THUNDERBIRDS

Thunderbirds top Swift Current to end weekend with four points

Jan 6, 2020, 7:52 AM
Seattle defenseman Cade McNelly plays the puck during the Thunderbirds 4-2 win in Swift Current. (P...
Seattle defenseman Cade McNelly plays the puck during the Thunderbirds 4-2 win in Swift Current. (Photo by Ed Fonger/ Broncos)
(Photo by Ed Fonger/ Broncos)

Road weary and having to play a game less than 24-hours after Saturday’s loss to Medicine Hat, the Seattle Thunderbirds started slowly in Swift Current Sunday.

The Broncos outshot Seattle early, cashed in on a power-play and forced goalie Roddy Ross to make tough saves. He was up to the task and the Thunderbirds would get their legs under them and finish their weekend with a 4-2 win.

“It’s tough, with the travel leaving up to it and playing a New Year’s Eve game,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “It can be a taxing league but our guys found a way to get it done.”

Ross provided the backstop, making 29 stops, to pick up his 12th win of the season. He was a calming influence on the back end to help out the tired team in front of him.

“We had some breakdowns defensively that we need to fix but Roddy was there to slam the door make the big saves when we needed him to,” O’Dette said.

Seattle (15-20-2-1) would get its offense going thanks to another goal from Andrej Kukuca and a pair from Keltie Jeri-Leon. Swift Current (9-25-1-2) was led by former Thunderbird Jaxan Kaluski who had a goal and an assist in the loss.

For Kukuca, it was his fourth goal in two nights as the Slovakian import has come back from the holiday break hot. In the six games since the break, Kukuca has scored six goals along with four assists. Kukuca, 20, is tied for the team lead in goals (15), assists (20) and points with 35.

Just as he did last season, Kukuca is heating up in the second half.

“It’s nice,” O’Dette said of the import player. “It definitely gives us a boost and for whatever reason, he’s a second-half guy and he’s making plays.”

Jeri-Leon is tied with Kukuca with 15 goals and his line had another strong game.

His early third-period goal Sunday would end up serving as the game-winner and he would add a late, empty-net score to seal the win for the Thunderbirds. His linemate Conner Roulette set up one of the goals and added one of his own, his 11th, in the second period to give Seattle a lead that they would not relinquish.

That line, centered by Henrik Rybinski, continues to drive the play for the Thunderbirds.

“They’re dangerous,” O’Dette said. “They have quick-strike capabilities and at any moment can make plays and produce goals like they did tonight. Keltie had a good game, but you sleep on them and they give us an advantage.”

It’s a trio that has helped rejuvenate a Thunderbirds offense that was stagnant early on in the year. Seattle struggled to score goals consistently but in three games this weekend found the back of the net 14 times.

The scoring isn’t just coming from the top line as Kukuca, Conner Bruggen-Cate, Matthew Rempe, and others have chipped in.

“It’s tough to put a finger on it,” O’Dette said “But obviously the Rybinski line being put together is producing offense for us I think has given us come continuity with the other lines. They’re starting to click together and being together for multiple games.”

While the Thunderbirds were winning, the Tri-City Americans were beaten 7-3 at home Sunday by the Kelowna Rockets. That meant that the Thunderbirds jumped over them in the standings and now hold the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

Tri-City has a couple of games in hand and the two teams will meet Friday in Kennewick for what will be an important game.

Seattle will have a week to prepare for that but head home feeling good after winning two of three on the weekend.

“A tough assignment there but to come out of the weekend winning two of three games and end the road trip with a win feels good,” O’Dette said. “It will make the bus ride home better.”

Game Notes

• Bruggen-Cate picked up an assist Sunday to extend his point streak to six games. In that span, he’s scored four goals with seven assists.

• Rempe assisted on Kukuca’s goal and ends the weekend with five assists.

• Seattle completed it’s swing through the Central Division and does so with a 4-2 record.

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Thunderbirds top Swift Current to end weekend with four points