Social Icons

twitterfacebookgoogle pluslinkedinrss feedemail


Hockey Challenge 2014

Recent Articles


Game 5 Thread - Seattle at Kelowna

Seattle had a chance to close things out at home on Wednesday night and simply couldn't get it done.

They looked tired... both physically and emotionally and they allowed Kelowna to be the aggressors. They spent far too much time worrying about officials and not enough time worrying about keeping their composure and keeping Kelowna's PP from attacking.

The good news is that the Tbirds played pretty poorly on Wednesday night and Kelowna didn't exactly blow their doors off. Now the Rockets have two more injuries to deal with but have momentum on their side and the home crowd behind them.

Connor Honey is out until further notice as he has been suspended by the league for the hit that has knocked MacKenzie Johnston out for the remainder of the playoffs. I thought the hit was too aggressive and probably warranted a penalty for Charging but I thought where he hit Johnston got a lot of shoulder and drove Johnston's opposite shoulder into the boards (hence the dislocated shoulder). So I'm not sure that I agree with the leagues assessment here.

You never want to see players get hurt and you feel for Johnston who will be out 6-8 weeks... but the punishment shouldn't be based on the outcome, it should be based on the action and I just didn't think the action was very different from what we see happened in hockey in general and certainly in playoff games where the intensity and the checking/hitting is more intense.

So Seattle has that to deal with and they'll attempt to close out the series up in Kelowna where the Tbirds have had a ton of success over the years but haven't had success closing out a playoff series.

If they can regain their energy and intensity and get back to the trapping, mucking style that slowed the Rockets down in the first 3 games AND stay out of the penalty box, they should have an excellent shot to close out the series tonight against all reasonable expectations.


Game 4 Thread, Kelowna at Seattle: Close Out Edition

Confidence is a dangerous drug. It's a drug the Tbirds are cresting on right now. Kelowna come out firing last night and for about 10 minutes it appeared as though they would be returning to their Regular Season form. Roberts Lipsbergs pushed home a rebound and in a flash the tables turned back in the favor of the home team.

Seattle is now one game away from pulling off one of the more improbably upsets in team history and easily the biggest series upset since the 2002 playoff series against the Portland Winterhawks.  That series saw the 4th place US Division Tbirds beat the US Division Champion Winterhawks in Game 7 in Portland 3-2.  Seattle went 21-40-11 that year, earning 53 points while the Winterhawks were 36-25-11 (83 points).

Statistically this upset would be far bigger. Seattle earned only 58 points this year while the Rockets came into this game with a franchise record 52 wins (108 points, 2nd in franchise history). I'm a math wizard, so I can tell you that's a difference of 50 points in the standings and 50 is bigger than 30.

However... let's not get ahead of ourselves here. There is still one win to grab and anything can happen. If Kelowna has finally lifted the weight from their shoulders by being down 3 games to 0 they could come out firing on all cylinders tonight. Should they win tonight, they would have some momentum going back home on Saturday. Win that game.... and things could start to snowball a little bit. There is a reason why Yogi said "It ain't over, 'til it's over" and clearly the best route to the 2nd round for Seattle is to take care of business tonight at home and not give Kelowna any reason to gain any momentum.

Again... I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, so let's continue to call this a possibility. IF Seattle can win the series and should the Winterhawks defeat the Silvertips in their playoff series (currently tied a 1, Game 3 tonight) it would put together an extremely interesting Seattle/Portland 2nd round match-up.

Other random thoughts from the game.

  • Evan Wardley "The Wardog" was the obvious hero last night with the overtime winner but the shot would have never been possible if not for a nifty move by Shea Theodore. He turned around the Kelowna forward two different times to keep the puck in the zone and dish it over to Wardley for the shot. Seattle needed Theodore to elevate his game and he has most certainly done that. His offense will usually be there but he is also taking much better angles on defense and even throwing his body around a little. I would have to imagine that scouts are taking notice.
  • Brandon Glover struggled a little early in the game and especially after giving up two goals seemed to really fight the puck. Give him and the team credit though... they buckled down in the 2nd period and allowed Glover to reset things mentally and by the 3rd period he was really dialed in. Shots were sticking in his pads and he was able to come up with a couple of huge saves that could have turned the game in the favor of the Rockets.
  • Biggest reason Seattle has been able to win these three games... they've mucked things up defensively on Kelowna and not allowed them to get any kind of rhythm offensively. Kelowna is supposed to be a much faster team and Seattle just hasn't allowed it to happen. They've also been excellent on special teams and bodies are flying to the shooting lanes to block shots. They're buying in... and Coach Konowalchuk should get a lot of credit for that.
  • Yes, the Season Ticket Holder of the night had a familiar name. I don't like being on camera.
Game 4 is tonight.  Don't expect the same kind of crowd as last night as it appears to me that several thousand tickets are still remaining for the game tonight. Those that are going, be loud and proud and let's hope this team can wrap things up tonight.


Game 3 - Kelowna at Seattle, White Out Edition

March 25th, 2009. That's the last time we saw playoff hockey in the Showare Center. That Tuesday night game drew a crowd of 2872 that saw the Tbirds lose to the Spokane Chiefs 3-2. NHL players Brenden Dillon, Jim O'Brien and Thomas Hickey played for the Tbirds while Tyler Johnson scored a goal for the Chiefs.

Thunderbird fans have waited just a day over 4 years to see a home playoff game again and I have a feeling everyone is going to be ready to pop tonight.

The players have asked fans to WHITE OUT the building. Wear white.  I don't even have a white jersey but I'll find a white t-shirt just to support the effort. I can't bring myself to wear my white Hockey Challenge jersey. That just feels a little too pretentious.  Wear white tonight. Tell your friends to wear white.

The team is expecting over 5500 for the game tonight and the game may approach capacity. The atmosphere is likely to be awesome. I can't wait.

Seattle has dictated the pace of play in both of the first two games of the series and they've frustrated Kelowna at every turn. That's the good news.  The bad news is that I can't imagine Seattle playing a whole lot better and it took overtime to win both games.

Make no mistake... Seattle has put themselves in a position to win the series but the margin of error has remained very small. They have to fore-check with a purpose, they have to stay simple in the defensive zone to minimize mistakes and they have to continue to have Brandon Glover make all the saves that he should reasonably make.  Kelowna is frustrated and I would expect them to come out fired up... but I also expected that in Game 2 and it didn't really happen.  If Seattle gets a lead... I will be very curious to see how Kelowna responds. At some point, you get so frustrated you either go nuts or you give up.

It will be equally interesting to see how Seattle responds to some adversity (if it happens). If Kelowna goes up by a goal or two (or three) will Seattle be able to remain confident and loose or will they tighten up knowing they are just two games away from pulling off a stunning upset.

I know one thing for sure... tonight is going to be fun. Wear White. WHITE OUT!


Seattle at Kelowna, Game 2 Thread

Last night was glorious. But it was also just one game and there are 15 more to go to win the WHL Championship (hey we can dream right?).

I think Regan Bartel hit the nail on the had in his blog post today by saying that Seattle looked like a team playing with nothing to lose and Kelowna played like a team that was bit nervous and knew they were "supposed" to win.  The bad news is that I don't think Seattle can play a lot better and Kelowna probably can't play a whole lot worse and it took over 79 minutes for the Tbirds to win by a goal.

That doesn't mean they can't pull off a shocker here. Confidence is a dangerous drug and as long as the Tbirds continue to play like they have nothing to lose, anything can truly happen. How the game evolves tonight will probably be critical to the rest of the series. If Kelowna finds their game and just buries Seattle by 4 goals or more... this thing could turn bad quickly. On the other hand, if Seattle wins (obviously) or even if they lose by a close margin, this series could be in for 6 or 7 games.

I didn't like all the penalties Seattle took last night but I do like the edge they are playing with. Especially Shea Theodore. If your teammates can pick you up and kill off a few penalties that edge is going to help his overall game a ton. However, Seattle probably can't survive too many games where Kelowna has 6 Power Plays and Seattle only has 2.

Brandon Glover can't afford to have a bad night.  He didn't see as much action as Kelowna's Jordon Cooke but he made plenty of important stops. As I stated above, I don't think Seattle can afford to get their doors blown off in any of these games and making sure they don't give up soft goals will be critical.

Mitch Elliot once again proved last night that he's probably the best fighter in the league. All apologies to Jacob Doty but I think I'd probably take Elliot in a head to head match-up.

Nobody really thinks Seattle has a chance to win this series (myself included) but tonight will probably set the stage for the entire series.


Seattle at Kelowna, Game 1, Series Prediction


Here is a game thread for everyone to complain about things when the team loses or rejoice when the team pulls off a big Game 1 upset.

Let's talk about the series a little bit and get to my prediction.

Seattle comes into the series playing their best hockey of the season and Kelowna comes into play losing their Captain Colton Sissons for this series and possibly the entire playoffs.

Losing Sissons is a blow to Kelowna's chances at winning the WHL Championship but I don't think it's something that will bother them too much in this series.

Kelowna has an excellent Power Play that checks in at 4th in the WHL, converting at a rate of 22.2%. Ryan Olsen leads the way with 15 PP goals, with Sissons and Tyson Baillie checking in with 7 each before Myles Bell, Damon Severson and JT Barnett with 6 each.

However, they don't rely on the Power Play to generate offense. Their stats are littered with players in the double digits for Plus/Minus. +46, +20, +55!, +43... and the list goes on and on. This team was prolific on offense and they excelled in 5 on 5 play as well as the Power Play.  We can all agree that Portland had/has an excellent offense, right?  Kelowna scored just 25 fewer goals in 72 games... a difference of less than a half a goal per game.

They were also excellent on the Penalty Kill, checking in at 5th in the WHL at a kill rate of 83.9% and they scored 13 short handed goals, 6 of them coming from Dylan McKinlay. They do give up a decent number of chances though with 323 chances in 72 games (4.49 per game) and Seattle will have to capitalize on their chances should they arise.

If Kelowna has any statistical weakness... they've surrendered 11 shorthanded goals while Luke Lockhart led the league in shorthanded goals with 7.

So here is how I see it...

Even as Seattle played better down the stretch... they were still surrendering plenty of goals. 6 and 8 to Portland, 3 to Tri-City and 4 to Everett.  I think Seattle will be able to score some goals on Kelowna but I don't think they'll be able to slow down the Rockets offense very much with a (still) young defensive core.

Massey Ratings has Kelowna as the 2nd best team in the league behind the Portland Cheaterhawks. 2nd in offense, 4th in defense and their schedule was roughly the same as Portland's with the U.S. Division being rated slightly better than the B.C. Division.

Seattle will win a game or possibly two. They'll win a home game and they may even steal a game on the road but I'm going to go with my gut (and head) and say Kelowna in 5.


Final Shot at Portland

Seattle gets one final shot at Portland tonight and they'll have Brandon Glover and Evan Wardley back in the lineup after serving their two game suspensions.

I don't have much to offer about last night's game. I thought Seattle played pretty well and the shorthanded goal by Portland to start the 3rd period just kind of broke things open. I would suggest going HERE and getting Andy's recap of the game for more details.

I was happy with the added fight that Seattle showed to end the game. Obviously, you don't ever "want" to lose but you want to lose like they have been doing lately with some grit and toughness. That doesn't mean you have to start a dozen fights just for the sake of fighting but if other teams are running up the score on you and doing things you don't like... you're supposed to fight back. They're going to have to play that way to have any chance in the playoffs. They can't let teams do whatever they want without an answer.

The game tonight should be interesting but I have a feeling that both teams will tone down the fighting to a certain degree. Nobody wants to get any kind of suspensions going into the playoffs. So while I might expect fireworks... I'm actually thinking things will be a bit toned down.

Danny Mumaugh has improved a ton and while I thought the 5th goal he gave up was a bit soft, I'm far more confident in his ability to be the backup next season than I was in December. If he can continue this learning curve, he should eventually be a fine WHL goaltender.

This might not actually be the final shot at Portland this season but we're all kind of hoping that Seattle can sew up the 7th seed and face Kelowna instead of Portland.  Funny to me that the announcers (Ian and Kevin) seems to dance around the subject without actually saying it... but I think it should be pretty clear that Seattle wants to avoid Portland in the first round. By no means is that a shot at Kelowna... the Rockets are an excellent team and Seattle will have plenty of trouble playing against them... but let's be real here... you're always going to try to avoid the team with the best record in the entire league.


Can a loss and a fight galvanize this team?

Seattle loses a tough one last night to the Everett Silvertips before a passionate and divided crowd at Showare Center.

The loss is frustrating and potentially damaging as far as getting the 7th seed in the Western Conference (something that, quite honestly, may not really matter much anyways).

However... the good news is that Seattle still controls their own fate. Win a game or two and you'll get the 7th seed no matter what.

Tri-City comes into town on Tuesday and that's going to be a tough game. The Yams are locked in a battle with the rival Chiefs to get the 4th seed and earn home ice against the other one in the first round.

Seattle then gets Portland twice. Once down in the rose city and once back at home to end the season. Nothing, and I repeat nothing, will be easy about those two games but Portland will likely have home ice throughout the entire playoffs locked up and I would guess they will rest a couple of players each night.

The road is tough.  Whether it really matters or not is probably up for considerable debate.

Let's talk about last night.

First off, let me emphasize that referees are not to blame for the Tbirds losing that game last night. They have nobody to blame but themselves and quite frankly they just aren't that good. Everett and Seattle are equally inept and they are only divided by a bounce of the puck... which is what happened last night.

Referees make mistakes and they especially make mistakes in the WHL. These are guys (often young guys) learning their craft along with the players that are playing the game. Some will graduate to higher levels and some won't. Think about how many times a game you can count the mistakes that players are making (or coaches) and ask yourself why we expect referees to be any better. This doesn't excuse the mistakes when they are made... it just explains it.

When the referees are bad, I'm going to call them bad. When they screw up, I'm going to say they screwed up. But let's keep in mind that it IS a part of the game, it will ALWAYS be a part of the game and nothing will change that.

So let's take some issue with some things.

  • I thought the 3rd actually started the way it should have. Referees were letting the small stuff go and letting the teams fight it out and decide the game on their own. The team that wanted it more, wanted to fight through the clutch and grab, was going to be the victor. It appeared to me that the mantra was going to be to let the teams play and let them decide the game... and then things changed.  Referees have to have a feel for the game. It's an incredibly difficult thing to do... I don't envy them. If you're going to let things go in the 3rd, you can't make the Delay of Game call against Glover half way through the period. I admit... fully... I couldn't tell whether the puck was over the line but several people closer than I said it was at best close and at worst on the line. You can't make that call. You just can't. Everett then scores on the Power Play and a questionable call directly leads to a significant moment in the game.
  • What makes that call even worse? If you're going to call a ticky tack, questionable Delay of Game penalty you MUST call a penalty when a player (Delnov) gets boarded. Even if we call the play questionable... you can't call a questionable DOG and then not call a questionable boarding/checking from behind. You can't proclaim to be letting the players play with 15 minutes left, then call a soft one with 10 minutes left and then allow a dangerous hit with 3 minutes left. That is simply poor game management and poor game mechanics by the officials.
  • As for the hit itself.  In the interest of full disclosure... Delnov turned his back, no question about it. But a player that turns his back and is more than a foot from the boards simply can't be legally and forcibly checked into the boards. It's a dangerous play. Writers like Gregg Drinnan (who I have a tremendous amount of respect for) are irresponsible when they call for the outlaw of fighting in the game yet say very little about dangerous hits (or LEGAL hits) that can also cause head injuries. Incidentally, this is why I think the debate about fighting is ridiculous and misses the mark. If we're so concerned about fights that cause head injuries, we must be equally concerned about checking, both legal and not.  Next thing you know, we'll all be playing flag-hockey and touching won't be allowed. But I digress.
  • Because the hit on Delnov was allowed and no penalty was being called, players are then tasked with protecting their own players. You can't allow the other team to hit your players dangerously without a response. You just can't. I'm not so sure that Wardley's actions were the best possible choice but I certainly can't blame him for the decision that he made. He effectively enforced justice where officials didn't. In my mind, this places the entire blame for the brawl on the two guys with the orange bands on their arms. They are tasked with keeping the peace and handing out justice and in this instance, they completely and utterly failed.
  • It didn't stop there... ohhhh no it didn't. Brandon Glover then races to fight Lotz who was encouraging a fight and dropped the gloves at the same time Glover did. Ryan Gibbons does his job (even if we don't like it) and tried to break them apart before eventually pealing off. I've seen a ton of Instigator penalties (and the rule is dumb in the first place) and that was one of the worst Instigator penalties I can remember. Here is the definition of the Instigator rule (again, a dumb rule). I'm only going to include the first line because it is the most relevant part: 46.11 Instigator - An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season. I'm pretty certain that the part of the rule they would cite is going to be the distance traveled. Glover came from the other end of the rink to fight Lotz. I can't deny that. However, there is letter of the law and intent of the law. Every game there are dozens upon dozens of interpretations of the rules that aren't followed by the letter of the law. The intent of the Instigator penalty is to punish players who "jump" other players. I think just about every hockey player would agree with me. This was most certainly not a case where Glover jumped Lotz. Both players had their gloves off first, neither through a "first punch" and neither of them fit any of the other descriptions described in the rule. Why do I care? Here's the rub. Clearly the officials applied the mechanics of the rule correctly. They deemed Glover to be the instigator and that meant Lotz stayed in the game... and that's the rub. Lotz staying in the game could have made a huge difference in the final couple of minutes if Everett had been forced to put a cold Cotton in the game.
  • Just to drive the hammer down... 11 seconds later the same officials called Mueller for tripping. It was a horrible and obvious makeup call. How they let Delnov get boarded and then call a soft trip like that speaks volumes to the lack of control and lack of feel they had for the game.
  • Seattle also wound up with 1 PP and Everett had 5. Again... in a game that was so evenly contested, that's just bad game management.
Complaining about the Referees is both futile and likely a waste of time. It also can't explain the outcome of games. You can't blame officials for the outcome of games. You can't leave the margin of error so close that you allow a few calls to decide the outcome of the game. If Seattle puts 55 shots on Lotz and scores 4 or 5 goals, a few calls that don't go your way, don't matter. It's still frustrating to deal with, especially when calls have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

Is it possible that this game and fight can galvanize this team going into the playoffs? Maybe this is exactly what the team needed. They needed a reason to think that everyone (including officials) is against them and nobody believes in them. I certainly don't think they can beat either Kelowna or Portland in the first round but maybe, just maybe, this gives them all a reason to say "F it... it's us against everyone... let's prove them all wrong".

To Brandon Glover. Congrats kid, you've now jumped several levels in your historical popularity of the Thunderbirds franchise. Last night I heard the name Cody Rudkowsky mentioned by several people and he last played (and fought) for the Tbirds in 1999.  15 years from now, we'll all be talking about the night Brandon Glover raced down the ice to fight Austin Lotz and how Ryan Gibbons tried to stop them.

What a night at Showare.

Anyone else besides media members want to get fighting out of the game?


Big Weekend Looms

I'm back from a little mini hiatus again. Around this time I head to Vegas with a travelling hockey team for a tournament. Tons of fun... but no wins this year. Better luck next year.

Seattle picked up a huge win in Spokane on Wednesday night that moved them two points clear of Everett for the 7th seed in the Western Conference.

Seattle gets 4 of their last 5 games at home, including Prince George tonight and Everett tomorrow. Followed by Tri-City and Portland with a trip to Portland squeezed in there.

Everett is in Spokane tonight and Seattle tomorrow. Their season ends with a 3 in 3 where they have to travel to Victoria Friday night before returning for the Royals on Saturday and finishing home against Tri-City.  Advantage Seattle.... but they have to take that advantage.

Why, exactly, does this matter?

Let's see if our hunch can be confirmed through some stats.

Vs. Portland this year:

2 Wins, 8 Losses

Total Averages - 2.3 Goals For, 5 Goals Against, 29.7 Shots For, 42.7 Shots Against

At Home - 2.6 Goals For, 5.6 Goals Against, 31.2 Shots For, 38.8 Shots Against
On Road - 2 Goals For, 4.4 Goals Against, 28.2 Shots FOr, 46 Shots Against

Now let's look at Kelowna, since they appear to be the opponent for the 7 seed. Kamloops still had a chance to catch them, but it's looking like the Rockets.

1 Win, 2 Losses, 1 OTL

Totals - 2 Goals For, 4.5 Goals Against, 24.25 Shots For, 32.5 Shots Against

At Home - 3.5 Goals For, 3 Goals Against, 30.5 Shots For, 35 Shots Against
On Road - 0.5 Goals For, 6 Goals Against, 18 Shots For, 30 Shots Against

The totals for Kelowna are pretty similar to that of Portland but if you take out the 8-0 drubbing the Tbirds took up in Kelowna they've actually played them much tighter and even more so at home.

Seattle might actually have a punchers chance to win one or two games at home in Games 3 and 4 against the Rockets and that might actually make the series interesting. Beyond that, you never know.

I have to miss the game again tonight with a family situation. I will be watching from home though and tweeting some thoughts.

WHL Scoreboard