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Thunderbirds trade goalie Roddy Ross to Regina in Draft Day deal

The Seattle Thunderbirds traded Philadelphia Flyers prospect Roddy Ross to the Regina Pats Wednesday. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

For the second straight year, Seattle Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge pulled off a noteworthy trade during the WHL Bantam Draft.

As Wednesday’s draft moved into the second round, the Thunderbirds announced they had traded goalie Roddy Ross and an eighth-round pick to the Regina Pats for a second-round pick (pick 43 overall), a fourth-round pick in 2022 and a conditional second-round pick in 2024.

The Thunderbirds used the second-round pick to select another goalie, Scott Ratzlaff, out of Alberta.

Ross, 20, had just finished his first full season in Seattle after joining the Thunderbirds in January of 2019 and he went on to be drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round of the NHL Draft last summer. If he returned to Seattle he would take up one of the team’s allotted three over-aged slots and would block younger goalies Blake Lyda and Thomas Milic from regular playing time.

Wanting the younger goalies to develop along with the young roster by playing more, the trade was necessary.

“Roddy was a great Thunderbird,” La Forge said. “We appreciated everything he did for us but it’s time to go with the guys who match our windows. To be able to move Roddy and acquire a goalie for the future was something that was exciting for us…it was something we felt we had to jump on. It just made too much sense for us. We believe so much in Lyda and Milic that we wanted to go with them. We were able to get Roddy closer to home and to a good spot for him.”

After being discovered playing in an AJHL preseason game in 2018 by one of the Seattle owners, the Thunderbirds added Ross to their protected list and eventually signed him that following January. Ross stepped in during the second half of 2019 and led the Thunderbirds to a surprising turnaround that propelled the team into the postseason.

He ends his Seattle career by appearing in 74 games, winning 36 to go with a career goals-against average of 3.03 and .912 save-percentage.

With Ross in Regina, the door for Lyda and Milic opens.

Lyda, 18, was acquired last offseason from the Everett Silvertips and he backed Ross up this season. He appeared in 18 games and finished with an .876 save-percentage but those numbers don’t accurately reflect his play.

Playing behind a young team with a green defense, Lyda was on the wrong end of some lopsided scores. Scores that weren’t necessarily all on him. The NHL noticed, and Lyda ended the season listed by NHL’s Central Scouting as the 26th ranked North American goalie prospect.

“I am a big believer in Blake Lyda and I have been for a long time,” La Forge said. “Technically he’s so strong. He didn’t really get an opportunity to string starts together and part of that is playing behind Roddy Ross. We believe in him and Milic as a duo.”

There are high hopes and expectations for Milic.

A third-round pick in the 2018 draft, Milic, 17, was sent to the Burnaby Winter Club by the Thunderbirds last year so he could get regular ice time. He turned in a spectacular season by posting a CSSHL best .946 save-percentage while earning Goaltender of the Year honors.

He played for Team Canada in the U-17’s and again posted the tournament’s best save-percentage — .925. Seattle recalled Milic briefly during this season, to fill in for an injured Lyda, and he picked up a win in his only start by making 23 saves during a 4-2 win over the Regina Pats.

“I think we went into camp last year and didn’t know how it would work out,” La Forge said. “We ended up getting a spot for him where we knew he would play a lot. He went to a good program in Burnaby and I know he was disappointed in going down but it worked out for him.”

When the WHL trade deadline was approaching last winter, there was some speculation that Ross might be on the trading block. La Forge held on to him however and was able to get a good return for an over-aged goalie by waiting until the draft.

“We got some calls at the deadline, but we believed in Roddy and we made the decision to keep our goalie and make the run to the playoffs,” he said. “The experience that we were hoping to get our young guys in the playoffs would have been more valuable than the picks. The deal we got today was close to what we would have been able to get at the deadline.”

Wednesday’s trade also leaves Seattle with just two 20-year-olds on its roster. Defenseman Owen Williams and forward Keltie Jeri-Leon figure to be back in the Thunderbirds fold next season.

Will there be a third over-ager added?

“I’m confident in our group,” La Forge said. “If we can fill a 20 spot with something that made sense then we’ll do it but if we have to start the season with the group we have now I’m pretty confident.”

It was a long and busy day for the Thunderbirds and it started with trading a popular player in Ross.

He wasn’t in Seattle long but he made an impact. He helped right the ship last season and was a solid and calming presence behind a young team this year and once again, was leading them into the playoffs.

Unless the schedule next year is dramatically altered due to the unknown surrounding the COVID-19 disease – and La Forge does believe there will be some semblance of a season – Ross will have played his last game at the accesso ShoWare Center. Regina is not set to come to Seattle but even so, Ross won’t soon be forgotten.