T-Birds burn Rockets for 9th win in 10 games | WHL

Thunderbirds wing Roberts Lipsbergs pushes the puck against Kelowna, - Courtesy photo/Thunderbirds,Kyle Scholzen
Thunderbirds wing Roberts Lipsbergs pushes the puck against Kelowna,
— image credit: Courtesy photo/Thunderbirds,Kyle Scholzen

For the Reporter

The Seattle Thunderbirds beat the Kelowna Rockets 4-1 Sunday night on the fifth anniversary of the ShoWare Center.

The win was Seattle's ninth in the last 10 games and put their record at 31-15-2-3, one point behind Victoria for the third spot in the Western Conference. Kelowna's loss was their seventh in regulation this season, and they now stand at 40-7-0-2.

Taran Kozun started in net for Seattle after getting the win Saturday night and won once again, stopping 33 of 34 shots. Kozun's record is now 11-19-2-1, including six wins in six games with Seattle. Jordon Cooke started his 35th game for Kelowna and took the loss, making his record 29-4-0-2.

Coach Steve Konowalchuk was happy with his team's performance, saying that "(Kelowna) is the team to beat in the league" and that "when we're on all cylinders and we have everything clicking we can beat anybody."

The fourth man advantage of the game for Seattle and first of the second period for either team came at 7:35. The T-Birds made this power play count, tying the game at 8:42 on a tip-in by Roberts Lipsbergs. The goal was Lipsbergs' 30th of the season and came from a Justin Hickman shot tipped through traffic past Cooke. Adam Henry had the secondary assist.

Kelowna was given the chance they needed on the ensuing shift, drawing a double minor to put them on the power play for four minutes straight. A stifling penalty kill left the Rockets with only two shots in those four minutes and no goals to show for it.

Almost immediately after the penalty's expiration, Seattle took the lead. Ryan Gropp controlled the puck near the boards, avoiding Kelowna's defense, and found Jerrett Smith open on the opposite side. Smith's shot was stopped by Cooke, but the rebound found Mitch Elliot in front of the net, who calmly put it home at 13:25 to take the lead.

Shots were 11-6 Seattle in the second and faceoffs were 7-4 Kelowna.

Stoppages slowed the third period immensely, with eight faceoffs in the first two minutes. There were also four penalties in the first three minutes. Seattle did get a power play out of it all that became a 5-on-3 for 37 seconds.

Shea Theodore scored 25 seconds into the two-man advantage, leaving Seattle with another power play and a two-goal lead. Theodore let loose with a slap shot from deep in the zone as Ethan Bear crossed in front of him as a screen. Lipsbergs and Bear had the assists on the goal at 2:25.

Hickman came close to making it 4-1 at 6:30 when Kelowna attempted to center the puck in their own end. Hickman took control and skated just in front of Cooke, but was unable to get control of the bouncing puck and couldn't get a strong shot off. It was just part of an offensive push by Seattle that saw them record eight shots to Kelowna's four in the first eight minutes.

Gropp had an equally tantalizing chance, getting the puck all alone a few feet from the goal when Mathew Barzal's cross-ice pass made its way through traffic. Cooke was quick to slide across the crease, however, and got his left leg there in time to knock it away.

A dustup behind the T-Birds' crease came soon thereafter, resulting in a power play for Kelowna. The advantage ended after 1:38 when the Rockets took another penalty, which would give Seattle their eighth power play of the game 22 seconds later. Jaimen Yakubowski had his shot go off the post on the best chance of the 5-on-4, and the score stayed 3-1 with 2:30 left in the game.

The Rockets pulled their goalie with under a minute to go, hoping to make up the two-goal deficit. Cooke attempted to leave the net earlier, but was forced to retreat and fight off a 2-on-1 T-Birds break.

Kozun stopped a flurry of shots in front of the goal before Yakubowski scored an empty-net goal with five seconds left to seal the victory.

Kozun credited the defense in front of him for his success, saying that "they (have) made my life easier" during his six-game win streak. "They're blocking tons of shots in front of me ... and clear it down the ice," said the 19-year-old, who has won every one of his starts for Seattle since being acquired from Kamloops.

Shots in the third were tied at 14 each, while faceoffs favored Kelowna 12-11.

The T-Birds next play on Friday when they visit Everett to take on the Silvertips at 7:35 p.m. Seattle will travel to Portland the next day to play the Winterhawks at 7 p.m.


First period - 1, Kelowna, Goulbourne 8 (unassisted), 18:26 (sh). Penalties - Rigby, Kelowna (cross-checking), 1:35. Elliot, Seattle (goaltender interference), 12:15. Bowey, Kelowna (roughing), 14:51. Lees, Kelowna (roughing), 16:49. Maxwell, Seattle (roughing), 16:49. Heffley, Kelowna (tripping), 18:18.

Second period - 2, Seattle, Lipsbergs 30 (Hickman, Henry), 8:42 (pp). 3, Seattle, Elliot 3 (Smith, Gropp), 13:25. Penalties - Rigby, Kelowna (goaltender interference), 7:35. Yakubowski, Seattle (checking to the head), 8:58. Yakubowski, Seattle (unsportsmanlike conduct), 8:58.

Third period - 4, Seattle, Theodore 16 (Lipsbergs, Bear), 2:25 (pp). 5, Seattle, Yakubowski 7 (unassisted), 19:55 (en). Penalties - Rigby, Kelowna (hooking), 1:36. Yakubowski, Seattle (embellishment), 1:55. Martin, Kelowna (cross-checking), 1:55. Baillie, Kelowna (slashing), 2:59. Bowey, Kelowna (checking from behind), 9:15. Wardley, Seattle (roughing), 13:43. Wardley, Seattle (unsportsmanlike conduct), 13:43. Olsen, Kelowna (roughing), 13:43. Olsen, Kelowna (10-minute misconduct), 13:43. Heffley, Kelowna (hooking), 15:21.

Shots on goal - Seattle 13-11-14 38, Kelowna 14-6-14 34. Goalies - Seattle, Kozun 34 shots-33 saves (11-19-2-1); Kelowna, Cooke 37-34 (29-4-0-2). Power plays - Seattle 2-7; Kelowna 0-3. A - 3,490. Referees - Jeff Ingram, Fraser Lawrence. Linesmen - Kevin Boris, Justin Hull.

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