Despite depleted lineup, Thunderbirds beat Portland to snap losing streak
KENT – Seven players scratched for injury, six rookies, and one 15-year-old call up turned out to be the recipe the Seattle Thunderbirds needed to end their four-game losing streak Saturday night.
A slapped together lineup took leads in the second and third periods and despite the Portland Winterhawks coming back to tie each time, Seattle got the game to overtime where it would eventually win 5-4 in a shootout.
“Some young guys getting the call tonight and it took a little bit of everything to get it done,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “It took all our guys and I thought all our guys chipped in. There were some momentum swings in the game, and we didn’t get too down when that was happening.”
Roddy Ross held down the fort in net for Seattle (6-9-2-1) by making 47 saves on the night while Conner Bruggen-Cate and Payton Mount provided the offense for the Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds were missing captain and leading scorer Matthew Wedman who was serving the first game of his four-game suspension. They were also without defensemen Cade McNelly and Ryan Gottfried, both injured. Also injured was Lucas Ciona and Conner Roulette which meant rookies Sam Popowich and Reid Schaefer were brought back to Seattle and put into action — as was 2019 first-round draft pick Kevin Korchinski.
Portland (11-5-1-2) was also without its leading scorer in Seth Jarvis and veteran Robbie Fromm-Delome.
A young Seattle roster got even younger and the task may have seemed daunting.
“We were really focusing on staying positive and creating positive momentum and energy from the bench and I thought our guys did that,” O’Dette said.
“Regardless of who’s going out on the ice, we can control what we control. We control our work ethic, our compete level, our grit. All those intangible things that can be there regardless of who’s on the ice. We harp on that as part of our identity and whoever’s in the lineup we expect that from them.”
Who’s going to step up?
With the young lineup, O’Dette and the Thunderbirds needed players to step up.
He got it.
Most notable were Mount and Bruggen-Cate who each scored a goal while adding a pair of assists. Bruggen-Cate’s first assist set up an Alex Morozoff goal in the first period that helped tie the game. In the second period, he’d tip a power-play point shot from Owen Williams past goalie Isaiah DiLaura to put the Thunderbirds ahead on what would be his fourth of the season.
Mount would follow that up with a power-play goal of his own when he snapped a shot from the high slot. It gave Seattle a 3-1 lead in the second period and fired up the large accesso ShoWare Center crowd.
It was the second goal of the season for Mount and the first since opening night.
“It definitely feels good to get back on the scoresheet,” Mount said. “The last couple of games just trying to chip away and I knew it would come eventually. I just had to stay positive and I knew my chances were going to come. I just had to keep going and bury the chances that I got.”
Mount also was big on the penalty kill and converted on his shootout attempt when he scored with a quick shot on the glove side.
“Really big game for him,” O’Dette said of Mount, Seattle’s 2017 first-round pick. “I thought he played solid at both ends of the ice and I thought got rewarded for it. He’s smart and really reliable and he’s been in a little bit of a funk but a really nice game for him and hope it propels him.”
Special teams come to play
Mount’s other big moment came during an extended Portland five-on-three power-play chance in the second period. Seattle got the kill thanks to a big blocked shot by Mount who dove in front of a Johnny Ludvig slap shot.
The Thunderbirds held the Winterhawks power play, which is ranked third in the WHL, to a 1-for-5 evening.
“We know they have a good power play, so we just had to buy into the systems our coaches give us,” Mount said of the penalty kill. “Just buying in and blocking shots and the intangibles, hard work, working your bag off when you’re out there. Giving 100-percent.”
Coming into Saturday, Seattle’s power play had been in a 1-for-26 slump but would strike twice in four tries. The two scores in the second period helped the Thunderbirds build a 3-1 lead.
Thunderbirds manage momentum
A constant for the young Thunderbirds this season has been a struggle to handle momentum within games. The chance to lose composure presented itself in the second period when the Winterhawks struck twice in 12 seconds to tie the game.
The goals came from James Stefan – his first career goal – and Jaydon Dureau and rather than crumble, the Thunderbirds withstood it.
Keltie Jeri-Leon would help get the momentum back when he scored his sixth of the year eight minutes into the third period. Again, the Winterhawks had an answer, this time 1:24 later when Gabe Klassen scored his first career goal to square the game.
Seattle held on and got the game into overtime, despite the young lineup.
“A lot of young guys were in the room today and playing,” Mount said. “We had to play a full 60 minutes and all the guys chipped in. We were being positive on the bench.”
Kevin Korchinski makes his WHL and Seattle debut
With only five healthy defensemen, Seattle called up Korchisnki, whom they selected with the 10th pick in last May’s Bantam Draft.
Korchinski, 15, got the call Thursday night at his home in Saskatoon, Sask. He hurried to pack and hopped on an early flight on Friday morning. Saturday, he played his first game in front of a large crowd, against a rival, on a game that was being televised.
It’s a lot for a young player, but he handled it with poise.
“He’s a smart kid and I don’t think the moment is too big for him,” O’Dette said. “He’s calm, and cool and doesn’t get overwhelmed and he’s going to make the smart reads and smart plays with the puck. I thought it was a nice first game for him.”
Korchinski said he fought off some early nerves but once the game got going, calmed down thanks to a welcome from the rest of the team.
He said that the crowd was impressive, and the biggest he’s ever played in front of, as was the jump in skill and speed of the game.
“It was a great experience,” Korchinski said. “The crowd was amazing. The arena was buzzing, and it was good that we got the win. Back with my Midget team we barely pack the stands, it was unbelievable.”
It’s unclear how long Korchinski will stay with the team but league rules limit the number of games he’s able to play in the WHL this season. At some point, he’ll return to the Saskatoon Contacts of the SMHL where in 14 games he’s recorded 13 points.
Earlier this month Korchinski captained Team Saskatchewan in the WHL Cup and led them to a victory.
“It’s been a long month, a great one,” he said. “It was a great experience with the WHL Cup and we won that. Tonight was a good win too.”
• Saturday’s win was Seattle’s first against a U.S. Division team this season.
• Along with Mount, defenseman Simon Kubicek also scored on his shootout attempt. The Czech import is now a perfect 2-for-2 this season.
“He’s got a knack for it,” O’Dette said. “We do small ice games and shoot outs (in practice) and he always finds a way to score. I think you want guys that are calm and cool in key situations and I don’t think he gets nervous.”
• O’Dette didn’t have specifics on the severity of his injured players.
“I think it’s a mixed bag,” he said. “Some guys are longer and some guys are day-to-day.
• The Thunderbirds will next be in action on Tuesday when they host the Winnipeg ICE.