By Thom Beuning
The Kent-based Seattle Thunderbirds defeated the Kamloops Blazers 3-2 in game seven of the Western Hockey League Western Conference Championship Series Tuesday night at the Sandman Centre in British Columbia to advance to the WHL Championship Series against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The best-of-seven series begins Friday, June 3 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
Powered by three goals from their top line, the T-Birds fought off elimination for the fifth time in the 2022 playoffs, winning the final two games of the series. They become the first team in WHL history to win two game sevens on the road in the same playoff run. The T-Birds beat the Portland Winterhawks in the previous round.
“I’m speechless,” said T-Birds head coach Matt O’Dette. “The resiliency from these players is amazing. I’m running out of adjectives to describe the character we have in that room.”
O’Dette said his players weren’t ready to go home.
“With our backs against the wall again, we found a way to get the job done,” he said.
For the sixth time in the series, Kamloops scored the game’s first goal when Fraser Minten found the back of the net at 8:34 of the first period. The Blazers came close to adding to their lead, but Seattle goalie Thomas Milic came up with two key saves moments later.
“It’s just like any other save for me,” said Milic, who turned aside 33-shots on the night. “Stay levelheaded and keep my team in it. Don’t let momentum get away from us.”
Seattle used the game’s only power play to level the score at 1-1 as Jared Davidson scored the first of his two tallies, on assists from Kevin Korchinski and Lukas Svejkovsky.
“Svej made a beautiful pass,” said Davidson, who leads the Thunderbirds in playoff scoring. “That’s kind of what we needed. We were kind of struggling a little bit on our power play, but it all came together today when we needed it.”
The T-Birds took the lead for good with a pair of second period goals. Davidson got his second, from Svejkovsky and Henrik Rybinski at 2:27. Then at 14:56 Rybinski tipped in a Jeremy Hanzel one-timer to make it 3-1. Svejkovsky earned his third assist on what turned out to be the game winning goal.
Rybinski said the goal came off a set play with Davidson winning the face off.
“Then I just tapped it back to Svej,” Rybinski said about Svejkovsky. “Their weak side winger came out to Svej, he made a great play to get it to Hanzy (Hanzel) and Hanzy ripped a one-timer. I was just trying to get my stick on it and lucky enough it went off my stick and in.”
Seattle held Kamloops at bay until the waning seconds. With their goaltender on the bench for the extra skater, the Blazers scored again. But Daylan Kuefler’s goal with seven seconds remaining was too little, too late.
O’Dette said his team played the right way with the lead.
“Some of our habits were obviously in place, making sure we were on the right side of the puck, making sure we were backchecking,” O’Dette said. “The guys just bought in. They believed, they believe in each other and that’s what you can accomplish.”
Seattle will host games three and four of the WHL Championship Series next Tuesday and Wednesday, June 7-8 at the accesso ShoWare Center. Game time both nights is 7:05 p.m. Tickets are on sale at seattlethunderbirds.com. Tickets are half price on Tuesday.
Svejkovsky returns to the championship series for the second time in his WHL career. He played in the 2019 final with the Vancouver Giants, who lost to Prince Albert in seven games.
Seattle will face a familiar foe. Former T-bird defenseman Simon Kubicek is now a member of the Oil Kings.
This is the T-Birds third appearance in the league championship series since 2016. Seattle won its only title in 2017 led by Mathew Barzal, now a member of the New York Islanders.
Edmonton, which beat Winnipeg four games to one in the Eastern Conference finals to advance, last won the title in 2014.
The championship series wasn’t played in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID-19.
After Seattle hosts games three and four, the final three games of the series are scheduled at Edmonton. The series will follow a 2-2-3 format as a result of facility conflicts due to graduations at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, according to the WHL. The three high schools in Renton booked the arena June 13 for graduations.
The potential scheduling conflict came up after the WHL extended its season by two weeks to make up games that were postponed in January due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several teams. Otherwise, the playoffs would have been done already.
WHL Championship Series
• 1: Friday, June 3: Seattle at Edmonton, 6 p.m.
• 2: Sunday, June 5: Seattle at Edmonton, 3 p.m.
• 3: Tuesday, June 7: Edmonton at Seattle, 7:05 p.m.
• 4: Wednesday, June 8: Edmonton at Seattle, 7:05 p.m.
• 5:* Saturday, June 11: Seattle at Edmonton, 6 p.m.
• 6:* Monday, June 13: Seattle at Edmonton, 6:30 p.m.
• 7:* Tuesday, June 14: Seattle at Edmonton, 6 p.m.
* If necessary
Kent Reporter reporter Steve Hunter contributed to this story.