The Kent-based Seattle Thunderbirds are one win away from winning the Western Conference Championship Series of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Dylan Guenther had a hat trick (three goals) and an assist to lead the T-Birds to an 8-4 win over the Kamloops Blazers on Thursday, May 4 at the Sandman Centre in British Columbia. The victory put Seattle up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
The T-Birds can wrap up the Western Conference title with a victory in game 5 at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, May 6 at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent.
Guenther scored twice in the first period, then again in the third. He leads the WHL with 14 playoff goals. He said the plan was to play more direct.
“Shoot more, get more shots and traffic,” he said of his team’s effort. “You never know what can happen, what stick it will land on.”
Guenther, 20, joined the T-Birds in February after playing 33 games in the NHL this season for the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes assigned Guenther to Seattle on Feb. 5. He had 15 points (six goals, nine assists) with the Coyotes. Guenther was drafted in the first round, ninth overall, of the 2021 NHL Draft by Arizona. He also helped Canada win the World Junior championships earlier this year.
Guenther is one of 10 T-Birds drafted by NHL teams. Kamloops has nine drafted players.
As for the lopsided win, Seattle coach Matt O’Dette said there were things his team still needs to clean up, but thought his players handled the sold-out crowd 0f 5,506 well.
“You gotta keep your focus when it gets loud,” he said. “There are momentum swings, back and forth play. You just have to stick with it.”
Once again, the T-Birds had to contend with the Kamloops power play. The Blazers were awarded six power plays and Seattle killed off five.
“It’s definitely not an easy power play to stop,” said O’Dette of a Blazer special teams that finished number one in the league during the regular season. “Giving them that many is not ideal. You just have to come up with timely penalty kills and I thought we did that tonight.”
Seattle built first period leads of 2-0 and 3-1, on two goals from Guenther and one from Kevin Korchinski, before the Blazers tied it 3-3 in the second on a pair of Olen Zellweger goals. The T-Birds broke back on top thanks to a Kyle Crnkovic goal.
“It was nice to score that one,” said Crnkovic of his go-ahead goal. “They had it rolling there for bit and to get that one kind of slowed them down, then we played our game and scored a couple more.”
Seattle broke away with a four goal third period, the first of which came from Jared Davidson, whose goal stood as the game winner. It was also his 21st career playoff goal, tying him with Scott Eansor (2015-17) for the franchise record.
“I actually didn’t know that. That’s cool,” said Davidson of tying the record. “We just needed to get shots on net. We only had 23 the night before. We lost that one. We know that’s not enough shots. So, we had to get more shots, crash the net, get rebounds and it worked out for us.”
Bryce Pickford followed with his second of the postseason to give Seattle a 6-3 advantage. Kamloops got back within two before Guenther completed his hat trick on a breakaway. Reid Schaefer closed out the scoring with an empty net goal.
Seattle needs one more win to advance to the WHL Championship Series but O’Dette knows that is easier said than done.
“The series is far from over,” he said. “We have the next one at home. We just have to prepare the same way. It’s going to be a difficult game.”
If necessary, game six would be back in Kamloops on Monday, May 8. If the series goes the distance, game seven would be Tuesday, May 9 in Kent.
• With a goal and an assist, Davidson has 47 career playoff points with Seattle, one behind Keegan Kolesar (2013-17) for third all-time in franchise history. Kolesar now plays for the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL.
• Seattle improved to 5-1 on the road and 11-1 overall in the 2023 postseason.
• If the T-Birds win the series they will advance to the best-of-sevn WHL Championship Series against the Winnipeg Ice, which swept the Saskatoon Blades 4-0 for the Eastern Conference title. The winner of the WHL title advances to the Canadian Hockey League Memorial Cup, a four-team, round-robin format May 26 to June 4 in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Thom Beuning, of the Seattle Thunderbirds, contributed to this article.