KENT — If Saturday night’s 2013-14 season opener is any indication, the Seattle Thunderbirds should be markedly improved from a seventh place Western Conference finish a year ago.
Seattle (1-0-0-0) opened a fresh season in front of 5,098 at the ShoWare Center with a 4-3 shootout win over its Northwest nemesis Portland, the 2012-13 Western Hockey League (WHL) champions. Branden Troock’s terrific deke of Portland goaltender Brendan Burke, was the difference in the 2-1 shootout. New addition Mathew Barzal also scored in the shootout, while goaltender Justin Myles stopped shots from Chase De Leo and Oliver Bjorkstrand, giving the T-Birds just their third win over Portland in the last two seasons.
“Good effort right from the get go, guys were definitely ready to play in the first period,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “There were some mistakes that we definitely still need to clean up and polish up so we don’t put ourselves into trouble but when we made mistakes we really had good second effort and good determination to bail each other out.”
Instrumental in that effort early on was the T-Birds leading scorer from last season, Roberts Lipsbergs, who wasted no time in reasserting his scoring prowess with two goals, one in each of the first two periods, to stake Seattle to an early 2-0 lead. Portland (1-0-0-1), though, would answer.
Ethan Price cut the T-Birds lead in half on an unassisted goal at 13:37 in the second period. Then, with added intensity to start the third period, the Winterhawks tied the game thanks to a Bjorkstrand goal 51 seconds in. Seattle would answer right back with a power play goal to re-take the lead, when defenseman Jerret Smith, owner of just one goal in 71 games last season, scored with 14:08 left to play.
De Leo then tied the contest again 3-3 for Portland with just over eight minutes left to play. The Winterhawks nearly stole the victory when Bjorkstrand tapped in an airborne puck with his stick with just over a minute left, but officials ruled it a high stick after video review, negating the goal.
Seattle held the offensive powerhouse of Portland scoreless on five power plays, while going 1-for-4 themselves. New starting goaltender Myles, 18, had 39 saves on 42 shots-on-goal. Portland’s Burke had 37 saves. Overall, Portland held a 42-41 shots-on-goal edge.
“Very good game, very good game. He saved what he had to save and won the game,” Konowalchuk said of Myles who could’ve asserted himself as the No. 1 goalie with this performance.
Portland entered a night after hoisting the third WHL Championship banner in team history and routing Prince George 9-2, boasting a 41-6-0-1 record versus Seattle since the 2009-10 season, including a 10-2 mark last year.
Coach Konowalchuk lauded the team’s puck management as a key to holding the high-scoring Winterhawks down.
“They’re a really good team. They have good team speed up front. You have to really watch what you’re doing with the puck,” said Konowalchuk. “We kept it simple, our ‘d’ moved it up, didn’t get us into trouble too much. I thought (Jared) Hauf had a really strong game, he played a lot of minutes for us and he did a good job playing physical, but also smart.”
How important was getting started on the right foot against a team like Portland? According to Myles, pretty vital.
“It’s great for us, great confidence boost. Shows us that we can beat anyone in the league,” added Myles. “We think we are a top team in this league and we showed that tonight.”
Seattle will look to continue to show that Wednesday when it travels to Vancouver to take on the Giants.
1. Seattle Lipsbergs 1 (Swenson, Hauf) 15:40
2. Seattle Lipsbergs 2 (Barzal, Foulk) 4:38
3. Portland Price 1 13:37
4. Portland Bjorkstrand 2 (Petan, Leier) 0:51
5. Seattle Smith 1 (Delnov, Kolesar) 5:52
6. Portland De Leo 3 (Cederholm, Leier) 12:08