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Hockey Challenge 2014

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A sad day has arrived...

Many of you have no doubt noticed the dwindling frequency of my posts over the past year. I knew this day would eventually arrive and sadly I think I have realized this week that the time has come for me to take an extended hiatus from Let's Go Birds.

For 1035 posts (this one being 1036) I have sincerely enjoyed writing about the hockey team I grew up watching. For the better part of 8 (mostly frustrating and ultimately disappointing) seasons I have attempted to break down games, players, transactions and just about anything that has happened to the Seattle Thunderbirds (at least the stuff I think that matters).

I could fill up this section with the excuses I have for taking a "break" and the fact is that none of you will likely care (and shouldn't). Occam's razor is loosely interpreted to mean that the simplest of explanations among competing hypotheses is the one that should be selected. Well... my excuse is that life has simply gotten in the way.

Trust me when I tell you that my passion for Tbirds hockey has not changed. I enjoy watching the game and the team as much as I ever have. My absence from games and my lack of time to write have drained my motivation to provide quality content beyond the most obvious and mundane observations. I was never going to be able to operate Let's Go Birds in a half assed way and my lack of both quantity and quality has compounded my frustrations with trying to keep things going.

I'm not even sure I'm doing a very good job of explaining myself right now.

This isn't necessarily a retirement.

Perhaps, at some point down the road, I will pick this up again and get things rolling. Perhaps I won't. I'm really looking forward to the next time I get to watch the team play and not have to worry about analyzing what is going on and whether I have something intelligent to write about.

My one true regret will probably be the donations to the Ronald McDonald House that I will miss for the Hockey Challenge each year. So do me a favor... keep donating to a great cause on my behalf. I can promise that each year I will still find the time to raise money and play a little hockey for The Challenge.

Finally. From the bottom of my heart... I want to thank everyone who has ever read this blog and followed what we do. I want to thank Jon for trying to help me keep this thing going and trying to pick up the slack for me when his time allowed.

It has been a pretty fun ride. Thanks for letting me be a part of things and building this blog into what it was.


Seattle and U.S. Division Computer Ratings

Every season I like to periodically update everyone on the WHL Massey Ratings and I haven't done that yet this season. So without further ado... let's update.

Seattle currently sits 9th in the WHL in current rating and 5th in "Power Rating" (as a reminder, Power Rating is a measure that attempts to predict how good a team will be going forward). So the Massey Ratings are expecting Seattle to play a bit better as the season moves along.

They are 13th in Offense, 6th in Defense and they have the 21st "Home Ice Advantage". (Another reminder that HIA isn't a pure measure of how good a team is at home but rather how much their performance is impacted by playing at home. If a team wins all their games at home but loses all their road games they're going to have a much higher HIA than a team that wins all their home games and all their road games).

They have played the 3rd toughest schedule and they have the #1 toughest schedule for the remainder of the season.

Why have they played such a tough schedule and will continue to play such a tough schedule?

The U.S. Division (and also the BC Division). The U.S. Division ranks 2nd in strength behind the B.C. Division. This makes the Western Conference tougher than the Eastern Conference to this point in the season.

Seattle has an opportunity to take advantage of a weaker Division on this road trip.

Seattle has remaining "expected wins" of 26 and "expected losses" of 29 which would finish their record at 33-35-2-1. Some of those 29 losses will no doubt come in OT or the Shootout so their expected point total of 69 should probably inch closer to 75 depending on how many of those "expected losses" are pushed to the extra frame.

Kelowna is the top rated team. Followed in order by Brandon, Everett, Medicine Hat, Tri-City, Prince George, Kamloops, Spokane and then Seattle. Portland checks in at #11 but have a Power Rating of 5th. So don't expect the struggles to continue too much for the Winterhawks.

On the flip side, the MR's think we should see some regression from PG, Kamloops and Spokane but not from the Everett Silvertips.

Kelowna has expected wins of 60! Wow. That will probably regress a little but a repeat of their 57 wins from a year ago seems quite reasonable at this point.


Shoot the Puck... at the "right time"

I tweeted about this the other day and I meant to expand on it and my schedule just hasn't allowed for it (something that has become far too common these days). Seattle will host the Red Deer Rebels tonight and I will be watching closely how many times Seattle hits the net with the puck.

Seattle fired a ton of pucks at the net Saturday night and just wasn't able to score, losing to the Vancouver Giants 1-0 but the fact that they got those pucks to the net is a sign that good things should start happening more often (provided they keep shooting... I'll get to that).

Currently, Seattle has a shooting percentage of 8.434% which is "good" for 3rd worst in the league. Kelowna leads the league in shooting percentage at 15.717% and while I don't expect Seattle to get themselves up to 15% anytime soon I also don't expect them to shoot this poorly for the entire season.

Last season, the worst shooting team in the WHL was Lethbridge at 8.113%, so I suppose it is possible that Seattle really is "this" bad and things won't improve. If they don't... you can expect them to be near the bottom of the standings as the worst shooting teams in the league last year were Lethbridge, Kamloops, Moose Jaw and Tri-City (aka, not good company).

Seattle has to continue to get pucks to the net while they are playing 5x5 and continue to be selective on the Power Play. I know some people love to yell "shooooooooot" when teams are on the Power Play but the time to yell "shoooooooot" is actually when they are at even strength. Studies have shown (just trust me here... I'm too tired to source it) that more shots generally equal more goals and particularly at even strength.

The catch-22 is that you have a bunch of 16-20 year old boys/men who just got finished shooting the puck 38 times on net and not scoring and it would be somewhat reasonable for them to collectively be more selective with their shots. This of course... would be a mistake. Seattle is only averaging 27.8 shots on goal per game and that is after getting those 38 against Vancouver. By contrast, league average is roughly 30.8 and Medicine Hat leads the league at 35.8 shots on goal per game.

The challenge of the coaching staff (and I have to assume they are doing this) is to make sure they know that they have to keep shooting the puck and that eventually they will get some lucky bounces to go along with the quality goals that they will also score.


A comment / Question from a reader

This was just posted as a comment on another post, but I thought it was such a great question / thought, it deserved it's own place.

Montague Pei said...

It's been quiet on here for some time, so perhaps I can get a discussion going on the T-Birds. From watching the last number of games, I notice that the first line is always playing about every second shift. Not only that but because of the numerous penalties that are allocated in junior hockey, these first line guys are constantly on the power play, the penalty kill and their regular shift. Instead of playing a 4 lines rotation, they continually use those guys all the time, where at some point, they will wear down. I noticed it the last few games, where in the third period, that line was worn out so tired. Not only does this type of line change wear guys down, it also leaves them vulnerable to injury, which we cannot afford to have happen. The style of play of this team, as being directed, reminds me of the Vancouver Canucks last year under a different coach. Their first line of Sedin, the new coach had them killing penalties, the power play, blocking shots and a regular shift. What happened??? These guys had the worst year of offense in their careers and they got hurt. 

With the type of play with our first line and these guys leaving to play World Juniors, by Christmas or in January, they will be so beat up, that when the crunch comes, they are playing way below their level.

We have to start rolling all our lines. I understand that we are trying to get a build up of points early in the season, but this can all crumble later on. It's a long season, take time to develop all our young guys... Just thinking and wanting comments on this ...


A bag full of thoughts.

I have not posted lately, so here is a lot of thoughts that have been roaming through my head.

This weekends games

On Friday, I completely disagreed with coach.  He liked our play in the first two periods, I didn't.  I thought we had very little passing that was working.  We are especially afraid to take shots the were open.

On Saturday, I thought we played a very good game, just couldn't get that early goal.  And the bounces just didn't seem to go our way. 

Coach starting to get a little frustrated

In the past couple of game reports, Coach K has used some choice and carefully thought out wording to describe the officiating and the league's discipline.  I don't recall seeing or hearing him do this before.  Is this maybe his way of working the officials.  If so, it doesn't seem to be working.

2 things I think this team is missing

1) A 2nd line that can score consistently.
2) Confidence.

The power of one goal

What would one extra goal a game mean to this team.  Score one more goal turns the 1-0 Everett loss into a tie or win.  It turns a shootout loss to Spokane into a win.  It turns last nights OT loss to Kamloops into a win.  Well, that's anywhere from 4 to 5 points.  4 points would move them from a .455 winning percentage to a .636.

This is one reason why I am not worried about the team.  Youngest team in the league, in most games, only giving up 3 goals a game.  It is just like Coach K said at the beginning, this team will get better and better as the season goes on, and maybe a few of those one extra goal per game start going in.

What I am worried about

One thing I am worried about is the teams home record.  Granted, one OT loss, one SO loss, one very close loss to Kelowna, and a one goal loss to Everett.  What do all those games have in common, one goal (see above).

Of course the other thing that has to worry everyone is giving up the first goal in all but one game (I think that is the stat).  Always playing from behind is never a good thing.  But, also a positive can be taken out of it.  In most of those games, they have come back to tie or take the lead.  That is a great positive for a young inexperienced team.


This team love to pass.  I think this is one way you can tell the players are lacking some confidence.  How many times have players decided to make a risky pass when they have a great shooting chance of their own?  Of course, I would rather have this then a bunch of puck hogging "me-first" players.

I love how this team is starting to stick up for each other.  Quite a few times over the past week, players were having liberties taken against them, bad hits, scrums, and every player on the ice comes flying to to help out.  Even look at both of new defenders (can you call them new still, with all the playing time), right there in the middle of things.  Heck, even Barzal was starting to the get a little physical over this last weekend.

The new guys

Speaking of new defenders, how much locker room credit did Allan get. Get off airplane, meet with coaches, play 50% of a game.  I am sure when he heard he had been traded, that is what he predicted was going to happen.  I really like his passing.  Very hard, crisp, usually on the stick, and more times then not to the right player (making the best move).

Ottenbreit, I love the way he plays physical.  He is not afraid to step in any situation.  Another great pickup in a trade that Farwell has pulled off.

Irresponsible reporting

Take a read of this article.  Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the Wardley hit and suspension, how can anyone claim this is anything but a sensationalized piece of writing with a goal of getting a writers name out and more clicks on a webpage.

The choice of wording is questionable at best. Particularly, the last paragraph where it basically says the best thing for Petan to do is rest and make sure he is 100% fully recovered and there is no need to rush him coming back.  I guess a couple days on the bus fixes everything.

Hypothetical situation

We all know Ethan Bear is out with an upper body injury, and that he was held out of the game where it appeared he took a punch while on the ice.  He sure was bleeding heavily.  Let's just say that hypothetically, his injury actually started when he got checked from behind by Bjorkstrand the game against Portland.  I am by no way saying this is the case, as there is no way Seattle puts him back on the ice if he was hurt.  But lets say the check from behind started the injury process, then Wardley is sitting out 7 games, in part according to the WHL website as "The hit resulted in an injury to opponent".  But Bjorkstrand is playing while Bear is injured.

WHL Website

Everyone these days is ripping the new WHL website apart for having problems working, or even showing any information.  I for one am going to praise them.  In the computer development terminology, there is a term called "beta testing".  This is the process of finding bugs and issues while a product is in development. Normal companies might have 1 or 2 testers.  The WHL managed to get a few thousand of these people to work for free.  Cue the sarcasm.


During the game October 3, Seattle played in Portland, and I did not attend.  So as usually, I brought up the game on the net.  Since I dont appreciate listening to the play by play pair in Portland's side of the game, I tried to get the away audio.  But for me, there was no drop down selection ability.  I checked with three other fellow viewers, and it was all the same for them.  In the press release dated September 18th, it stated "Fans can still take advantage of the live support chat option, accessible directly from theWHL LIVE site, which instantly connects viewers to a customer support team member to resolve any issues."  So I decided to use this to find out why.  I tried 2 different times, and both times, no customer support person ever joined the chat window.  So I sent them a support email through their system, and got an email back with my ticket numebr, and a message saying would get back to me very shortly.  Funny thing happened Saturday night, October 18th.  I got the response.  It explained that they were sorry I missed the game "which I never said, and did not miss it", and that is was caused by an issue in the venue.  They have offered me a free live game.  So it took 15 days to offer me a free game, and not deal with the actual issue.  I guess nothing changes with the WHLLIVE.



Sigh. I guess people can't behave while I'm on vacation. Comment moderation turned on.


Tbirds add a Defender and the Wardley Hit

Just released, Seattle has added Scott Allan from Medicine Hat for a 5th round bantam selection. I know very little about Allan other than he is listed as being 6'5" and 235 lbs (sounds like a Farwell guy to me) and is listed as being from Colorado.

I would have to imagine this is a response to the anticipation that Evan Wardley will be suspended, Ethan Bear is injured or perhaps both.

I saw the Wardley hit over the weekend and here is my take.

In 2014, the world has been successfully conditioned to believe that everything is seen as either black or white. People seem to believe that things are either one way completely or they are the other way completely. This is quite unfortunate because I think most, if not all, things are actually colored quite gray.

To me, this is another one of those situations.

I watched the replay late that night and saw the hit, I watched the replay in slow motion probably 25 times. Portland announcers, writers and even the team itself called it a "dirty hit" while some in the Seattle fan base feel strongly it was a clean hit.

This is what I believe:

- Petan puts himself in a vulnerable position in the neutral zone in a tight space where he has to know he's going to get hit and really does nothing to protect himself from potential contact. Does this make it his fault? No. Does this mean he shares a little bit of responsibility? I say yes. Petan is already a small target at 5'9" and lowers his body position even more to receive the puck and enter the zone. This isn't his fault, I'm just stating it as a point of fact.

- Wardley has good gap, doesn't take unnecessary strides, lowers his body, keeps his skates down and his elbows tucked. All consistent with a good clean hit. Where I can see Wardley went wrong is that a split second before contact, his body position goes from a low crouch to a higher and extended position. This, in combination with Petan already being a lower target means that point of contact is going to be high.

Seattle is saying the point of contact is shoulder to shoulder or shoulder to chest whereas Portland is going to say the point of contact is the head.  I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. It looked to me like Wardley got quite a bit of body but also probably made contact above the shoulders because of the nature of Petan's position.

Do I think he'll be suspended? Yes. He's a repeat offender and the responsibility is always going to be placed on the hitter not to make contact high. Do I think it was a "dirty hit" as the Winterhawks official press release stated? No, I absolutely do not.

Wardley is trying to make a hockey play. That's his game and that's what his game should be. Portland is a finesse team and as such they believe they are should be entitled to skate around the ice without so much as a tiny bit of contact here and there. Well, it doesn't work that way. Some hockey players and teams are tough and strong and physical and their game is to make sure Nic Petan thinks twice about receiving a blind pass over the center of the ice. That. Is. Hockey. 

The NFL has a defenseless receiver rule. Hockey has no such rule. You are allowed to hit a player cleanly and legally even if he has hit head down and doesn't see you coming. I cannot tell you how many times we were told as kids to "keep your head up" at all times and be aware of your surroundings.

Wardley's hit will receive discipline and I would probably agree that it will be justified. But Portland's announcers, writers and front office should probably take a really close look in the mirror before casting casting aspersions on him. 

They should look no further than the hit delivered by Oliver Bjorkstrand to end the overtime period. Bjorkstrand's hit came well after the horn (Wardley's was during play), was delivered to an opponents back (Wardley's was not) and used the boards to inflict added harm (Wardley's did not). Both hits were delivered to opponents who were unsuspecting but Petan probably should have expected contact in the neutral zone during the middle of a play where Ethan Bear can reasonably expect not to get checked well after the horn sounds.

Portland fans, announcers and team officials will most certainly disagree but in my opinion the intent of the Bjorkstrand hit was far worse than Wardley's.

Shades of gray...


Kevin Wolf update

A tweet went out last night from Danny Mumaugh indicating that Kevin Wolf is no longer with the team.

No official word from the Thunderbirds on how this decision came about but it would seem as though perhaps Wolf got caught up in the numbers game (as we suspected) and left either on his own or was released.

With the addition of Turner Ottenbreit and the return of Evan Wardley, Seattle has 7 healthy Defenders and would have had 8 once Shea Theodore returns from injury.

Wolf never could quite get his skating up to speed and that probably hurt him in the end. He seemed like a good kid and we wish him well.


A look at older experienced scorers for the team

Everywhere you look, Seattle fans seem to think this team needs a proven top end scorer.  So I decided to take a look at the league, and what might be out there.

As you will see from the lists below, there are really only 11 players that I can see being realistic trade targets.

This is based on a few factors but for the sake of argument we're going to mostly exclude players in the same conference and players on teams we think probably won't be looking at trading skilled veterans.


To trade now or later

I am curious why everyone assumes that a trade is coming this week.  Yes, Wardley was returned back to Seattle.  Yes, Seattle now has 4 20's.  But unless Hickman is ready to come back, why make a move?  You have until October 15th, so why rush things.

I have no knowledge of how close Hickman is to returning to the lineup and the WHL weekly update has him listed him as day to day.  Maybe when it gets updated today, it will say he is back.  But I will remind people that last year, it listed Honey as day to day for periods of time also.

So what if he is NOT back this week? Why force a trade if you don't have to?  Take the extra time to make sure you have your mind made up.  Maybe spend more time deciding on a goalie.  Maybe a better offer will come along if you wait a little while longer.

Lets say you have decided on your three 20's, and Kozun is one of them.  You wait another week, and a team comes along and offers two first round picks for him (AKA Marcel Noebels).  Does something like that change your mind?

Lets say you wait a week, and play both of them this weekend, and one gets hurt?

Of course, if Hickman is ready to come back this week, then maybe this post is all for not.

Editor's Note: Adam Henry has been traded to Saskatoon for 17 year old defensemen Turner Ottenbreit.

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