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Thunderbirds take one on the chin in blow out loss to Kamloops

Kamloops star Connor Zary recorded a hat trick as the Blazers routed the Seattle Thunderbirds. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

If you didn’t watch the Seattle Thunderbirds 10-1 loss in Kamloops Wednesday night you might find it hard to believe that they were in the game for the first half of it.

Keltie Jeri-Leon scored eight minutes into the second period to pull the Thunderbirds to within 2-1. Three minutes later Seattle went to the power play with a chance to even the score and grab the momentum.

Instead of a momentum-gaining equalizer the Thunderbirds allowed Kamloops forward Connor Zary to skate the puck deep into the Seattle zone. He had a forward playing defense, cut in front and scored his second goal of the night, on his way to a hat trick. The short-handed marker made it 3-1 and the Blazers would ride that swing to an easy win.

“I think Zary saw it was ( forward Andrej Kukuca) playing him on the one-on-one and he took advantage of that,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said of the goal. “Obviously we could have done without that goal against.”

Zary led Kamloops (15-7-0-0) with the three goals and was aided by two from Montana Onyebuchi, two from Zane Franklin, four assists from Max Martin, and three points each from Ryan Hughes and Martin Lang.

It was the worst loss of the season for Seattle (6-11-2-1) who was still playing with a lineup missing six of its regular players.

“Right now, we’re going through some adversity and we’re a little bit of a fragile team,” O’Dette said. “When things start going bad it kind of compounds a little bit. It’s a little bit of Murphy’s Law right now. What can go wrong does go wrong. Some of those goals were a little fluky but that’s what happens when it’s going this way, it feels like you can’t catch a break.”

Seattle’s sixth loss in seven games had a familiar script.

The momentum swing of the short-handed goal led to five Kamloops goals in the second period over a seven-minute stretch.

Wednesday’s game was reminiscent of the Thunderbirds previous visit to the Sandman Centre, back on Oct. 2nd. In that contest, the Blazers broke open a 1-1 tie in the second period with five goals on the way to an 8-1 win.

In some ways, this result shouldn’t come as a shock.

The Thunderbirds were playing short-handed for the third straight game and iced a lineup with six rookies, three of which are 16-years-old, and two of those were affiliated players called up to fill in. By contrast, the Blazers, who can stake a claim as the best team in the Western Conference, had six 19-year-old veterans in the game compared to two for the Thunderbirds.

“I think guys are trying hard,” O’Dette said. “I feel for some of our young guys. They’re put in some tough situations. But there’s effort, there’s definitely effort. I think execution is another story. Guys aren’t making tape-to-tape passes, fumbling pucks, falling down, and things like that can be better.”

Seattle has not fared well in the second period this season and Wednesday was another example.

The Blazers outshot Seattle 16-5 in the second with five goals to the Thunderbirds one. On the season, Seattle has been outscored 31-14 in the second period.

“I thought the first period was OK,” O’Dette said. “A lot of their stuff was to the outside. The wheels obviously came off there in the second period.”

It would end up being a tough night for goalie Blake Lyda who started his fourth game of the season and allowed all 10 goals while making 32 saves.

With Roddy Ross playing the night before and two more games over the next three days, Lyda took one for the team and stayed in the game. He didn’t get help and was the victim of some strange goals, including one going off his own defenseman and another that slid in after he fanned on a clearing pass.

It was that kind of night for the Thunderbirds.

“Tough situation for him,” O’Dette said. “I think in a game like that, with Roddy playing last night you don’t want to risk injury with a game that is out of hand. He played hard and we needed a better performance in front of him.”

The 10 goals allowed were the most the Thunderbirds have given up since December 17th, 2017 in a loss at Portland.

Seattle will try to get back to feeling positive when it hosts the Kelowna Rockets Friday night at the accesso ShoWare Center.

“It doesn’t feel good, that’s for sure,” O’Dette said to sum up the situation. “We’ve got a lot of pride in our team. In our locker room, we’ve got a lot of pride in the Thunderbirds logo. We obviously took a hit tonight but we’re competitive, we’re passionate and when it’s going like this we want to do everything we can to get ourselves out of it. We just have to dig ourselves in and overcome the adversity.”

Game Notes

• Seattle is looking to get some reinforcement this weekend. Defenseman Cade McNelly is expected to be back in the lineup Friday night. Captain Matthew Wedman will be back from suspension Saturday night as the Thunderbirds host the Saskatoon Blades.

• Prior to the 10 goals given up in 2017, the Thunderbirds had previously not allowed that many goals since a 10-2 loss at Calgary on January 5th, 2014. Like Wednesday night, that game was one that Seattle was dealing with a number of injuries and called up two affiliated players – Nolan Volcan and Kaden Elder.

• The game Wednesday ended the season series between the two teams and the Thunderbirds will be glad. Seattle went 1-3 against the Blazers and allowed 25 goals in the three losses.