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Thunderbirds play better but come up one goal short against Rockets

Seattle's Conner Bruggen-Cate is chased by Kelowna's Dillon Hamaliuk Friday night. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – One shift. It was one shift in the first period and one in the third period that kept the Seattle Thunderbirds from getting back in the win column Friday night against the Kelowna Rockets.

Seattle had fought back from a 2-0, first-period, deficit to tie in the second period only to see the Rockets find the winning goal midway through the third to win 3-2. The loss was the seventh in eight games for the Thunderbirds.

“We didn’t quite have the backcheck and our D slid over to play the two-on-two and their guy had a step on us,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said of Kelowna’s game-winning goal.

Their guy was former Thunderbird Dillon Hamaliuk who scored twice on the night. Another former Seattle player, goalie Cole Schwebius, made 37 saves to pick up his third win of the season.

While the Thunderbirds didn’t win, Seattle (6-12-2-1) outshot the Rockets 39-29 and got goals from Conner Bruggen-Cate and Peyton Mount in the loss.

“Guys played really hard,” O’Dette said. “I think we deserved a better fate. I thought we played really well, I thought we carried the play for the most part. Just fell short. I’m proud of the way the guys responded from a tough night, Wednesday night. That’s T-Birds hockey there, we had the formula with what makes us successful and just a couple of mistakes.”

One shift in the first period

Kelowna (12-8-1-1) opened the scoring at 12:01 of the first period after a self-inflicted Thunderbirds mistake.

The puck went behind the Seattle net where goalie Roddy Ross attempted to play it. He mishandled it and Kelowna sent it into the crease while Ross was trapped behind the goal. Dalton Wilton was there to bang it into the gaping net for his first of the season.

“We’ve got to avoid those big plays,” O’Dette said. “We say it all the time, you never know what play that’s going to be a difference maker. We’ve got to avoid those breakdowns. The guys played well, there’s not a lot of negatives out of that game. Guys dug in.”

Other than the misplay behind the net, Ross had a strong game. The Philadelphia Flyers prospect kicked out 26 Rockets bids.

Second-period reversal

After Wilton gave Kelowna the lead, Hamaliuk scored his first of the night on a power play to put the Rockets up 2-0 heading into the second period.

Seattle had given up 10 straight goals, going back to Wednesday’s blow out loss in Kamloops.

Rather than sulk, the Thunderbirds pushed back and had one of their better middle periods of the season. They outshot Kelowna 15-7 and would score twice to get the game square.

“Just keep going,” Forward Keltie Jeri-Leon said. “We were outshooting them and when you outshoot a team it’s going to come eventually and I think we just kind of stayed focused, stayed positive and kept going.”

Bruggen-Cate cut the lead thanks to a nice toe-drag followed by a wrist shot that beat Schwebius on the glove side. It was the fourth of the season for the former Kelowna player and gave Seattle life.

Less than a minute later the Thunderbirds, trailing 2-1, went to the power play with a chance to tie. It was similar to the situation Seattle was in on Wednesday night when Kamloops scored a short-handed goal and opened the flood gates.

It would be different Friday as Peyton Mount would tip in a Simon Kubicek shot for his third of the year and the Thunderbirds were in business.

Coming into the game, the Thunderbirds had been outshot 31-14 in second periods but Friday would win the period 2-0.

“We knew we had a good first period,” O’Dette said of the second period. “It’s a learning process for us when it comes to that stuff right now. I think it was a step in the right direction to answer back and tie the game up.”

Taking away the positives

It wasn’t a win Friday night but there were positive steps taken by the Thunderbirds.

Seattle pushed back, went 1-for-4 on the power play, and had three key returns to the lineup. Cade McNelly, Conner Roulette, and Lucas Ciona were back and had strong games.

“They were good,” O’Dette said. “Roulette and Ciona were really good. McNelly was good, gave us some stability on the back end, and some presence.”

Rookie Brendan Williamson also played well. He didn’t end up scoring or getting an assist but he was dangerous, created chances, and was strong on the penalty kill. It was the latest in a string of strong outings from the 17-year-old over the last week.

More reinforcement on the way

The Thunderbirds will play their fourth game over the last five nights Saturday when they will host the Saskatoon Blades.

Seattle will get a jolt by the return of captain Matthew Wedman, who will have finished serving his four-game suspension.

“That will be a huge boost,” O’Dette said. “We’ve got the formula that works for us, we’ve just got to duplicate that night in and night out. I say it all the time like a broken record, we’re disappointed with the results but as a whole the way we played was good.

“There’s progress there. We’ve got character in there. Guys are excited to play, they’re embarrassed from Wednesday night and wanted to come out and make it right tonight and we just fell short.”

Game Notes

• Hamaliuk seems to enjoy playing against his former club. In two games at the accesso ShoWare Center, the San Jose Sharks prospect has three goals against the Thunderbirds. In the 21 other games he’s played this season, he’s scored five times.

• After going 15 games without a goal, Mount has scored twice in his last four.