Who are these Seattle Thunderbirds?
Sitting pretty in third place in the U.S. Division, the Thunderbirds (18-9-1-3, 40 points) are coming off a pair of weekend wins over the Spokane Chiefs, have won six in a row and have points in nine of their last 10 games.
Last season, the Thunderbirds had all of 58 points and their largest win streak was four games right before the Christmas break.
Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said there is no super secret recipe for his team’s success this season.
“I think just everyone contributing,” he said. “We have been able to roll four lines and six D, and our goaltending — we’ve been using both and they have been doing well. Just a lot of different people chipping in.”
The Thunderbirds will be at Toyota Center tonight to take on the Tri-City Americans (17-13-1-2, 37 points). It is the first meeting between the two since the host Americans beat Seattle 3-2 in a shootout Oct. 25.
This year’s 10-game series is tied at two games each.
“They are a good team,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said of Seattle. “You look at their roster on paper, they are one of the stronger teams in the league. No surprise they are on a roll.”
Despite a rash of injuries on the Americans’ part, Konowalchuk said his team is in for a fight.
“They are a good hockey team. They are a fast-skating team with good depth and are good at home,” Konowalchuk said. “We expect a good hockey game and a close game.”
The Americans are coming off a two-game trek to Prince George, where they split with the Cougars. Tri-City beat PG 4-3 in overtime on Friday, then dropped a 5-2 game on Saturday, playing without defenseman Michal Plutnar (upper body) and forward Taylor Vickerman (upper body), who were injured in Friday’s game.
Plutnar and Vickerman are game-time decisions for tonight’s game.
“There is nothing you can do about it,” Hiller said of injuries. “People slide up the lineup. I think they are excited when they get a chance to play, then it’s about delivering.”
Tri-City already is without defensemen Mitch Topping (broken arm) and Wil Tomchuk (wrist) and forward Parker Bowles (knee). All three have had successful surgeries and are expected back the end of January or beginning of February.
“We know we aren’t going to see them for a while,” Hiller said.
To bolster the blue line, the Americans traded for Jeff Hubic (from Kootenay) and moved rookie forward Braden Purtill back on defense, where he has done an admirable job.
“That’s a tall order to have to go out and play defense when you are a forward and new in the league,” Hiller said. “He’s up in the top four minutes some nights. He’s a strong skater and mature for his age, and that helps him. He probably was playing 6 or 7 minutes up front, and now it’s 20 minutes on D. He doesn’t have much to complain about.”