Thunderbirds blast Tri City 6-3 to end first half on winning note
The Thunderbirds were looking to end the first half of the season on a high note when they hit the ice in Kennewick Saturday night.
It took them six minutes to find themselves but once they did, they put on a show and will now enjoy a week off.
Seattle erased an early 2-0 deficit to explode for six goals on their way to a much needed 6-3 win over the Tri City Americans. Ryan Gropp and Nolan Volcan each scored twice, Logan Flodell got the win in relief and two rookies got on the scoreboard for the first time.
It was a team effort and after a tough week, was a welcome relief.
“I’m proud of the guys,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said after. “They had so much enthusiasm and passion, just worked so hard. Blocking shots, whatever it took to get the win. It was really fun to watch everybody going like that.”
Ryan Gropp had a strong game and scored perhaps the biggest goal of the game while Seattle trailed 2-0 in the first period. He picked up a bouncing puck in the neutral zone and was off the to races. He beat Americans goalie Evan Sarthou with a nice forehand-backhand move for his 17th goal of the year.
The goal cut the Tri City lead in half and it gave Seattle some much needed confidence. Falling down 3-0 is a big hill to climb and once Gropp scored, the T-Birds got their game going again.
“That’s a huge goal, especially coming into here,” Konowalchuk said. “It was good for him. He stepped up, everybody did. He got the goals and stepped up but it was a team effort. Every guy should feel good going into the break and still a lesson on how good teams win.”
Seattle came out breathing fire in the second period and their forecheck caused all kinds of problems for the Tri City defense. The T-Birds owned the puck, tilted the ice and Gropp would tie the game after scoring from the high slot mid way through the period.
Before the second ended the T-Birds would take the lead when Volcan walked in from the half-boards on the power play, used a Gustav Olhaver screen to fire a shot past Sarthou for his first goal since returning from injury on Friday.
Tri City managed to tie the game back up 40 seconds into the third when Juuso Valimaki flung a shot through traffic that Logan Flodell could not see. Flodell entered the game 6:10 into the game after Seattle’s starter, Taz Burman, allowed two goals on the game’s first four shots.
Flodell shut the door and only allowed the one goal and made 19 saves, several of them of the big, desperate variety.
“They’ve got to be ready,” Konowalchuk said of his goalies. “They don’t really get a night off. Sometimes you don’t over think things and just go play. He went in and I thought had a good game.”
Seattle would shake off the Valimaki goal and go ahead for good later in the third, thanks to two rookies. Newly signed Luke Ormsby made a play on the forecheck to secure the puck deep behind the Tri City bench. He got it out to Owen Seidel in front of the net and Seidel scored.
It was Seidel’s first career WHL goal and Ormsby’s first point.
“You talk about a team effort, they had a good game,” Konowalchuk said of his rookies. “I think Seidel played one of his better games yesterday, he was a bit more involved and got some chances. He went and built on that and Ormsby is going to be a fun player to watch going forward. He’s a young kid but he’s a tenacious kid and creates that goal there.”
With the lead back, the T-Birds would pour it on to put away any doubt as to the outcome. Volcan scored again and Matthew Wedman scored his fifth goal of the year on a wrap around.
“It was really fun to coach that game and I’m really proud of the guys,” Konowalchuk said. “It was fun to build with a little bit of momentum and passion yesterday and bring it back here in today, it was a lot of fun to watch those guys play, they played their butts off.”
The T-Birds snapped their three-game losing streak and reclaimed first place in the U.S. Division – a lead they relinquished after Friday’s overtime loss.
Players will now head home to their families for the holiday break and the T-Birds are off until December 27th. Instead of a four-game losing streak to ponder, they can now go and relax for a while.
“Right now we just talked about the game and how good of a team effort it was,” Konowalchuk said. “When we get in off the bus we’ll talk about Christmas break and our game plan. Right now they can enjoy this win for the week if they want.”
• Gropp’s game was a big boost for the T-Birds. He had been in a slight cold streak and the two goals were his first since December 4th.
• Volcan’s return the last two nights has also been a big boost while the team plays without three key players. Saturday’s goals were his seventh and eighth and he is now one goal away from his total all of last season.
• Earlier in the morning the U.S. Hockey World Junior team announced their first round of cuts and Seattle’s Scott Eansor survived. The team is now flying to Finland to continue to prepare and Eansor is one of 14 remaining forwards on the roster.
• The T-Birds end the first half of the season with a 19-11-3-0 record and are in first place in the U.S. Division. Their first game back from the break will be another tough division match up in Spokane against the Chiefs.
Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.