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Roddy Ross and timely scoring lead Thunderbirds past Winterhawks

Roddy Ross dives on the puck during the Thunderbirds shootout win in Portland (Hunter Radcliffe/ Winterhawks)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Seattle Thunderbirds forward Matthew Rempe kept it simple while summing up his team’s 4-3 shootout win over the Portland Winterhawks Saturday.

“Roddy was unreal,” he said outside the Thunderbirds dressing room at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.

He was referring to Seattle goalie Roddy Ross who turned away 43 shots to keep the Thunderbirds within striking distance, allowing them to come back three times in a game that they never led until Simon Kubicek’s shootout conversion.

Seattle (20-22-3-2) was outshot 46-23 by the Winterhawks but never fell behind by more than one goal and would get timely scoring, led by Andrej Kukuca who scored twice.

“I think we had some timely goals for sure,” Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette said. “It kept us in the game at the right moments. There were some sloppy times for sure, don’t get me wrong, there are some things to clean up. They’re a hard to team to play against, with their speed and skill they can make you look sloppy pretty quick.”

Ross was perhaps at his best during the third period Saturday.

Portland (35-7-2-4) outshot the Thunderbirds 15-5 in the third but would not be able to beat Ross who made a tough save with just under eight minutes left and the game tied at 3-3. On the play, Portland’s Seth Jarvis fed teammate Reece Newkirk with a perfect pass at the goalmouth.

Ross slid over to deny the New York Islanders prospect’s bid for goal number 24.

“Roddy made some ten-beller’s for sure,” O’Dette added.

Not only did the Winterhawks hold a distinct edge with the shots on goal but also with puck possession.

Portland took 63-percent of the five-on-five shot attempts Saturday, but the Thunderbirds would have some success on the forecheck. At times, Seattle was able to force turnovers deep while also making it hard for the Winterhawks to break out of their zone cleanly.

The Thunderbirds tied the game at 1-1 in the first period thanks to a forecheck by Max Patterson. He stole the puck in the corner and found Jared Davidson, who was wide open in front of the net. Davidson would beat Joel Hofer for his sixth goal of the season.

“That’s always the keys against these guys, be tenacious on the forecheck,” O’Dette added. “Really track and hunt the puck down low. I thought we created some turnovers by doing that tonight. I wish we got a few more in so we could do that a little bit more. I thought we turned it over or went offside a few times. All those add up and limit what we’re able to do.”

With Ross making saves, the Thunderbirds were able to answer every Portland score.

That was most evident early in the second period.

Cross Hanas put the Winterhawks back up by a goal when he surprised Ross, and every other Thunderbird, by picking the puck up with the blade of his stick behind the net and punching it in with a ‘lacrosse goal’.

Kukuca would respond.

He raced down the ice less than 20 seconds later to score his first of the night, and 17th of the season to square the game back up, 2-2.

After Simon Knack scored a power-play goal for the Winterhawks later in the period, Kukuca would score again by ripping his 18th past a screened Hofer.

Neither team would score in overtime and O’Dette raised some eyebrows in the shootout when he tapped Rempe as his first shooter. It was the first shootout attempt for the 17-year-old rookie.

“We just had a breakaway relay competition in practice the other day and he was scoring,” O’Dette said. “I called out his name and he didn’t hesitate. He had a big smile on his face. Sometimes guys, on their first time, give you that look like ‘are you sure’? No hesitation, he just went out and did his thing, it was fun to watch.”

Rempe would beat Hofer by flipping a backhander over the prone goaltender.

“I thought I better not lose the puck,” Rempe said with a smile. “I knew I was going to go with my backhand. When I picked up the puck it rolled, and my heart stopped. Then I came down and just did my move and it went in.”

Kubicek would clinch the win for the Thunderbirds when he scored his third shootout goal of the season and the Thunderbirds bench emptied on to the ice to celebrate their third win of the year against the Winterhawks.

The win extended Seattle’s lead over the Tri-City Americans and Prince George Cougars for the Western Conference’s final wild-card spot to ten points. The Thunderbirds will next head to Prince George for a pair of midweek games against the Cougars.

“We’ll enjoy this one tonight and we’ve got to jump on the bus Monday for playoff-type games,” O’Dette said.

Game Notes

• Kubicek is turning into a shootout specialist for the Thunderbirds. Saturday’s successful attempt was his third shootout goal in four tries. Two have come against Portland.

• Cade McNelly followed up his first career multi-point game last Saturday against Portland with a two-assist evening Saturday. The big defenseman has been playing his best hockey of late, not just chipping in on offense, but on the back end. “Nelly’s playing great,” O’Dette said. “I don’t think (a third-period penalty) was fair, he gets profiled sometimes which I don’t think is right. He’s improved his play so much, he’s making good plays. He’s got a knack with the puck and is making some plays. That combined with his toughness and physical presence is a pretty good combination.”

• Seattle improved its season record against Portland to 3-3-0-1 and over the last 10 games, the Thunderbirds are 6-2-1-1 overall.