The Seattle Thunderbirds rallied from a two-goal deficit with less than six minutes left in regulation to force overtime and overcome the Regina Pats 4-3 to claim the franchise’s first Western Hockey League championship Sunday night.
The T-Birds, winners of the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the first time in their 40-year history, will move on to compete in the prestigious Memorial Cup on May 19-28 in Windsor, Ontario.
Alexander True scored at 12:36 of overtime to lift the Thunderbirds to victory in Game 6 of the WHL finals at the Brandt Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan.
True entered the Regina zone on the right wing and took a shot from the right circle. The puck rebounded off Regina goalie Tyler Brown to the goalie’s right. True got the rebound and snapped it past Brown.
Assists went to Keegan Kolesar and Aaron Hyman.
The T-Birds raced from the bench and mobbed True in the left corner of the Regina zone.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Thunderbirds co-captain Scott Eansor. “The whole team stepped up, from the first line to the fourth line. To come back from last year (lost in the WHL finals to Brandon, Manitoba), I mean, it’s indescribable. I’m so proud of all these guys. It’s a surreal feeling.
“It’s been an excellent ride, being here four years,” Eansor said. “It’s been pretty spectacular.”
This season, the T-Birds finished the job.
“I’m worn out. I guess I’m supposed to be, just like the players,” said coach Steve Konowalchuk:. It’s an unbelievable feeling to see that goal go in. These guys worked so hard for this.”
Trailing 3-1, the Thunderbirds responded in the third period. Ryan Gropp scored on a wrist shot at 14:38, off an assist from Ethan Bear. Kolesar then produced the equalizer on a power play at the 17:06 mark, with Bear and Gropp credited with the saves.
Sami Moilanen scored the T-Birds’ first goal, at 8:55 of the second period from an Eansor feed, to tie the game 1-1. Moilanen, who sprinted up the ice on a two-on-one break with Eansor, beat Brown on the blocker side low with a wrist shot from the right circle.
Regina took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal from Sam Steel at 7:18 of the first period. Josh Mahura and Connor Hobbs had the assists.
The T-Birds outshot the Pats 43-31 in the game.
Carl Stankowski made 28 saves in goal for Seattle, improving his playoff record to 16-4.
The Thunderbirds won the last three games of the best-of-seven series.
“It feels amazing. It’s hard to hold back the tears,” said Bear, the WHL Defenseman of the Year. “We battled so hard and this feels so good.”
Founded in 1977 as the Seattle Breakers, the Emerald City’s WHL franchise had to wait until 1997 – with Patrick Marleau leading the Thunderbirds – for its first appearance in the WHL Championship series. The club came up empty that season, and it was 19 long years before they earned another opportunity.
In 2016, the Thunderbirds made only their second appearance in the contest for the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup, falling to the Brandon Wheat Kings in a tightly-contested five-game series that saw the first three games go into overtime
The Thunderbirds’ Mathew Barzal was named the WHL Most Valuable Player. Barzal had seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points in 16 playoff games. … The T-Birds advance to the Memorial Cup in Windsor. They will play a round-robin tournament with the Erie Otters, champions of the Ontario Hockey League, Windsor Spitfires, the host team, and Saint John Seadogs, champions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the Canadian Hockey League Championship. The Memorial Cup starts Friday, May 19. The T-Birds’ first game at the tournament is Saturday, May 20, against the Otters at noon. View the full Memorial Cup Tournament schedule here.
Regina vs. Seattle
Game 1 – Seattle 2, at Regina 1, OT
Game 2 – At Regina 4, Seattle 3, OT
Game 3 – Regina 3, at Seattle 2
Game 4 – Seattle 6, Regina 1
Game 5 – Seattle 7, Regina 4
Game 6 – Seattle 4, Regina 3, OT
First period – 1, Regina, Steel 11 (Mahura, Hobbs), 7:18 (pp). Penalties – True, Sea (tripping), 6:24. Leedahl, Reg (cross checking), 17:44.
Second period – 2, Seattle, Moilanen 7 (Eansor), 8:55. Penalties – Ottenbreit, Sea (major-charging, game misconduct), 9:09. Strand, Sea (roughing), 9:09. Brooks, Reg (roughing), 9:09. Leedahl, Reg (slashing), 12:23. Strand, Sea (hooking), 16:29.
Third period – 3, Regina, Mahura 8 (de Wit, Leedahl), 11:50. 4, Regina, Wagner 15, 13:12. 5, Seattle, Gropp 7 (Bear), 14:38. 6, Seattle, Kolesar 12 (Bear, Gropp), 17:06. Penalties – True, Sea (boarding), 8:51. Harrison, Reg (holding), 15:25.
Overtime – 7, Seattle, True 12 (Kolesar, Hyman), 12:36. Penalties – No penalties.
Shots on goal – Seattle 10-14-11-8 43, Regina 3-15-9-4 31. Goalies – Seattle, Stankowski 31 shots-28 saves (16-4); Regina, Brown 43-39 (14-9). Power plays – Seattle 1-4; Regina 1-4. A – 6,484. Referees – Jeff Ingram, Reagan Vetter. Linesmen – Chad Huseby, Cody Huseby.