In a highly contested game four of the Western Hockey League Championship, the Seattle Thunderbirds came out with a 4-2 win Wednesday night, May 17 in front of a crowd of 4,104 at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent.
“I’m happy with the way our team finished the game. We got the third (goal) when we needed it. We buckled down and found a way to get it,” said Thunderbird head coach Matt O’Dette.
The Thunderbirds entered the game leading the series 2-1 over the Winnipeg Ice. After taking game three at home convincingly winning 6-3, Seattle could take a stranglehold on the series.
“We’re pretty comfortable. These are the games you want to play in and dream of as a player. It’s tight-checkin’ so it’s a lot of fun to be in,” said right wing Dylan Guenther.
This is the second consecutive year the Thunderbirds have reached the WHL Championship, last season Seattle fell to the Edmonton Oil Kings 4-2.
Over the course of this postseason the Thunderbirds have a record of 14-3-0-0 and they started off winning 10 games in a row breaking a record set back in 2017, which was the last time the Thunderbirds won the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
So far in this series the team to score first has won two out of the three games in the series. Winnipeg was the team to score first in this one, the Ice scored late in the first with Carson Latimer scoring off of a long pass creating one of the few Thunderbird goaltender Thomas Milic mistakes in the game. But Seattle scored to even it later, with under 15 seconds Lucas Ciona found Kevin Korchinski who rifled a shot that snuck past the Winnipeg goalie to tie the game at the end of the first.
In the second period the Thunderbirds continued to apply pressure and used momentum from that last-second goal in the previous period to their advantage. The second Seattle goal came on just the third power play goal for the Thunderbirds all series from Gracyn Sawchyn with a pass from Jeremy Hanzel who recorded a point in his third straight game.
Sawchyn’s two points helped him to earn the first star award in game four.
“That was a really good game for him, a really good 200-foot game for us… It was a really nice effort from him, he’s a rare kind of player. He’s really skilled, he’s got grit and competitiveness to go with it,” said O’Dette.
Four minutes later in the second period the Ice responded with a game-tying goal. The Ice also thought they added a third goal in the period but after video review the officials deemed no goal as it appeared the puck entered without being hit by an Ice player’s stick but rather off of his body.
The final period was where Seattle took over. Just seven minutes into the third quarter, the T-Birds got their game winning goal and an extra one for security. Seattle’s top line got the job done once more, Reid Schaefer notched an assist for a point in his seventh straight game. Schaefer’s pass perfectly found the tape on Dylan Guenther’s stick who slotted the shot right past Ice goalie Daniel Houser.
“I got a nice pass from Reedo and I was just trying to get a shot on and it went through,” Guenther said.
“A late goal in the third is huge for us. Our bench was pretty fired up after that. I thought our plan in the third was pretty stable,” O’Dette said.
With under 8 seconds Seattle got their fourth goal of the game with an empty netter from winger Nico Myatovic putting the Ice on ice and securing a game four win.
Over the four games so far the Seattle penalty kill has only allowed two goals out of 16 chances in the series. That success is just a continuation of what they’ve done all year.
“We’ve been showing that all year. We have a couple units that are willing to do whatever it takes; blocking shots, taking seams away and getting those 200-foot clears are super important. I think all year has shown that we’re capable of killing penalties,” Milic said.
The Thunderbirds are one win away from their second WHL Championship in franchise history. But it’s important for these players to understand the task at hand.
“We set ourselves up pretty good for game five at home, we’ll rest up and we’re going to attack game five,” said Milic.
Game five is 7:05 p.m. Friday, May 19 at accesso ShoWare Center. As of 2 p.m. on Thursday, May 18 tickets were sold out for the final home game for the Thunderbirds.
If games six and seven are necessary, Seattle will travel to Winnipeg on May 21-22.
The winner of the series advances to the four-team, round-robin Memorial Cup May 26 to June 4 in Kamloops, British Columbia.