Thunderbirds return to Tri-City near top of U.S. Division

Annie Fowler, Herald staff writerOctober 24, 2013 

The last time the Seattle Thunderbirds came to town, Eric Comrie had 30 saves for a shutout and Brian Williams had a hat trick in a 3-0 victory.

Seattle returns to Toyota Center tonight, and even though Comrie and Williams would like a repeat of the Oct. 1 game, they are realistic that may not happen.

“It would be nice to happen again,” Williams said. “I remember my routine from that day and I’m going to try and mirror it the best I can. I’m not surprised they are doing good this year. I remember watching them my 16 year and thinking they will be good with all the young guys they had then. Their D contributes so much, especially with (Shea) Theodore back there.”

The Thunderbirds (9-3-0-1) are near the top of the U.S. Division, one point back of Spokane and tied with Portland with 19 points. Seattle, ranked eighth in this week’s CHL poll, is enjoying the best start to a season since the 2004-05 season when it won 10 of its first 13 games.

“I think our guys are enjoying it,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said of the team’s early success. “They are believing they can go into every game and win. The first year and a half (I was here) was pretty rocky and you try and steer the guys in the right direction. You believe your team will turn the corner.”

The Americans (6-8-0-1), who have enjoyed their share of success the past six years, find themselves at the bottom of the division standings with 13 points, but a couple of wins this weekend could help turn the tide.

“That’s how this league works, it goes in cycles,” Williams said. “We got spoiled here my first two years. We need to get everyone jelling on the same page. We have guys not knowing where to be sometimes on the ice. It just comes with time, especially being the youngest team in the league. Everyone had a duty and a role, but sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and try something else. I think everyone should try that. You may learn something about your game.”

Comrie has been in net all three games the teams have played against one another this season, and has had a good sense of what Seattle has to offer.

“They are an excellent team this year,” said Comrie, who is 1-1-0-1 against the Thunderbirds. “They just added a player from the BCHL (Ryan Gropp), a first-round draft pick from a couple of years ago, and I hear he is pretty good. They have great talent on the back end and up front, and have good goaltending and coaching. They are a tough team to play night in and night out.”

Seattle won the two games at ShoWare Center, but got shutout at Toyota Center. In fact, the Thunderbirds have won just two games in Kennewick over the last five years — both coming last year.

“They play a really good game,” Konowalchuk said of the Americans. “Good defensive game and good team speed. They were a good team in the past, and they are a good team now. They play well at home. We have to make sure we are ready to roll or we will be in for a long night.”

The Americans have been relying on their defense, goaltending and penalty kill (ranked seventh in the WHL) to keep them in games as they are scoring an average of just 2.4 points a game.

“We just stuck to our system,” Comrie said of the last win over Seattle. “We played a real easy game, stuck with Jim has been talking — good D, forechecking hard and staying on the body. It works for us. We are a fast team, when we are hitting and skating we play a good game and we make it hard for opposing teams.”

After today, the Americans will host the Brandon Wheat Kings on Saturday in the final game of a five-game homestand.

Brandon is at Spokane tonight and at Seattle on Tuesday.

“Our division has been taking care of business outside the division,” said Konowalchuk, who along with the other four U.S. Division teams, beat Swift Current. “It’s still early, but the depth in our division looks better than the others.”

The U.S. Division is 9-1 against the Central Division and 14-9 against the B.C. Division this season.

Notes: Konowalchuk said Gropp has been nursing a lower-body injury since joining the Thunderbirds and is probable for tonight’s game. ... The T-birds acquired left wing Jaimen Yakubowski and right wing Sam Mckechnie from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for left wing Riley Sheen, left wing Carter Folk and a third-round selection in the 2015 bantam draft. ... Seattle minority owner Dean Street died Tuesday. He had been with the organization since 1997 when his company, Dean Street & Associates, a realty company, was a sponsor of the team. Street joined the ownership group in 2002.

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