Thunderbirds snap four-game slide with big win in Everett
EVERETT – Thunderbirds head coach Matt O’Dette wanted his older, veteran players to bring more fire into Saturday’s game with the Everett Silvertips.
They responded by setting the place ablaze as Seattle ended its four-game winless streak with an impressive 5-2 win at the Angel of the Winds Arena.
The older players were front and center. Andrej Kukuca scored twice, while goalie Roddy Ross rebounded from a tough start Friday to pick up the win by kicking out 32 Silvertips shots to end Everett’s 11-game win streak.
“We challenged those guys, challenged our leaders,” O’Dette said. “That was just a great team effort, everybody contributed. Obviously, Andrej, (Conner Bruggen-Cate), Roddy in the net, those guys all responded which is what we needed.”
Bruggen-Cate played a strong game, setting up Seattle’s first goal, scored by Kukuca while Keltie Jeri-Leon scored his 22nd goal of the year.
Everett (45-13–1) has the league’s top power play and the Thunderbirds gave them seven looks with the man advantage. Normally a recipe for disaster, the Thunderbirds not only killed off all seven attempts but scored a late short-handed goal.
Conversely, Seattle (24-31-4-3) scored on both of its power plays as the Thunderbirds won the special teams battle.
“We could have done without some of those power plays,” O’Dette said. “Too many opportunities on power plays. They’re number one in the league and you can’t give them seven, or whatever it was. We’ll correct that tomorrow.”
The Thunderbirds did a good job of making it hard on the Silvertips to get set up in the zone when on the power play. When Everett did get in the Seattle end, the Thunderbirds penalty killers were aggressive.
They pressured the Silvertips, broke up passes, forced turnovers at the blue line and were able to get clears.
“They’re so good when they set up, running their plays and options,” O’Dette said. “When they give up possession, we have to be extra aggressive. Same with any good power play, you have to limit their set time.”
It was a team effort on the Seattle penalty kill. Ryan Gottfried was good in front of the net while Kukuca, Henrik Rybinski, and rookie Kai Uchacz made a number of plays to break up Everett looks.
When Everett did get shots, Ross was there, as he was all night.
Ross, 19, made 25 saves in the first two periods as the Thunderbirds built a 3-1 lead. He made saves in tight, poke checked the puck away from would-be scorers, and found shots through traffic. He allowed a goal in the second period to Everett’s Ty Kolle on a shot from the point that deflected off a Seattle defender and in.
“The one was unlucky there, but he made the big saves,” O’Dette said of his goaltender. “He’s played very well in this building. That’s what we need. To beat a great team like Everett you need good goaltending.”
Kolle’s goal put Everett up 1-0 at 4:27 of the second but the Thunderbirds responded quickly.
Just under a minute later Bruggen-Cate got in behind the Everett defense but his shot was stopped by goalie Dustin Wolf. The rebound was left in the slot where Kukuca crashed and knocked it in for his team-leading 25th goal.
“Coming down to it, we haven’t been as good as we needed to,” Bruggen-Cate said. “Tonight, we stepped up and were rewarded for it. Just sticking to our systems and doing what we were doing when we were winning after Christmas.”
Bruggen-Cate would be in the mix again two minutes later as the Thunderbirds took their first lead. On the power play, Simon Kubicek fired a shot into traffic in front of the net. Seattle found it and knocked it in.
At first, the goal was awarded to Bruggen-Cate, but it might have been Matthew Rempe’s marker.
“I’m not too sure if I got that one,” Bruggen-Cate said with a grin. “It might have hit Rempe. We’ll have to wait for the video review. No comment on that one.”
The video review confirmed that the goal should be switched to Rempe, his 12th.
Seattle would finish the second period with a third straight goal as Keltie Jeri-Leon got the puck in front after a strong forecheck by the Thunderbirds. He quickly kicked the puck from his forehand to his backhand and lifted it over Wolf.
The goal snapped a 13-game streak for Jeri-Leon without finding the back of the net.
“It’s been a while,” Jeri-Leon said. “I’ve had a lot of good chances so to have that one go in felt good. The win feels better.”
In the third period, the Thunderbirds would add another Kukuca goal, on the power play, after Wolf cleared it right into Kukuca’s body and it rebounded into the net. With about five minutes left, Everett pulled Wolf for an extra skater on a power play. Payton Mount flipped the puck from his own goal line all the way down the ice and in the net for a short-handed goal.
The win cut Seattle’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot to six points and the Thunderbirds will look to cut that down more Sunday in a rematch with the Silvertips.
“I think we just focus on ourselves and stick to our game, play our game,” Jeri-Leon said about Sunday. “If you do it and get it two times in a row, it would be awesome.”
• Seattle was again without Max Patterson and Brendan Williamson and for the second straight night pressed defenseman Zach Ashton up to play on the wing.
• The two power-play goals that Seattle scored was only the second time this season they’ve scored two on the road. They last did so during a Feb. 4th game in Prince George.