazers’ Orin Centazzo ended that idea. Later in the third, Conner Bruggen-Cate would find the back of the net for Seattle to get within two again, only for another Kamloops power-play goal, the second marker of the night for Zary, to dash any hopes of a comeback.

“It’s pretty disappointing when we haven’t been at home for five games,” O’Dette said. “No life, no energy coming out of the gates. We came alive in the middle part of the game. If we had come out with the same type of energy, we’d give ourselves a good chance to win. You can’t come out flat like that and expect to beat one of the better teams in the league.”

Kamloops would end up scoring three power-play goals in the third period and end the evening 3-for-6 with the man advantage.

“We try to avoid those penalties, but I thought a couple of those were pretty weak,” O’Dette said. “But the hockey gods don’t reward you when you don’t play a full 60.”

The Thunderbirds will have a quick turnaround before facing another tough opponent as they’ll be home again on Saturday when they host the Everett Silvertips.

Everett leads the U.S. Division and has won eight of its last nine contests.

“I would expect a better start,” O’Dette said about Saturday. “That’s the focus. This is supposed to be a hard building to play in and we have to make it that way. It doesn’t happen automatically just because we’re on home ice. We have to provide the energy and the fans can feed off of us and we didn’t give them an opportunity.”

Game Notes

• The Blazers have been a tough matchup for Seattle to start the season. They played on opening night and the thunderbirds burst out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. In the eight periods of hockey, the two teams have played since the Blazers have had a 16-6 scoring advantage and won two out of three.

• Seattle will face the Blazers one more time in the regular season on Nov. 20 in Kamloops.

• Horon’s goal in the second period was his first WHL goal and came on a breakaway after he stepped out of the penalty box. His initial shot was stopped by Kamloops goalie Dylan Garand but he got the rebound and scored. Horon also added an assist for his second multi-point game.

• Rooke Matthew Rempe made his WHL debut Friday night. The 6-foot-8 center didn’t score but was a physical presence.