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Thunderbirds lose in overtime after giving up late lead

Thunderbirds forward Conner Roulette fights for position in front of the Kelowna net. (Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets)

The Seattle Thunderbirds earned a valuable point in the standings with Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Kelowna Rockets but left one on the table.

For most of the game, Seattle played well. The Thunderbirds built a 2-1 lead and pressed for more. But, a late game-tying goal off the stick of Kelowna’s Mark Liwiski would tie the game with less than two minutes left and a former Thunderbird, Matthew Wedman, would win it in overtime.

“I felt we played a pretty good game, kind of controlled the flow of the play for the most part,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “I thought there was a little bit more we could have done in the third to close them out. A little bit better managing the puck there, keeping it in their end…Couldn’t hang on in overtime.”

Seattle (18-22-3-1) was paced by goals from Conner Roulette and Simon Kubicek along with 27 saves from goalie Roddy Ross. While Wedman won it with his 11th goal of the year, another former Thunderbird kept the Rockets in the game.

Goalie Cole Schwebius got the start for Kelowna and turned away 30 Seattle shots to keep the Rockets within striking distance.

Schwebius was key over the final two periods when the Thunderbirds outshot the Rockets 24-18 and had several scoring chances but couldn’t find an insurance goal.

“We were playing well,” O’Dette said. “We were playing some heavy minutes down there, getting them caught out for extended shifts in the zone. That’s our formula, especially on the road. It’s disappointing, the finish, we deserved a better fate.”

After Liwiski tied the game with his sixth of the season, Kelowna (22-20-1-2) was awarded a power play as the horn sounded to end regulation.

Seattle’s Ryan Gottfried got into a shoving match with a Rockets player and the result was a slashing minor called on the Thunderbirds defenseman. That allowed Kelowna to start overtime on a four-on-three power play and while Seattle killed it off, it set the tone for the extra frame as the Thunderbirds didn’t register a shot on goal.

The Thunderbirds were 0-for-1 with the power play while Kelowna was 0-for-4.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that they can call a little tap like that,” O’Dette said. “I have to watch the video. We controlled the flow of play and only get one power play all game, give me a break.”

With just over a minute left in overtime, Wedman got the puck behind the Seattle net and muscled his way in front where he slid it past Ross for the winner.

Playing his first game against his former team, Wedman celebrated by flapping his arms, like a bird. It’s a celebration that he routinely did over his four years playing for the Thunderbirds.

“It’s a tip of my cap, that’s a sign of respect,” Wedman told KelownaRockets.com after the game. “Once a bird always a bird.”

After giving up a first-period goal, the Thunderbirds tied the game at 1-1 thanks to Roulette’s 15th of the season. Defenseman Tyrel Bauer sent a long pass up ice to the rookie forward and Roulette was in alone on the Kelowna goal. He made one quick move to slide it past Schwebius.

Seattle took the lead in the second period when Simon Kubicek’s point shot hit a Rocket’s defenseman in front of the net and deflected in. It was Kubicek’s sixth of the season.

With the point, the Thunderbirds improved their playoff positioning.

They moved to within two points of the Vancouver Giants for the first wild card in the Western Conference while growing their lead over Tri-City to seven points for the last playoff spot.

After a weekend that saw the Thunderbirds shut out twice on back-to-back nights, there was improvement Friday.

“They got a good chunk of their guys back in the lineup, they’ve got some good guys there,” O’Dette said. “We’re not happy with the way it ended but we got a point on the road. We’re trying to scrape points, it should have been two, but we’ll take the one and move on.”

Game Notes

• O’Dette kept his top line of Roulette, Henrik Rybinski, and Keltie Jeri-Leon intact Friday but mixed up the rest of his forward lines, looking for offense. “I didn’t mind them,” he said. “I thought they did some good things. We’ll have to reassess after watching the video. We were just trying to click some chemistry in place with different combinations and spur some offense.”

• The Thunderbirds will be back in action Saturday night when they host the red hot Portland Winterhawks. Portland has not lost in regulation over its last 20 games. Saturday’s game will be televised locally on JoeTv.

• Friday was the second straight game that Seattle was only awarded one power-play chance and just the fourth time all season.