Thunderbirds blitz Tri-City Americans 5-1
KENT — The already young Thunderbirds were even younger Friday night against the Tri-City Americans at the accesso ShoWare Center.
Seattle was missing two of its top-four defenseman and had called up a couple of 15-year-old prospects but instead of falling under the pressure, the Thunderbirds rose to the occasion and dispatched of an Americans squad that they’re chasing in the playoff race, 5-1.
The Thunderbirds flung a season-high 57 shots at Tri-City goalie Beck Warm and got a pair of goals from Payton Mount and three assists from Zach Ashton as 10 different players recorded a point.
“I think we’re stringing together some good games and sometimes the results haven’t been there but we’ve said it from the start of the season, to have progress and showing our identity,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “That was 100-percent buy-in again. I think we’re getting more and more consistent with that and realizing how we need to play to have success. Every single guy contributed.”
Seattle (10-16-2-1) blitzed Tri-City (12-13-2-1) right out the gate and took 19 of the first 20 shots in the game to set the tone.
The Thunderbirds also got on the board in the first period when Matthew Rempe scored his fourth goal of the year on a breakaway. It was the fourth goal of the year for the big center, and second it as many games.
“It was a good start,” O’Dette said. “Obviously we talk about ways to seize momentum, starts, and ends of periods. We came out really good and I thought we sustained that. I thought that was as close to a 60-minute game we’ve had all year.”
Momentum off the penalty kill
A turning point in Friday’s game came over the first half of the second period. The Thunderbirds had to kill off three Tri-City power plays in the first 10 minutes. Not only did they kill them off, but they built momentum off it.
Right after they got back to even strength, Mount made it 2-0 with a backhand roof shot for his seventh of the season. Just over a minute later, Tyrel Bauer would score from the point to make it 3-0.
“That’s what a good PK can do,” O’Dette said. “We took that four-minute penalty and it was like ‘OK, this is a key moment of the game and we really have to dig in here’. I’m not sure if they got more than one shot on during the four minutes. You get momentum off the PK and that builds.”
Tri-City ended the night 1-for-5 on the power play, with only a second-period Sasha Mutala score to show for the game.
Rybinski line continues to gel
Friday was the sixth game that Henrik Rybinski has centered a line with Conner Roulette and Keltie Jeri-Leon and again was Seattle’s best line.
The trio combined for a goal and three assists with eight shots on goal. Rybinski found the back of the net in the second period for his fifth goal of the year while Roulette had two assists and Jeri-Leon had one helper.
“I just think we have good chemistry,” Rybinski said. “In the corners, we have good support, we’re always supporting each other, and we know where guys will be. That’s allowing us to have success.”
Normally the playmaker of the three, Rybinski has goals in three of his last four games but overall the production of each guy has risen since playing together.
Before playing on the line, Roulette was averaging .74 shots per game and .36 points-per-game. Playing with Rybinski and Jeri-Leon he’s averaging 4.7 shots and 1.12 points per contest. Jeri-Leon has jumped up over a shot per game to average 3.7.
“They’ve got high motors,” O’Dette said. “Especially Rybinski, he’s known for his motor. They just have chemistry, they read where each other is going to be, they’re making plays and are on the same page.”
Short-handed defense shows up
Seattle was playing without Simon Kubicek who is with Team Czech World Junior Championship team and Cade McNelly who still has one more game of a suspension to serve.
Despite missing two of their top-four guys, the Thunderbirds defense held the Americans to the outside for the most part and limited them to under 10 shots per period, giving up 22 overall.
“I thought the biggest part was moving the puck well,” O’Dette said of his blue line. “I thought we advanced the puck cleanly and got it going north when we had the opportunity to. It led to a lot less time in our end. Ashton had a great game, (Spencer) Penner, for his first game, didn’t look out of place. I’m really happy with the whole team. We’ve got to build off that.”
Bauer played extra minutes, knowing they were short a couple of players and playing with a 15-year-old prospect making his WHL debut.
“We know what we have to do as a team to be successful,” Bauer said. “We know we have to follow the game plan. Obviously, we want to help out the young guys when we can, we knew we were a little short today. When you have that buy-in you know good things will happen.”
Jordan Gustafson and Spencer Penner make their debuts
“It was a dream come true. I never would have imagined skating with this team or playing in the WHL when I was younger,” Penner, Seattle’s 2019 second-round pick said after Friday’s game.
He had been called up to fill in on Seattle’s short blue line and held his own.
Playing at home he was able to be protected thanks to the Thunderbirds having last change. He was also paired for several shifts with Bauer, which helped.
“He’s a good skater, he’s a really smart kid,” Bauer said of Penner. “We’ve got big plans for him and he’s going to be a big part of this organization moving forward. So, good on him, he played great.”
Along with Penner, the Thunderbirds first of two 2019 first-round picks, Gustafson made his WHL debut.
He got the call at his home outside Edmonton Wednesday afternoon to tell him that he was being called up and 24-hours later was in Seattle.
“Heading into it I was really nervous,” Gustafson said. “I’m the type of player that gets nervous over pretty much every game. But with the support of such great men in this dressing room, they made it easy on me.”
First of a three-in-three
Seattle’s schedule before the holiday break is a tough one.
Friday night was the first in a three-game weekend run which will continue Saturday night when they host Spokane and finish Sunday in Portland. Getting the first win was big for momentum, but Seattle has been stringing good games together since last weekend’s games in Victoria.
“Recently some stuff changed and overall, we just have to know what we have to do,” Bauer said. “When the team buys in, it shows. And it showed tonight. We came on strong, we didn’t slow down and they couldn’t get anything going because we were constantly in their end…we’re a young team and we’ve got the buy-in now and now that guys have seen and know what we have to do we’re really excited for this group moving forward in the back half of the season.”
• Ashton’s three-assist night was a career-best, and his plus-4 rating was another career mark.
• Mount scored his second of the night, and eighth of the year, in the third period to round out the scoring. The second-year player is quietly having a strong season. He’s second on the Thunderbirds in scoring with eight goals and 18 points.
• With the win, the Thunderbirds pull to within four points of Tri-City for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.