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T-Birds Notebook: Cold starts, Luke Bateman’s dislike of the power play, and more

Seattle defenseman Luke Bateman has had a strong rookie season for the Thunderbirds. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

Starting hot is key in every sport and hockey is no exception.

For the Seattle Thunderbirds, how they start the game has been a pretty good indicator as to how the contest may play out. Their last three starts, all losses, have seen the Thunderbirds fall behind by scores of 3-0, 4-0, and 2-0.

There have been times in all those games where Seattle played well, pushed the pace, and scored some goals to keep the game within arm’s reach, only to fall short at the end.

“That’s something as a group we’ve been struggling with lately,” Seattle defenseman Tyrel Bauer said after Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Everett Silvertips. “We’ve had some cold starts, if you will. I think everybody has to get up for it…that’s something that we’ll continue to learn as we go. We start cold and then we find ourselves back in the game but by then it’s too late. It’s something we’re working on and we’re learning as a group for sure.”

Seattle has lost 12 games, including two in overtime and one in a shootout, and in seven of those they have surrendered the first goal. In five of those seven defeats, the Thunderbirds have fallen behind by two goals or more.

As Seattle continues to find consistent scoring, avoiding early deficits is key. In the Thunderbirds five wins, only in one did they come back to win. That win came on the road to Red Deer when they fell behind 1-0 and 2-1.

The Thunderbirds are looking to snap their four-game losing streak when they host the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday at the accesso Showare Center. The Winterhawks are averaging over 3.65 goals-per-game while allowing 2.47. Seattle averages 2.35 goals so if the Thunderbirds fall behind on Saturday, it will be a tough chore to come back from.

Here is the latest surrounding the Thunderbirds.

Luke Bateman hates the power play

Late in Seattle’s opening night win against the Kamloops Blazers, head coach Matt O’Dette showed a lot of confidence in rookie defenseman Luke Bateman.

With the Blazers pushing to get back in the game, O’Dette sent the big 6-foot-6 blueliner out on a key third-period penalty kill. Bateman had only played in four WHL games prior to opening night and didn’t look rattled as the Thunderbirds killed off the penalty and picked up a win.

It turns out that Bateman was comfortable on the penalty kill due to some strong feelings on the matter.

“I do not like power plays,” Bateman says. “I enjoy being part of executing successful kills.”

Now 16 games into his first full season in the league, the Kamloops, B.C. product has been one of Seattle’s best defenseman. He’s been playing with Bauer and the two have been a formidable pairing.

The Thunderbirds have struggled with a goal differential of minus-25 but Bateman is plus-3 on the season. He’s the only Seattle regular with a positive rating – his partner, Bauer, is minus-1. Seattle took Bateman with a fourth-round pick in the 2017 Bantam Draft and had high expectations for him.

“I think he’s coming around a little bit quicker than we thought he would, to be honest,” O’Dette says of his rookie. “He’s played some good minutes for us and with the (Cade) McNelly injury he’s been forced to play more. He’s taken the ball and run with it and he’s playing with confidence. He’s playing within himself and not trying to do too much out there.”

Bateman has shown a knack using his long reach to break up passes and take the puck off onrushing forwards. It’s a skill that younger players often take longer to master and is a great neutralizer to the speed of WHL players.

As a late 2002-born player, Bateman is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft and if he continues to progress just might find himself on some draft boards.

Suspensions, injury returns, and players back from U17’s

Seattle has used a different lineup in every game to start the season and there is more roster juggling to come.

Captain Matthew Wedman has been suspended by the league for a five-minute major and game misconduct he received at the end of Saturday’s game against Everett. It’s not an ideal time for the Thunderbirds to lose their leader and top scorer but they do get a couple of reinforcements to help out.

Center Kai Uchacz and forward Conner Roulette both will be back with the team for Saturday’s game against Portland. The rookies had been competing for two of Team Canada’s squads at the recently completed U17 World Championships.

Defenseman Cade McNelly, who has been injured since the first period of Seattle’s second game of the season, appears ready to return as well. He suffered an upper-body injury during a scrap and was listed as out indefinitely until recent weeks. On the latest injury report, he was listed day-to-day and all signs point to that day being Saturday.

McNelly’s return will be a boost to Seattle’s blue line as the 18-year-old projects to be in the top-four pairings.