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Sluggish Thunderbirds no match for high flying Giants

Gig Harbor's Mekai Sanders scored his first goal at home for the Thunderbirds during their 6-2 loss to Vancouver. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – The 5,334 in attendance at the accesso ShoWare Center Saturday night had to pay to get in but Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette wasn’t happy with the freebies his team gave the visiting Vancouver Giants.

“We gave them too many freebies that were just too easy,” O’Dette said.  “We didn’t make them work too hard for their goals.”

The Giants scored three goals in the first period and cruised to a 6-2 win over a lifeless Thunderbirds squad. Calgary Flames prospect Milos Roman led the way for Vancouver – who won it’s ninth game in a row – with a hat trick.

Seattle (21-26-3-3) got a goal from Mekai Sanders and Matthew Rempe in the loss but avoided losing ground in the playoff race as the Thunderbirds remained nine points ahead of the Prince George Cougars for the last wild card slot.

Things unraveled for the Thunderbirds with the score tied at 1-1 in the first period, Seattle went to the power play with a chance to take a lead.

Vancouver (28-20-3-2) cleared the puck down the ice and two Thunderbirds players attempted to play the puck but missed it. Instead, it landed on Tristen Nielson’s stick who was in alone for his 27th goal, a short-handed goal, and the momentum swung.

“It was a poor play by our guys that were out there, the two guys back,” O’Dette said. “They’re trying to fly behind us and you never want to step up and try to intercept a pass because that’s what can happen. Just a mental break and we had too many of those.”

Vancouver would then score the next three goals and take over the game.

The Thunderbirds cut the lead to 4-2 with a power-play goal from Rempe in the second. It was his 10th of the season and third in as many games. Seattle still had a chance, down just two heading into the third period.

That hope was dashed when Roman completed the hat trick 1:01 into the third period to make it 5-2.

“The starts of periods weren’t very good,” O’Dette said. “The freebies. Breakdowns and leaving Roddy (Ross) hanging, leaving Roddy out to dry. It was too easy for them tonight.”

Ross was saddled with six goals allowed on 32 Vancouver shots.

The loss was a combination of a fast Vancouver team and a sluggish Thunderbirds effort.

The Giants’ speed caused issues for the Thunderbirds, especially in their own zone as Seattle was chasing for most of the night.

“They were a step ahead of us,” O’Dette said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t have the jump and we were trying to catch up with them the whole game. Not typical T-Bird hockey as far as energy level. We were watching most of the night.

“These are important games and valuable points on the line. Saturday night in our building and just not enough juice, not enough life.”

The Thunderbirds best line was it’s youngest.

Sanders scored a goal in the first period and he along with Kai Uchacz and Brendan Williamson gave the Thunderbirds energy that  O’Dette rewarded with ice time in the third period. It was the second straight strong effort by the trio of rookies.

“They were maybe the exception energy-wise,” O’Dette said. “They had some jump. They made some mistakes too, but we’ll live with the mistakes when they’re bringing that energy.”

The Thunderbirds will have a day to regroup before they hit the road for a rematch with the Giants. The two clubs will face each other again Monday afternoon at the Langley Events Centre.

That gives O’Dette and his club a day to figure out how to match the highly skilled and speedy Giants.

“Eliminate the big mistakes and the freebies,” O’Dette said about the plan for Monday. “That comes with simplifying the game and obviously on the road that will be emphasized. Playing the simple game and make them defend.”

Game Notes

• The short-handed goal allowed by Seattle was the ninth of the year. Only the Moose Jaw Warriors have allowed more in the WHL this season with 10.

• Conner Roulette picked up an assist on the Rempe goal to extend his point streak to four straight games. The rookie has 32 points in 44 games this season.

• The Thunderbirds ended the night 1-for-5 on the power play while the Giants were 1-for-3 but did add a goal seconds after a power-play chance ended and another on a delayed call.