Thunderbirds sharp in 3-2 win over Blades
KENT – Playing in his first game since serving a four-game suspension, it didn’t take Thunderbirds captain Matthew Wedman long to make an impact Saturday night.
On the first shift of the game, Wedman split the Saskatoon Blades defense and powered his way towards the net. With a guy hanging on him, he flung the puck back into the crease where Keltie Jerie-Leon banged it in to give the Thunderbirds a lead on their first shot.
“You always want to start like that,” Wedman, 20, said. “I think it was just the energy I wanted to bring today. Build off our game yesterday and I think everyone was feeding off that.”
It sparked the Thunderbirds as they built a lead and hung on to snap a three-game losing streak by beating the Blades 3-2 in front of a packed accesso ShoWare Center.
Wedman had two assists on offense while goalie Blake Lyda stopped 35 shots to earn his first WHL win.
“Really proud of the guys,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “It’s been a long week with some adversity, four (games) in five (nights). Just a lot of character being shown. Good response last night and a follow up tonight and grind out a win. I’m happy for the guys and especially happy for Lyda.”
Blake Lyda rebounds and responds
Seattle (7-12-2-1) went with Lyda Saturday night, two days after a disastrous start in Kamloops where he allowed all 10 goals in a 10-1 loss.
The team did not play well in front of him that night, but it is still the kind of stat line that can erode a player’s confidence. The 17-year-old didn’t flinch Saturday and backstopped the Thunderbirds.
“We know he’s a good goalie, he’s a really good goalie,” O’Dette said. “He showed how mentally tough he is too. It’s not easy to bounce back from a game like that. Tons of credit to the kid. The guys played hard in front of him and he made several huge saves for us.”
Saskatoon (12-11-1-1) pushed in the third period to try and tie the game only to see Lyda stand tall during a late third-period penalty kill. Then again, it was Lyda making saves in the waning seconds as the Blades had the extra attacker on the ice.
He found the puck through traffic, slid across the crease to make a pad save, and jumped on loose pucks in front of his net. When the horn blasted to end the game, his teammates poured on the ice to mob him.
“It’s definitely nice when you just hop right back in after that kind of game, so your confidence doesn’t start to go down,” Lyda said about getting the start after the tough outing in Kamloops. “I tried to put that one as far behind me as I could. I had some help from the guys to get that out of my head and just tried to take it one shot at a time.”
Lyda is coming off a tough year where he missed nearly all of it due to an injury.
Seattle acquired him from the Everett Silvertips in a draft-day trade and he’s had some bad luck starts at the beginning of the season. His statistics have not been good but have not reflected the way he’s been playing.
After the game, he emerged from the Thunderbirds dressing room holding the game puck, labeled with tape commemorating his first league win.
“It feels pretty good” he said. “A couple games in coming but it feels nice getting that first one out of the way, hopefully more to come.”
Managing momentum and the Thunderbirds formula
After Wedman set up Seattle’s first goal the Thunderbirds added another in the first period thanks to a Simon Kubicek wrist shot on a power-play.
Saskatoon cut that lead three minutes into the second when Nolan Kneen scored his fifth of the season. Instead of losing the momentum, the Thunderbirds would push back.
On a power-play chance six minutes afterward, Peyton Mount would notch his second goal in as many nights when he crashed the net and scored to make it 3-1 and restore the Thunderbirds two-goal lead.
That would be a big goal as the Blades would cut the lead again at the start of the third period thanks to a power-play goal Matej Toman.
For most of the night, the Thunderbirds carried the play while five-on-five. They got the puck deep, cycled and spent extended shifts in the Saskatoon end. It’s the formula that O’Dette wants his team to deploy.
“There were some extended shifts down there which we know accumulates and helps wear teams down,” O’Dette said. “I thought we could have had a lot more if we got more pucks in. We’re just trying to pound that formula into our guy’s heads. It’s been a work in progress but guys are starting to know what works for us and it’s just a matter of staying consistent.”
The Wedman effect
Not only did Wedman set the tone early, but he won a crucial faceoff late in the game and took 10 shots on goal.
With 9 seconds left on the clock he won a faceoff in the defensive end that allowed the Thunderbirds to clear the zone and run out the remainder of the clock. It was the 14th faceoff win on the night for the big center and the most important.
“It sure is nice to be able to call his number at key moments of the game,” O’Dette said. “He came out of the gates like a beast and created that first goal. Late in the game, winning those key draws. That’s what veteran centerman do and a great return for him.”
Wedman had missed the last four games, a stretch that saw the Thunderbirds miss a number of players with injuries which led to them struggling.
“I was itching to get back in there,” Wedman said. “You want to be out there helping your team out. Getting back in there and making a difference is huge.”
It had been a tough week for the Thunderbirds but the two games on the weekend felt different. They got players back in the lineup and played better.
Saturday night they picked up two big points and are hoping to build off that moving forward.
“Adversity can be an opportunity to grow,” O’Dette said. “A lot of our younger guys got some minutes and that can be good for their development. We’ve had hard times and whatever they throw at us it’s like ‘ok, we’ve seen this before’ so that helps us. And now we’re getting healthy…we can see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
• Andrej Kukuca had an assist, giving him three in the last two games.
• Seattle was 2-for-4 on the power play and 1-for-5 on the penalty kill.
• Conner Bruggen-Cate also had two assists, giving him three points in his last two games.