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Hockey Challenge 2014

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Exhibition Game and Season Preview

I took in the first two periods of the exhibition game last Saturday night at ShoWare Center.  To be quite honest... nothing really jumped out at me.  Seattle's play we decent at times and poor at others and that general malaise led to the eventual 4-1 defeat to the Silvertips. A Tbirds team without Lockhart, Jacobs, Noebels and Pickard isn't really something that I'm going to spend too much time worrying about.  Here are a couple of observations I made.

- I like Justin Hickman's fore-checking, but he needs help.  Too often I found him to be the only one willing to aggressively get into the offensive zone and make life tough for a defender by dishing out a check behind the net or in the corners.  People often look at the size of the Tbirds and wonder why Portland is so effective with their size and Seattle isn't.  Well... I believe that is true, in part, because the Tbirds have far too many "big guys" who aren't willing to use their size to really punish people on the fore-check.  The goal isn't to "hurt" the other team... but the goal should be to make a defender less comfortable behind the net and in the corners.  When players are uncomfortable, they make mistakes and when they make mistakes you create offensive chances that result in goals.  Seattle struggles to score in 5 on 5 situations last year and I think this is one of the primary reasons why.

- Michael Salmon looked ok in net.  One goal wasn't hit fault, while the other he should have made the save. Daniel Cotton (listed as Michael Cotton on the rosters) played just fine while I was there and eventually gave up 2 in the third. One fan I talked to said they thought he looked good in net.

- Troock, Wardley, Hauf and Jacobs are all out with injuries.

- Doty got into a "fight" with Everett newcomer Jesse Mychan.  It wasn't much of a fight as Mychan basically jumped Doty after acting like he was going to decline the fight.  A really weak move in my opinion.  If you don't want to fight, decline the fight.  If you do want to fight, take the fight, square off and get going.  Don't act like you aren't going to fight and then basically take a running leap at a guy.  I hope Mychan makes the Silvertips, because I think we'll be in for at least one good rematch with Doty.

- Luke Siemens had a very solid game for the Silvertips.  Despite the fact that I wasn't too excited about the play of the Thunderbirds, you could argue that they could have held a 2-1 or 3-1 lead in the 2nd period and they didn't in large part because of Siemens.

Onto the preview...

But first a quick note.  I will be missing my first Season Opener in many years this Saturday.  My softball team which is sponsored by the great Gators Sports Bar & Grill in Kent... will be playing in the World Championships along with 215 other teams from around the country this weekend.  I hate missing Tbirds games, but this is one of the few exceptions I will need to make.  If we get done in time I will try to dial up the game from the hotel to keep tabs.

As usual... in order to piece together a sensible "preview" and prediction about the season, it is important that we take a look at what happened last season.

Seattle scored 195 goals and gave up 264 goals. In 2009-2010 they scored 172 and gave up 255.  Last year, my belief was that Seattle would score more (check) and they would give up slightly fewer goals (oops).  There is no question that in order for Seattle to be more successful in the win/loss column in 2011-12 they will need to bring the goals against down. 264 goals represents 3.67 goals against per game, a number that is very difficult for just about any team to overcome.

My belief is that Seattle will score more goals this season.  I don't think they will score 250 goals but I do think they will manage better than 195.  This is based on the number of older forwards that have returned this season.  Travis Toomey was a solid hockey player and an outstanding leader but his 22 goals and 17 assists can be replaced.  The 51 assists and 59 points from Dillon probably will be difficult to replace... but everyone else returns with higher expectations.

Gallimore should be able to repeat his 34-36 and I think you can safely pencil him in for another 70 points. Noebels had 28 goals and 26 assists and I expect both of those numbers to go up.  I don't think it is unreasonable to expect Marcel to crack the 30 goal mark and he should be able to improve on the 26 assists.  I think 30-30 is a safe floor for the German. Lockhart made the jump from 16 to 48 points last season and while I wouldn't expect another 32 point jump I also wouldn't be surprised to see another 20 point jump.  I think he is another guy who could threaten 30 goals and 30 assists and that would give Seattle three players with 60 or more points for the first time since the 2008-09 season when Greg Scott, Prab Rai and Jim O'Brien all had over 60.

Colin Jacobs should be able to improve on his 22-22 campaign from last year, but it really depends on how quickly he is ready to play.  Jacobs has bundles of talent... that probably won't get fully tapped until Coach K can teach him how to get in front of the net and pick up 20 garbage points to go along with 40 "skill" points.  Only then will he top the 60 point mark as well. The rest is going to have to come from guys taking things to the next level.  Alos, Lund, Elliot, Sutter, Doty, Sanvido, Hickman all need to get better and take a step up in production for the offense to safely get over the 200 goal mark.  If any of these players takes a significant step forward... Seattle might have something.

Seattle ranked 10th in PP last season finishing at 21.2%. That was less than 1% point from being 5th in the league.  Seattle should continue to be solid on the PP this season. The PK unit started the year decent but wound up 19th in the league at 77.4%.  Call me optimistic, but that should improve this season.  Seattle has plenty of forwards with experience now and with Pickard in net the Birds should get closer to middle of the pack.

Based on all of this... I see the offense being somewhat similar to that of the Chilliwack Bruins now Victoria Royals who were very top heavy with Howse, Horak and Sundher leading the way. Projection: 225 GF.

Last season I said that the defense couldn't possibly be worse and then Seattle went out and gave up 9 more goals than the season before.

Let's try this again... the defense can't possibly be worse, so I'm just going to ballpark things at 240 goals against.

225 goals for and 240 goals against puts projected team points at 67 points.  Last season, Everett had 67 points and finished in 8th place in the conference.  Now, keep in mind that I have purposely tried to be conservative with these projections.  If the Seattle defense takes a HUGE step forward under Coach K and Coach Rumble you could see things be a lot better than that.  At the same time... this projection has both the offense and the defense getting better and there is a very real possibility that both or either one of those things happen. Without Troock helping the offense get to the next level, I'm just not sure it would be prudent to expect a lot more than this.  Once again... I hope I'm wrong.

What do you guys think??


Quick Update

Quick update today before I head up to Everett to catch the first Pre-Season game. I won't be around on Sunday so I wanted to make sure I caught this game.

I will be tweeting some thoughts and updates from the game, @TylerHunnex.

Seattle has updated their roster for the game today... and there are a few things to note.

Connor Honey is not listed. I don't know this for sure but I would guess that this means he wants to keep his NCAA options open and decided not to sign with the Tbirds at this time. Btw... so much for being a "lock"... gotta love Anonymous comments.

Daniel Wray is still around and might be a sleeper to make the team. Right now he is the only 16 year old forward listed.

Michal Holub is still here as a 15 year old... which is cool. If he plays that would obviously mean he has signed a deal with Seattle. Once again... it is worth nothing that Gropp is not here, which almost certainly means that the Tbirds have NOT signed their top pick. Makes me very nervous...

Carter Struthers is still around... that is good news in my book. Taylor Green is still around but probably needs to impress quickly to make the team since 11 defenders are still listed.

Seattle still carrying 4 goaltenders with Cotten and Myles still around.

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