Seattle’s Sam Popowich, in preseason action against Everett, scored the winning goal in the Thunderbirds’ WHL season-opening 3-2 win Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Wenatchee Wild. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Brian Liesse, Seattle Thunderbirds

Seattle’s Sam Popowich, in preseason action against Everett, scored the winning goal in the Thunderbirds’ WHL season-opening 3-2 win Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Wenatchee Wild. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Brian Liesse, Seattle Thunderbirds

Kent-based Thunderbirds edge Wenatchee Wild in season opener

Sam Popowich scores winning goal with 33 seconds left in 3-2 victory

  • Monday, September 25, 2023 3:28pm
  • Sports

Provided by the Seattle Thunderbirds

Sam Popowich’s goal with 33 seconds left lifted the Seattle Thunderbirds past the Wenatchee Wild, 3-2, Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Town Toyota Center in the T-Birds’ Western Hockey League season opener.

Next up for Seattle is its home opener, Saturday, Sept. 30 versus the Portland Winterhawks. Game time is 6:05 p.m. at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent.

Head coach Matt O’Dette said the T-Birds built off some of the things they did in the preseason to get the win.

“It was a step in the right direction,” he said. “When you rely on your habits and your formula you can persevere.”

The Thunderbirds struck with the only goal of the first period when Coster Dunn scored on the power play at the 13-minute mark. Luca Hauf and Bryce Pickford earned the assists. Seattle goalie Spencer Michnik preserved the lead when he denied Wenatchee’s Kenta Isogai on a penalty shot late in the period.

“It’s a tough situation so you get your depth, you get out and get a little bit of speed coming back,” Michnik said. “You try to read him the best you can. It’s a good scoring opportunity. If it goes in, it goes in. You just try to make the save the best you can.”

Wenatchee, in its first year in the league, tied the game, then took the lead with a pair of second period goals. Myles Cooper scored at 1:22 and Briley Wood followed at 10:48.

Braeden Cootes answered for the T-Birds when he knocked home a loose puck early in the third period.

“I was just working low with Marty and Kaz there, trying to get pucks on net,” Cootes said. “I got a lucky bounce there. It was nice to get that one and tie it up.”

The assists went to Antonio Martorana and Trey Patterson. That set up the late dramatics from Popowich.

With less than a minute remaining Wenatchee entered the Seattle zone with the puck only to have the Thunderbirds knock it free. Hyde Davidson picked up the loose puck and head up ice with Kazden Mathies. Davidson crossed the Wild blue line on the left wing and found Popowich trailing the play and fed him the puck. Popowich skated into the slot and fired a shot that beat Wild goalie Daniel Hauser.

“Scoring goals in general is a fun thing,” Popowich said. “When they’re big goals like that it obviously makes it a lot better. It was a big win for the team. It took everybody tonight and it was a good 60 minutes for us.”

O’Dette agreed and said it was a good building block for his young team.

“It’s big,” O’Dette said. “We had a really good first period, a not so good second. We kind of fell off our path a little bit but got back on it in the third. Some of our younger guys, who maybe had a shift or two they’d like back, bounced back and we have some guys with championship experience who really shined through.”

T-Birds extras

Luca Hauf, who missed all of training camp and the preseason with visa issues, arrived in time to play in the season opener. Hauf, from Germany, was acquired by Seattle from the Edmonton Oil Kings this offseason.

Goaltender Scott Ratzlaff has been returned to Seattle by the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Ratzlaff was drafted by Buffalo in the sixth round of the 2023 NHL Draft.

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