Colton Dach and the rest of the Seattle Thunderbirds will play the Winnipeg Ice for the Western Hockey League title in a best-of-seven series starting May 12 in Winnipeg. COURTESY PHOTO, Brian Liesse, Seattle Thunderbirds

Colton Dach and the rest of the Seattle Thunderbirds will play the Winnipeg Ice for the Western Hockey League title in a best-of-seven series starting May 12 in Winnipeg. COURTESY PHOTO, Brian Liesse, Seattle Thunderbirds

Kent-based Thunderbirds to play Winnipeg Ice for WHL championship

Seattle edges Kamloops 4-2 to take Western Conference title and advance to next round

Get ready for a showdown between the Kent-based Seattle Thunderbirds and the Winnipeg Ice for the Western Hockey League (WHL) championship.

The T-Birds defeated the Kamloops Blazers 4-2 on May 8 in British Columbia to win the best-of-seven Western Conference Championship Series, 4-2. Winnipeg 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.

Seattle will open the WHL Championship Series on Friday, May 12 at Winnipeg in the Canada Life Centre, the home of the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL. The Ice moved the championship series to the Canada Life Centre from its usual home at the University of Manitoba after operators of the arena offered to make the home of the Jets available, according to winnipegsun.com.

The T-Birds will play games three and four against Winnipeg on Tuesday, May 16, and Wednesday, May 17, at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent. If necessary, game five also is in Kent on Friday, May 19. All three games are at 7:05 p.m. If necessary, games six and seven would be back in Winnipeg.

Seattle claimed its second consecutive Western Conference title after beating Kamloops in seven games in 2022. The T-Birds lost in the WHL title series last year to the Edmonton Oil Kings.

“It’s not easy,” said T-Birds coach Matt O’Dette of winning back-to-back Western Conference Championships. “Last year, we kind of snuck up on some people. This year was different. Targets have been on our backs the whole year. I’m proud of the guys. They’ve come together and become a team. But were not done. We have to finish the job.”

Seattle, the top seed in the conference, fell behind 1-0 with just over four minutes to play in the opening period when Kamloops forward Dylan Sydor wired a shot from the right circle past T-Birds goalie Thomas Milic for his fourth goal of the playoffs.

The visitors outshot the host Blazers 13-5 in the opening frame, but continued to trail by a goal into the opening minute of the second period when Kamloops goalie Dylan Ernst flung himself from right to left across his crease to take away a sure Seattle goal.

Montreal Canadiens prospect Jared Davidson tied the game at 1-1 just shy of the five-minute mark of the middle stanza, firing home his 10th goal of the postseason to bring the T-Birds back on level terms.

“Everyone was pulling on the same rope today,” said Davidson of the team’s winning effort. “That’s the way we can play, and it showed in a big win tonight.”

The score remained static until the 5:33 mark of period three. Seattle defenceman Sawyer Mynio, who hails from Kamloops, put a puck toward the Blazers net that glanced off a defenceman and past a prone Ernst.

Veteran forward Kyle Crnkovic extended the T-Birds lead just over four minutes later, tapping in a puck at the back post following a cross-crease pass from Davidson.

Dallas Stars draftee Matthew Seminoff brought the home side back to within a goal late in the frame, but Seattle put the game out of reach shortly thereafter with an empty-net tally off the stick of Reid Schaefer.

Milic turned aside 28 shots to earn his 12th win of the 2023 WHL playoffs. Ernst made 39 saves for Kamloops.

With the victory, Seattle advances to the WHL Championship Series for the fifth time in club history (1997, 2016, 2017, 2022), having won the Ed Chynoweth Cup once, in 2017 on a team that featured Mathew Barzal, Keegan Kolesar and Ethan Bear, who each play in the NHL. That team failed to win the four-team battle for the Memorial Cup.

This will mark the first time the T-Birds and Ice have played for the league title. Seattle features 10 players drafted by the NHL while Winnipeg has nine.

WHL Championship Series

• Game 1 – Friday, May 12, Seattle at Winnipeg. 5 p.m.

• Game 2 – Saturday, May 13, Seattle at Winnipeg, 4 p.m.

• Game 3 – Tuesday, May 16, Winnipeg at Seattle, 7:05 p.m.

• Game 4 – Wednesday, May 17, Winnipeg at Seattle, 7:05 p.m.

• Game 5* – Friday, May 19, Winnipeg at Seattle, 7:05 p.m.

• Game 6* – Sunday, May 21, Seattle at Winnipeg, time TBD

• Game 7* – Monday, May 22, Seattle at Winnipeg, time TBD

* If necessary

Chris Wahl, of the Western Hockey League, and Thom Beuning, of the Seattle Thunderbirds, contributed to this article.


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