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Hockey Challenge 2014

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Another take on Gropp

Jon did an excellent piece the other day breaking down the decision by Ryan Gropp to make a commitment to the University of North Dakota. I've seen comments on here blasting the kid for his decision and I think that is completely unfair. Let's look at the circumstances.

I think we all need to admit as Tbirds fans that we're a bit biased towards the CHL route over the NCAA route and I'm certainly a member of that club. I personally think the CHL is the best route for kids that are high/top end prospects. Assuming Gropp gets drafted and has a successful college career and assume he sticks around through his Senior year (not a lock certainly) he'll probably then need at least 1 or perhaps 2 seasons in the AHL and maybe he carves out a role for himself by the time he's 24. If my son had the kind of talent that Gropp has, I would have told him to take a shot at using his gifted talent and try making it to the NHL as fast as possible. It isn't the "only" way to do it but going the CHL route appears to give a young man the chance at getting to the big leagues faster than going the NCAA route.

Now... maybe he gets there sooner, we don't really know but let's take the test example of Danny Kristo. Kristo just completed a very successful Senior season at UND. He played two years in the U.S. Development program before getting drafted in the 2nd round (not bad at all) and playing in Omaha for a season. He then won WCHA Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman at UND posting 15 goals and 36 points. He stayed for 3 more seasons earning WCHA 1st team honors as a Senior posting 26 goals and 26 assists. So he must be going straight to the Montreal lineup right? Oh... he went to Hamilton where he played 9 games and just got traded to the Rangers. If Danny Kristo can't crack an NHL lineup before he is 23 what makes us think Gropp could? (and of course... maybe he will... this is just an example). Of course, there are examples of kids that do it. Colin Wilson went 7th overall to Nashville in the same draft, played two seasons at Boston U. and wound up skipping his final two years of college to play in Milwaukee and Nashville the following year. There are also plenty of CHL kids that were in the same draft that haven't seen the NHL yet either: Kyle Beach at 13 (snicker...), Chet Pickard at 18, Nicolas Deschamps at 35 and Eric O'Dell at 39 are some examples.

Furthermore... while I would certainly place my child's education in high regards I firmly believe that if you want your education badly enough you can always go back to school or get your education while playing professional sports. Players that get their education while playing or after playing are likely in the minority but it does happen. You literally have a lifetime to get your education but you have a very small window of opportunity to become a pro and hit it big. The school experience is a great one, I greatly enjoyed my time at Willamette playing baseball but I would trade it in a heartbeat if I had had a chance to go play pro ball.

So... it's not the decision that I would have made if my kid was the 6th overall pick in the Bantam Draft but you have to keep in mind that due to these F'd up NCAA rules the path to the CHL is a one way street. By keeping his options open, he can literally pack up and leave UND at any time (sorry UND fans). If he had come to Seattle (and wasn't sure about what he wanted to do) he would have literally been stuck. This leaves his options open. I wouldn't have made this choice... but I don't blame him for doing so.

Who do I blame?

If you go back to the 2011 Bantam Draft the Kamloops Blazers (Gropp's hometown team) had the 4th overall selection in the draft and passed on taking Gropp. I've been told by several sources that Gropp had told Kamloops not to draft him or had at least told them he wasn't sure but we don't really know what was said and what wasn't said. Did he tell Kamloops not to take him but didn't mention it to Seattle? Did he tell Kamloops he just wasn't sure and didn't tell Seattle? Did he tell Seattle he wasn't sure? I have no idea.

It is safe to say though that Gropp likely didn't tell Seattle "Yes, I'm definitely coming" and then suddenly had a change of heart. He seems to have been fairly honest the entire time that he genuinely wasn't sure what he was going to do and had he known he was going to go the college route he could have committed earlier than he did. He also actually came to camp as a 15 year old before leaving before the first exhibition game. So, rather than making assumptions I'm just going to go with the facts. Kamloops passed on him at 4 and to me that signals that there is at least "some" risk in his selection. Could Kamloops have simply liked Jordan Thomson that much more? Perhaps, but that scenario doesn't pass my smell test.

We'll likely never know exactly what was said and what wasn't said or how close Seattle was (or is) to having Gropp change his mind and come to Seattle but the decision to draft Gropp amounted to a gamble by GM Russ Farwell and Director of Player Personnel Colin Alexander. I personally don't think you take that gamble with the #6 overall pick but as I said we also don't know exactly what was said and what wasn't.

I don't think it's fair to put this on Ryan Gropp. If I were to guess based on the events that we know and not things we don't know for sure, it appears as though Gropp had considerable doubt from the beginning and that Seattle definitely had a chance. Ultimately, he decided to go the NCAA route and leave Seattle as a backup option. We all know it wouldn't have worked the other way around.

Hindsight is indeed 20/20 and this was a gamble that didn't hit and it will cost the team and the franchise. Getting Mathew Barzal is gigantic for the franchise but somewhere down the road they're probably going to wish they had the #6 overall pick in the 2011 Bantam Draft playing alongside him.


Seattle Loses 2011 1st round draft pick Ryan Gropp to NCAA

Last night, via Twitter, Ryan Gropp announced the world the following

"Committed to the University of North Dakota! Very excited for the opportunity".

Seattle picked Gropp way back in 2011, 6th overall in the bantam draft.

He attended training camp that season, and most thought looked very impressive.  But he did not suit up for any preseason games.  Some heard this was pre-arranged with the Birds, and that Gropp had other commitments.  Others saw this as a huge warning sign that he might never appear again in a Birds uniform.

Gropp's father spent 4 years at Colorado College in the NCAA, playing varsity hockey in each of those years.  In total, he appeared in 147 games, scoring 59 goals, 96 assists, 155 points, with 302 penalty minutes.

Ryan did not attend Seattle's training camp as a 16 year old, and basically everyone became very concerned that he was going the college route.  Word from people on the web was that he had decided on going the US college route, and was deciding between Colorado or Denver U.

Gropp played his 16 year old season (last season) with the Penticton Vees, scoring 29 points in 50 games.  Those are very good numbers for a 16 year in the BCHL.  Especially playing for one of the top teams in the league loaded with older talent.


Here is where I go on the record as saying I was wrong.  Ryan always stated in interviews when asked, that the WHL and Seattle was an option he was considering.  After missing training camp as a 16, I was really losing faith that he would be a Bird.  But, the longer and longer that he did not commit to the college route, the more and more positive I became that he would choose Seattle.

I felt the signing of Barzal, the playoff run from last season, along with all the other progress Seattle has made would further convince him to pick Seattle.

So I may be the only one willing to say that the news last night came as a surprise to me.

What is a little funny is how I found out.  Yesterday, it was announced that Ryan had been one of 2 or 3 non CHL players invited to attend the Canada U18 tryout's.  Last night, I was going to twitter to congratulate him on that, and to add the usual hash tag I do when directing tweets his way "#HopeToSeeYouInSeattle".  I get to his twitter page, and the top line posted 15 minutes beforehand was his announcement.

Future options

This does not close the book on Gropp still coming and playing.  Their have been numerous other players that have taken the route of going USA college, then coming back to the CHL for various reasons (lack of playing time, kicked off team, or the usual one of being drafted and the NHL team wanting it).

But here is why I don't think that will ever happen with Ryan.  His birthday is September 16th (mine also).  That means he has a late birthday by NHL draft cutoff.  So, instead of this 17 year old season being his NHL draft season (like Thoedore, Hauf, and other 17 year olds on the Birds this season).  Next season, Ryan will return to Penticton and play as a 17 year old.  Then for his NHL draft season, he will attend North Dakota.  Should he be drafted (which everyone expects will happen), his NHL team will have two years to sign him.  So technically, he can play his sophomore and junior years at North Dakota before his NHL team has to sign him or lose his rights.  His junior season there would be his 20 year old WHL season.  North Dakota is a power house NCAA school, and I dont see an NHL team telling a drafted player to give up on that program.

So while the option is still there for Ryan to come back out and play with the Birds, its a huge long shot.

What others may not want me to say

It will come as NO surprise, but I feel Seattle, the WHL, and really the entire CHL is the best route to the NHL for any player that has the ability, talent, will, determination, and drive to get there.

Even if your future does not lead to the NHL, the college scholarship benefits the CHL hands out are amazing.

So of course I feel that coming and playing with Seattle would have been Ryan's best choice.  But I will also say that he did pick a great program to join.  It's not like he chose to go to play hockey at North Texas, Hawaii, or Poughkeepsie state.  He did choose what quite a few people would say is the top hockey college program in the USA.  Anyone who has visited their facilities are very impressed, and the home rink is good enough that they hosted the World Junior Championships there.  For certain educational paths, UND is rated as one of the best in the entire USA.  And for his parents sake (and maybe not his), I could not find it listed on any of the top party schools (I mean come on, what else do you do in the middle of winter there).

More reading

The great Gregg Drinnan (Taking Notes blog on the right) posted this

A website the follows North Dakota hockey has this one


Import Draft today

Just a quick note on the Import draft.

A new rule is in effect this year that says you can not trade import picks.
So unless Seattle wants to either drop or trade either Delnov or Lipsbergs, they can not use the pick at all.

A second part of the new rule says that you can not trade an import player for one year after drafting (I think, but it might be one year after acquiring).  But since it has been over a year, Seattle could trade either player mentioned above.

Here are a couple of pages that talk about the rule changes

and even the WHL release on today's draft mentions it

However, from what I hear Seattle is very happy with both players, and both players are happy with Seattle.
So I would expect Seattle to just pass.

And based on the website that tracks the draft, they already have.


My look at the 2013-2014 Regular Season Schedule

It’s a little late, but as most of you know, Seattle (and the rest of the league) released their regular season schedule on the 26th.

Changes This Season

I have heard that this season, the league took over doing most of the schedule, where as in the past, the teams got together to negotiate dates. This has made a few things change. Normally, the Birds like to have more home games after the Christmas break when attendance will be higher. But this year, things are very evenly split, with 17 home games before and 19 after. Road games are evenly split at 18.

As far as opponents go, each US division opponent's games are spread out across the season. It appears as if Seattle and Everett did get some control over the schedule making, since all but one of their ten games fall after Christmas. Spokane is the odd quirk in the schedule. Seattle plays two home and home series, and one three straight game series. That’s seven of the eight games in little series.

Home And Home's

The other odd part of the schedule that is new this season is that Seattle plays 6 home and home games (back to back games, one on road, and one at home). Add in back to back road games against Prince George and Victoria, and 8 times Seattle plays the same team in consecutive games. Those are always fun for emotions and pay backs.

3 games in 3 nights

The Birds have six of these this season. This is basically the same as every year. I am sure the coaches would like less, but when every other team wants games on Friday to Sunday nights, you kind of have to take what you can get.

The good news, two of these back to back to back stretches take place on the two central swings. The other good news is that three of the others include only one road game and two home games. The bad news, two of these happen the last two weekends of the season (below for a description of this).

One of these 3 games in 3 nights turns into a 4 games in 5 nights (part of the end of the season). And to one of these add a game on Tuesday and Wednesday, making it 5 games in 6 nights (all part of the central swing discussed below).

Central Swing

The last big differences in this years schedule comes in the 6 games against the central division. In the past, teams have played all 6 games on the same trip, usually spending 10 to 12 days on the road. This season, every US division team is breaking it into two parts. Seattle takes its first trip right at the beginning of the season (can be great for team bonding, getting to know each other, etc.). Heading east of the mountains to pick up a game in Tri Cities, then heading north to play the three mostly southern based Alberta teams. The second trip I will call the highway 2 trip. This one happens right after the new year where Seattle plays the three somewhat northern Alberta teams that have Canada Highway 2 go between them. The only bad thing about this second trip is they couldn't play the teams in order of travel. They start in the middle, head north, then back south, then have to head back north because they are taking a fun trip to Prince George. There is a nice road between Edmonton and Prince George. The only issue is the large mountain pass between the two. That and the fact you are driving across the northern part of Alberta and British Columbia in the middle of winter. This is the part of the schedule I don’t quite understand. It sounds smart to combine trips since you are already that far north. But the middle of winter doesn't sound like the best time. And if you are going to go to this much trouble, why not add a game in Kamloops or Kelowna on the way back to Seattle, cutting down on one trip back up.

The Stretch Run

I am not sure what Seattle did to make the computer and league gods unhappy, but they sure get punished the last week of the season. They finish with 7 games over 10 days. They start and end with weekends of 3 games in 3 nights, and throw in a Tuesday night game in the middle, and you have a brutal ending to the regular season. This is not the way I would want to be going into the playoffs, tired, possible beat up. But if they can get on a roll, it might give them the confidence to make a nice run. Six of the seven are against division foes (3 against Portland), so if they need to make up ground, or put some distance on these teams, they have the perfect opportunity.


I will leave you with a little thought I always have, since we all love to watch the birds when they are on TV (unless it’s a home game). In previous years Root Sports has broadcast some Friday night games, starting in the new year. If this continues this season, then Seattle is in great shape to make a couple appearances. There are 9 Friday nights from January 17 to the end of the season. Seattle plays on all but one of these, with 4 being home games.

Blog Update - New Writer

I hope everyone has been enjoying their summer “vacation” from the hockey season. I always take first couple of months to recharge my energy for writing about the team and covering things and usually right around July here is where I start getting excited for the season again.

I’m going to be making some changes to Let’s Go Birds and I’m hoping that these changes will be for the better and will improve our coverage and content about the team.  At the very core, this blog has always been about sharing a fan’s (my) perspective on the team. I’ve never intended to be a journalist and I will leave that stuff to the excellent coverage Andy and Tim are providing over with ESPN 710.

Over the course of last season I realized something that I had been resistant to for a very long time… I need help.  I needed help with the blog because I want this blog to be better. I’ve resisted it for a very long time because this has always been my pet project and a labor of love for nearly 6 years now. The time has come for me to allow someone with similar (if not more) passion about the Tbirds to contribute to Let’s Go Birds and improve what I’m (we’re) doing.

With that… let me introduce to you… Jon Whiting.

Jon has been a Thunderbirds fan for a very long time and probably loves the Tbirds and Junior Hockey more than I do. I don’t always agree with Jon about everything and I think that means he’ll be a great partner for the blog. I’m going to give Jon almost compete autonomy to write and post whatever he wants (within reason during this “probation” period, haha).

Jon has already written a breakdown of the Tbirds schedule that was released last week and I’ll have that up later today for everyone to attack him and take him to task!

In other news… Shea Theodore was selected in the 1st round of the NHL Entry Draft yesterday, going 26th overall to the Anaheim Ducks. I had a feeling that Theodore might slip into the early 2nd round but I was happy to be wrong. Shea has been a very good and skilled player for Seattle since the first day he stepped on the ice. He still has things to work on in his own zone but you cannot deny the raw skating and puck handling ability that he possesses. I kept seeing “analysts” say that he has a “big shot”. I think that’s incorrect. As a 16 year old he rarely, if ever, used a slap shot and last season he added it in small bits. I’d say he has more of a “smart” shot than a “big” shot. Good for Shea.

No other Tbirds were selected and quite frankly I’m not too shocked by that. I’m a little surprised that you wouldn’t see a team take a flyer on Hauf late in the draft and hope he takes a step forward this upcoming season. Alas… they did not and he’ll be eligible again next year if he can improve.

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