Sunday, March 29, 2009

T-Birds' playoff run ends with 5-2 loss in Spokane

This game recap is a hard one to write.  I’m not gonna lie.  Writing up the last recap of a season is always difficult, especially when it is cut short.  The Seattle Thunderbirds have provided excitement all season long, whether in the form of amazing wins or heartbreaking losses.  The team took us along with them on a wild rollercoaster ride to the first round of the WHL playoffs.  And now that ride is over.

It ended last night on the ice at Veteran’s Arena in Spokane, following 60 minutes of the most in-your-face hockey I have seen in quite a while.  The puck dropped at 7:05 and aggression flowed off both benches. Goalies Calvin Pickard (T-Birds) and Dustin Tokarski (Chiefs) were on their heels the entire first period as players fired shot after shot at them.  Picks slapped one hard shot away at 3:20, then caught the rebound to deny Spokane a goal.  Tokarski gloved a slapshot by Thomas Hickey, then moments later, denied Devon LeBlanc, who had charged up the ice with two other T-Birds, with only one American to stop them.  Well, make that two.  Tokarski did what his d-man could not.

About 5 and a half minutes in, Spokane’s Jared Spurgeon drove hard for the net, and he got it. The net, that is.  He went rocketing past Pickard and tumbled into the goal.  As he tried to extricate himself, Seattle’s Thomas Hickey was called for hooking and went to the box.  Once again, Pickard stepped up, denying shot after shot.  One attempt got a little too close for d-man Jeremy Schappert.  He took exception with Brenden Kichton and shoved him away from Pickard.  Kichton shoved back, but a ref stepped in before it could escalate.

The T-Birds aggressively pushed play into Spokane’s end, then had trouble scoring.  Greg Scott missed a big chunk of open net at the 8 minute mark (Tokarski was out of position).  To put it bluntly, he whiffed on a pass that would have definitely resulted in a Seattle goal.   Spokane’s Brett Bartman went to the box at 11:54 for interference and the T-Birds swarmed Tokarski, peppering him with shots.  Tokarski stopped all of them, much to the crowd’s (and Spokane radio guy Mike Boyle’s) delight. 

As the first period wound down, Seattle kept up its attack of Spokane’s net.  With 3:30 left to play, Dustin Tokarski somehow lost his stick, yet made another amazing save.  Several scoring chances ended in pushing and shoving matches in front of Spokane’s net, and at 18:41, the T-Birds Brad Haber was called for hooking and went to the box.  This led to some frantic action down at Seattle’s net, but Calvin Pickard turned them all away, and the first period ended with a scoreless tie in what appeared to be a battle of the goaltenders.  Shots on goal were pretty even, too. Spokane: 10, Seattle: 7.

The second period began with the T-Birds shorthanded as Brad Haber rode out his hooking penalty. Seattle killed it, then had their own power play chance a minute later, when Ondrej Roman went to the box for holding.  I don’t know who fired the shot at goal, but I was sure it went in.  The puck rolled over Dustin Tokarski’s leg pad, but Jared Spurgeon dove in behind him and somehow knocked the puck out before it crossed the line into the net.  Are you kidding me??? I had to watch it again.  I could feel the waves of frustration rising from the T-Birds bench at this moment.  Especially since four minutes later, Drayson Bowman scored to put Spokane up 1-0.  He scored on a rebound after Calvin Pickard turned Mitch Wahl’s shot away.  The T-Birds answered by driving up to Spokane’s end, but Dustin Tokarski blocked every shot they fired.

Just before the halfway mark, Spokane’s Ondrej Roman was called for a hooking penalty that sent radio guy Mike Boyle on a tirade.  He accused Thomas Hickey of deliberately firing a puck at Roman and that Roman had just been defending himself when he was called for the penalty.  Boyle said Hickey should have been called for what he called a “blatant act”.  A blatant act of what?  In the four years that I’ve watched Hickey play with the T-Birds, I have not seen any blatant unsportsmanlike acts.  Yes, he’s been called for the same penalties that others have been called for: hooking, tripping, high sticking.  And he’s had a fight or three. But I’ve never seen him play dirty, as Mike Boyle inferred. 

Jim O’Brien went to the box for interference at 11:28 and Pickard immediately blocked two key shots off the faceoff.  Thomas Hickey broke up what would have been Spokane’s second goal at 12:00 by putting his body in front of the oncoming Chief, then using his great play-reading ability to knock the puck right out of action.  O’Brien’s penalty had just ended when Spokane scored again, following a flurry of action at Seattle’s end.  Captain Justin McCrae got one past Calvin Pickard at the 13:30 mark. Mitch Wahl and Levko Koper got the assists. 

Ondrej Roman got physical with Pickard a couple of minutes later.  Picks had caught a shot when Roman grabbed his glove, in an apparent attempt to shake the puck loose.  Several T-Birds came flying up to protect their netminder, resulting in a lot of pushing and shoving.  It took the refs a few seconds to break things up.  The T-Birds took that energy up the ice on the next play and found a chink in Tokarski’s armor.  Rookie Colin Jacobs scored his second goal of the playoffs.  Greg Scott and Calvin Pickard were credited with the assists.

David Richard was called for tripping at 16:39, putting Spokane on the power play, but the T-Birds were ready.  Stefan Warg and Jeremy Schappert leveled huge hits that sparked boo’s from the crowd.  Schappert took a pass from Jeremy Boyer and fired point-blank at Tokarski.  Tokarski caught it.  The T-Birds ran into penalty trouble again in the final minute of the period. Brenden Dillon went to the box for slashing, setting Seattle up to begin the third period short handed.  As the clock ticked down the final 15 seconds of the period, Spokane attacked Calvin Pickard furiously, but he held them off; kicking and slapping the puck away from the net.  The second period ended with Spokane ahead 2-1 and the Chiefs firing more shots on goal. Spokane: 16, Seattle: 9

The third period began with Calvin Pickard making some heroic saves.  Off the opening face off, Spokane drove at the net.  One shot hit the post and Pickard kicked it away before anyone could try for a rebound.  30 seconds later, Picks stopped a hard shot by Drayson Bowman by falling on the puck.  Seconds after that play, Justin McCrae collided with Thomas Hickey at center ice.  The refItalics called McCrae for high sticking and the crowd erupted.  Spokane radio play by play guy Mike Boyle took exception to this call, too and let loose with a tirade that lasted several seconds.

More back and forth action resulted in Spokane’s third goal of the night at 5:21. Brady Calla stole a T-Birds pass at Seattle’s blue line and fired it straight past Calvin Pickard.  Mitch Wahl tried to score a minute later, but knocked the net off its moorings instead and play moved back into Spokane’s end.  The T-Birds applied the pressure and Tokarski turned away all comers.  At 11:00, Thomas Hickey drove at the net and landed right on top of Tokarski.  Several Chiefs pulled Hickey off and a lot of pushing and shoving ensued.

The refs called Spokane’s Levko Koper for cross checking at 11:00.  For some reason, Spokane radio guy Mike Boyle went ballistic, calling it a bad call and disparaging the referees.  24 seconds later, The T-Birds went on a 5-on-3 power play when Drayson Bowman was called for high sticking.  Boyle said this was actually a legitimate call, then spewed some more about Koper’s penalty being a bad call.  At the 12 minute mark, Spokane’s Tyler Johnson and Seattle’s Jim O’Brien traded shots in front of Spokane’s net after Dustin Tokarski denied a scoring chance by O’Brien by falling on the puck.  Johnson and O’Brien both went to the box; Johnson for cross checking, O’Brien for roughing.

Seattle scored its second goal at 13:49 when Prab Rai fired a shot past Dustin Tokarski.  Thomas Hickey and Greg Scott were credited with the assists.  This goal sparked another tirade by Boyle, who said Scott should have been called for cross checking and the goal should have been disallowed.  He went on to accuse the referees of working hard to keep Seattle in the game.  (I have to pause here to say that in the times I have listened to Tom Beuning cover the T-Birds on the radio, I have never heard Beuning spew the way Boyle has during this playoff run.  I understand that radio guys must be fans of the teams they cover, but this is just a little too much.)

With 7 minutes left to play in the third, T-Birds head coach Rob Sumner was called for a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.  This put Spokane on a power play and moved the face off, which had been set next to the Chiefs’ net, back down in Seattle’s end.  The Chiefs capitalized on that power play. Mitch Wahl found the net at 14:31.  Drayson Bowman and Levko Koper got the assists on this one.  Spokane fired more shots but Pickard stopped these.  Following Spokane’s goal, Rob Sumner was slapped with a game misconduct and sent to the locker room. 

The T-Birds got a power play chance with just under two minutes left in regulation.  Ryan Letts went to the box for cross checking.  Seattle yanked Pickard out of net and put a sixth attacker on the ice.  It paid off.  Thomas Hickey lined one past Dustin Tokarski at 18:30, pulling the T-Birds to within one goal.  The wheels came off 45 seconds later, when Jared Spurgeon broke up a pass and fired a shot to Drayson Bowman, who scored an easy empty net goal.  Time ran out with the score: Spokane 5, Seattle 3.  The T-Birds outshot the Chiefs in the third, 18 to 9.  T-Birds goalie Calvin Pickard stopped 30 of 34 shots.  Chiefs’ goalie Dustin Tokarski stopped 31 of 34.

The T-Birds will now work to make some changes in the off season, adding new players to fill the holes being left by 6 key members who are graduating out of the WHL system:  Chris Cloud (LW), Thomas Hickey (D), Devon LeBlanc (LW), Jim O’Brien (C), Jeremy Schappert (D) and Greg Scott (LW).  You can find recaps of all the games this season, information on players and other details at the T-Birds website.  Just click here.

And guys, THANKS for a great season.

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