Saturday, September 21, 2013

Game Two: Portland @ Seattle

The format will be a little different this year, as instead of a large season preview, I will just preview individual games, with what I expect from the opposing team as well as how they match up with the Hawks.
Matthew Barzal

 Seattle Thunderbirds (24-38-7-3, 58 points, 7th place in the Western Conference) 
Last Season:
-Seattle, in their second season under former Winterhawk's player Steve Konowalchuk, made the playoffs, after missing out the previous 3 seasons. They then took the first 3 games over the 2nd seeded Kelowna Rockets, before finally losing in over-time of the 2nd game. Konowalchuk returns for his 3rd season behind the bench and is hoping that he can lead the, potent looking on paper, T-birds to a much higher seed. Seattle was 13th in the WHL in goal scoring last season but 21st (only Vancouver was worse) in goals allowed last season (286). They just could not keep the puck out of the net, especially against the elite teams in the league. The bad part for Seattle is that it could get worse as their experienced Goalie from last season: Brandon Glover is too old to play in the league after playing out his eligibility. Also, their best penalty killer and defensive forward Luke Lockhart is gone as well for the same reason.

Seattle returns 7 of their top 8 scorers from last season led by their trio of '94 born top-liners: Latvain Winger Roberts Lipsbergs (he of the way too many s'es) who was a 30 goal scorer (58 points total), Connor Honey (54 points) and Russian Alexander Delnov (49 points). The 3 played together for a large portion of last season and proved to be a potent scoring threat every time they took the ice, when they were all healthy that is. That should continue this season for the T-birds. The top trio is joined by a couple '97 born forwards that should make an immediate impact in 2012 top overall Bantam pick: Matthew Barzal and Keegan Kolesar (another first round bantam pick from 2012). After having Barzal play in 3 preseason games, it's not too much to say that this kid will have an immediate impact in the WHL. He is a play-maker who loves space and his vision on the ice is incredible. One thing Portland did in one of the pre-season games that he will need to adjust to, is play him physically and eliminate the space that he loves. Another player that will make an impact is '94 born Branden Troock, who is still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

The Thunderbird's had a player taken in the first round in the 2013 NHL draft when Anaheim selected Shea Theodore with the 26th pick. I believe he is still in camp with the Ducks and should miss tonight's game, but there is little doubt that he will be back soon as he had a really poor showing last Tuesday in a win over the Phoenix Coyotes. Theodore is a play-maker from the back-end that any WHL club would love to have. He makes mistakes in his own end too often for any coaches liking but the ability he has to set up or score goals is enough to compensate for that by a large margin. Another big part of the Blue-line for the Birds is '95 born, 6'5" Jared Hauf, who with his reach creates problems for small forwards. Hawk fans love Jesse Forsberg and he will be back for his over-age season to annoy and pester opponents. One player to keep an eye on is '97 born Ethan Bear, who got himself into one game last season with the Hawks, not looking out of place at all at 15 years old. Improvements will need to happen on the blue line, as the Goalie situation is perhaps the teams largest question mark.
Devon Fordyce

The Birds are carrying 3 goalies: '94 born Devon Fordyce (claimed off waivers from Prince George after only getting into 18 games over 2 season with the Cougars), '95 born Justin Myles (played in 8 games as a rookie last year for Seattle) and Danny Mumaugh (played in 18 games last season). It would seem they are going to give the nod to Myles, due to him getting the start in tonight's game, but Fordyce and Mumauch will be in the mix unless he proves himself. Combined the 3 Goalies have only played in 44 WHL games, meaning that it is a very in-experienced unit that Seattle really does not know what they are going to get out of. There could be a diamond in the rough, somewhere among the threes, but it remains to be seen, to say the least.

Tonight's Game:
-7:05 pm at the ShoWare Center. It is Seattle's home-opener, so there should be a packed house. Portland spoiled Seattle's opener last season with a 6-2 drubbing and hopes to do the same tonight.
-Portland owned Seattle last year with the combination of  a potent scoring attack and Seattle's inability to keep the puck out of their net. Seattle should be better this season, but could be held back by very in-experienced Goalies.
-Should be the same lineup for tonight with the possibility that Jared Schamerhorn gets his first start for the Hawks.
-Portland will get a look at the #1 pick from 2012's Bantam Draft a day after holding the 2nd overall pick from that draft: Jansen Harkins off the score sheet.

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