The stage was set last night at ShoWare Center and there were two ways the Seattle Thunderbirds could play their role. They could come out and hand the Tri City Americans their 8th win of the season against Seattle, following a 4-2 loss Friday night against the Americans. Or they could come out and show everyone what makes the T-Birds such a darn good team. By all accounts, Friday night’s meeting between the two was ugly, to say the least, disintegrating into three simultaneous fights involving 6 players in the third period.
Fast forward 24 hours. The two teams faced off again at ShoWare Center; the Americans without head coach Don Nachbaur, who was serving a one-game suspension levied by the WHL because Friday’s fight was his team’s fourth “multiple fight” of the season. (“Multiple fight” = more than one fight taking place on the ice at the same time). During the third period Friday night, three sets of players dropped the gloves: Seattle’s Chris Cloud and Tri City’s Mitch McColm; Seattle’s Devon LeBlanc and Tri City’s Lane Werbowski; Seattle’s Luke Lockhart and Tri City’s Brooks Macek. All six received major fighting penalties. Lockhart and Macek also received game misconducts. If you’re keeping count, Friday’s fight was Seattle’s second “multiple fight” of the season. For that, the WHL fined the team $250 (Tri City was fined $750).
The T-Birds had a lot to prove last night and they would have to do it without star forward Prab Rai, who missed the game with a leg injury. Also out of the T-Birds’ lineup: Mitch Berg (D), Steve Chaffin (D) and Lindsay Nielsen (C). Tri City was without starting goalie Chet Pickard (older brother of T-Birds goalie Calvin Pickard). Chet was injured last weekend as the result of a nasty hit by Spokane Chiefs forward Ryan Letts. That hit sparked a massive brawl. It also resulted in a 10 game suspension for Letts.
T-Birds v. Tri City
So, the stage was set. ShoWare was packed (attendance last night: 5596). Fans were yelling their support even before the opening faceoff, and the soundtrack matched the mood. The opening strains of Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” pounded the arena as the teams lined up. The puck dropped and things got physical. The first period was peppered with lots of hard hits by both teams. T-Bird Jonathan Parker took a hit that sent him face-first into the ice. He skated off with a trainer holding a towel to his mouth. He returned later, but another hit sent him to the locker room for good. I later learned that the first hit cut his upper lip and that he needed to be stitched up before he could return to the ice. The second hit knocked out a tooth.
With six minutes left in the first period, Tri City was outshooting Seattle 8-1, but that was about to change. At 16:03, the Americans’ Brendan Shinnimin was called for kneeing. He had barely gotten to the box when Greg Scott scored for Seattle, assisted by Jeremy Boyer and Jim O’Brien. Before the announcer finished calling the assists, the T-Birds struck again. This time, Devon LeBlanc found the net, with help from Sena Acolatse. All of a sudden, Seattle is up 2-0. As time runs out in the first, there’s a minor scrap between T-Bird David Richard and Tri City’s Tyler Schmidt, but the refs step in and the clock runs out. Score: Seattle 2, Tri City 0.
The second period was barely under way when a Tri City player went to the penalty box for a double minor. Johnny Lazo spent four minutes for high sticking, and the T-Birds got to work. I wish I could describe the amazing power play set up by the players. You’ll just have to watch the game “On Demand”, if you have Comcast, to see what I’m talking about. They were patient, they were precise and it paid off. Sena Acolatse finally scored. Jim O’Brien and Greg Scott were credited with the assists, although I think every T-Bird on the ice should have shared in this one. 11:35 into the second period, Seattle scored again. Jeremy Boyer did the honors this time, with help from Greg Scott and Brad Haber. Again, this was a beautiful goal. Greg Scott took the puck all the way to the Tri City zone with just a wonderful bit of skating. He shot it at the net, it bounced away, but Jeremy Boyer was right there to tap it in.
Thomas Hickey/T-Birds Defenseman
The T-Birds were now up 4-0 and you could see them playing more confidently. They killed off two successive penalties very decisively and Calvin Pickard stopped every shot aimed at him, again showing off his cat-like reflexes by snatching a few pucks in mid flight. As the second period wound down, Jim O’Brien nearly stole the puck twice to set up more scoring chances, but couldn’t control it long enough. It didn’t matter. The second period ended with the score: Seattle 4, Tri City 0.
The third period saw yet more amazing playing by the home team. Seattle scored just 15 seconds into the period, on a beautiful shot by Chris Cloud. Captain Thomas Hickey and Devon LeBlanc were credited with the assists. The crowd went wild because they knew what this meant. The T-Birds had scored five goals. Everyone at ShoWare Center would leave with a coupon for a free Dairy Queen burger. They were cheering again a minute and a half later, as Center Brenden Silvester found the net for an unassisted goal.
With the T-Birds now up 6-0, the focus turned to helping goaltender Calvin Pickard get his third shutout of the season. Everyone stepped up and tempers started flaring again as well. A Tri City player knocked Thomas Hickey from behind, sending him face first to the ice. Luckily, he landed on his knees, but you could tell the wind had been knocked out of him. He skated slowly to the bench, but was back out again a couple of minutes later. Halfway through the third period, Tri City D-man Spencer Humphries was hit with a double minor penalty- 2 minutes for holding and 2 minutes for boarding (hitting a player from behind into the boards). The ref had barely closed the penalty box door on him when teammate Brett Plouffe was called for holding. This put Seattle two men up for a 5 on 3 power play. They made lots of great shots, but did not score.
Face off in Seattle's end
The Americans kept pushing into Seattle’s end, trying to put a goal on the board, but time and time again, the T-Birds denied them. Calvin Pickard made another great catch with 50 seconds left in the period, and no one could blame him for jumping up and down in jubilation when the clock ran out. His teammates rushed to congratulate him on his third shutout of the season, and his WHL career. Sometimes, when I watch Pickard play in the net, I forget that he is just 16 years old and in his rookie season. This kid is only going to get better.
T-Birds celebrate Pickard's 3rd shutout
The three stars of the game: 3. Jim O’Brien (2 assists), 2. Calvin Pickard (stopped 24 shots), 1. Sena Acolatse (1 goal, 1 assist and a heck of a game)
3 Stars of the Game: O'Brien (#19), Pickard (#1), Acolatse (#17)
After the game, the T-Birds showered and spent extra time signing autographs for their youngest fans. I watched these young men, who I know must be exhausted and wanting nothing more than to have a good meal and relax, patiently make their way down a very long line, signing shirts, programs, and posters. Posing for pictures and answering questions. Getting down on their knees to talk to the smallest fans. For a moment, I forget that the oldest player on this team is just 20, the youngest, 16. It’s easy to see that these guys really appreciate their fans. Even Prab Rai, on crutches, made his way slowly down the line. And the fans returned that love, waiting patiently for the players to reach them.Kids Club Autograph session; Prab Rai (on crutches), Jim O'Brien (kneeling)
Kids Club autograph session: Jim O'Brien
Kids club autograph session: Devon LeBlanc
Kids Club autograph session: Thomas Hickey
Kids Club autograph session: Sena Acolatse
The T-Birds are now off until Wednesday, March 11, when they welcome the Prince George Cougars to ShoWare Center. The puck drops at 7:05 and tickets are still available. Click here for more information.