By Thom Beuning
Jeremy Hanzel scored twice and added an assist, and the Kent-based Seattle Thunderbirds are moving on to the Western Conference Championship Series of the Western Hockey League after taking down the Portland Winterhawks, 6-3, in game seven of their second round playoff series Tuesday at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
Seattle will face the Kamloops Blazers in the next round. The best-of-seven series begins Friday, May 20 at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, British Columbia. The T-Birds will play games three and four May 24-25 at the accesso ShoWare Center.
In winning the series against Portland the T-birds three times had to fight off elimination. After falling behind to the Winterhawks three games to one, Seattle won the final three games, including two on the road.
Head Coach Matt O’Dette had nothing but praise for his players.
“We’re super proud of the guys,” O’Dette said. “We know there’s character in our room and they show it time and time again.”
O’Dette said the team overcame adversity throughout the season, especially a second half beset by injuries.
“It’s prepared us for this moment, and we’ve grown from those situations, and we know we can overcome it and this series win was a prime example of that and now we’re moving on to the next challenge,” he said.
For the sixth time in the seven games against Portland, Seattle scored first. The goal came late in the first period when Nico Myatovic scored his second of the playoffs, shorthanded. He intercepted a puck from Winterhawks goalie Taylor Gauthier just outside the Portland zone.
“He was trying to put the puck up north and I thought I could get to it before their guy did,” Myatovic said. “I picked it off and was able to find the back of the net.”
O’Dette said getting the fist goal in a do or die seventh game was critical.
“It was good to get that one to kind of break our nerves a little bit and get us off on the right foot,” he said.
Seattle would score three quick goals, 2 minutes, 11 seconds apart, in the second period to build a four-goal lead. Two of them came from Hanzel, his first two of the postseason. The first goal came at 5:48 and the next at 7:20.
O’Dette said Hanzel has had a good postseason thus far and has been doing more then just scoring goals.
“He’s doing the little things well that on the outside, you may not notice,” O’Dette said. “He’s playing good hockey, blocking shots and has an offensive flair to him.”
Just 39 seconds after his second goal, Hanzel assisted on what turned out to be the game winner. The goal was scored by Lucas Ciona, his fifth of the playoffs with Conner Roulette getting an assist as well.
“We pressured them, and they turned it over,” Ciona said. “I passed it to Rou (Roulette), and he made a nice pass back and I just finished it. Luckily it was the game winner.”
Portland cut Seattle’s lead in half before the end of the second period with a pair of power play goals. But just past the midway point of the third period the T-birds pushed the lead back to three on Lukas Svejkovsky’s team leading seventh postseason marker, assisted by Henrik Rybinski at 11:51. The Winterhawks struck back with another power play goal at 14:50 but Reid Schaefer sealed the win for Seattle scoring into the empty net at 17:22.
The T-birds will host game three and four of the next round Tuesday, May 24 and Wednesday, May 25 at the accesso ShoWare Center. Game time both nights will be 7:05 p.m.
Tickets are on sale at seattlethunderbirds.com or the ShoWare Center box office, 625 W. James St.
Game three is two-for-Tuesday which means fans can buy two tickets for the price of one. Ticket prices at the discount range from $13 to $27. Prices for game 4 range from $21 to $54.
This was Seattle’s first playoff series win over Portland since 2002, another series they won in seven games with the fourth win coming on the road.
Three of Seattle’s four wins in the series against Portland were road wins and they are now 4-2 on the road in the postseason.
The last time Seattle and Kamloops met in the postseason was a first-round matchup in the spring of 2000 when the T-birds swept the Blazers in four games.
The winner of the Seattle-Kamloops series will play for the WHL Memorial Cup title against the winner of the Eastern Conference Championship Series between the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Winnipeg Ice.
WHL Western Conference
• 1 Seattle at Kamloops, Friday, May 20, 7 p.m.
• 2 Seattle at Kamloops, Saturday, May 21, 7 p.m.
• 3 Kamloops at Seattle, Tuesday, May 24, 7:05 p.m.
• 4 Kamloops at Seattle, Wednesday, May 25, 7:05 p.m.
• 5 * Seattle at Kamloops, Friday, May 27, 7 p.m.
• 6 * Kamloops at Seattle, Sunday, May 29, 5:05 p.m.
• 7 * Seattle at Kamloops, Tuesday, May 31, 7 p.m.
* If necessary