(photo from Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)
🚨GOAL🚨 Joe Veleno gets the Dogs on the board early in the 2nd Period 1-0 Sea Dogs! pic.twitter.com/uqXkmRMIPR
— Saint John Sea Dogs (@SJSeaDogs) May 24, 2017
It was a historic season for the Seattle Thunderbirds. They tracked down and captured the elusive first WHL championship in franchise history and thus took their first front door path to the Memorial Cup. The squad was led by overage forwards Scott Eansor and Ryan Gropp and NHL-drafted and signed players: Mathew Barzal, Keegan Kolesar and Ethan Bear. Along with backup overage goalie Rylan Toth, all of those players have now likely played their last games in a Seattle uniform as they fell in a must-win game to the QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs 7-0 on Tuesday evening. The Thunderbirds were outscored by a 18-3 total overall and were chased out of the Memorial Cup, finishing last in the four team tournament. The loss and the overall poor showing in the tourney should not take away from what has been a great run by the aforementioned core group of T-birds. Barzal, Kolesar and Bear were all taken in the first 25 picks of the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft and they will forever be remembered as important cogs in a group that finally helped Seattle conquer the Western Hockey League. You will likely see jerseys with their names on the back at the ShoWare Center for years to come.
Saint John and Seattle both came out desperate Tuesday; looking for a little redemption after both being handed lopsided losses the previous two nights at the Memorial Cup. Saint John’s was a record-setting 12-5 loss to the Erie Otters on Monday evening. The 12 goals is the most any team has scored at the Memorial Cup. Thomas Chabot has the first period’s best look as he dashed in and rung a shot off the cross bar in behind Seattle goalie Carl Stankowski. Overall, the period was a tight-checking one where the two squads only combined for 14 total shots.
The Sea Dogs opened the scoring 1:14 into the second period and as was the case much of the Memorial Cup, it was off a Seattle miscue. Both Ethan Bear and Scott Eansor had chances to clear the puck, but their passes did not get out and eventually 2000-born Joe Veleno fired a low wrist shot to Seattle goalie carl Stankowski’s glove side that fooled him and found the net.
Stankowski was chased from his net in the second period after giving up four goals in 14 shots. Rylan Toth came in and stopped 11 of 14. Saint John’s Callum Booth got the shutout, stopping all 31 shots he faced. Under 13 minutes later, Eansor mishandled in the Saint John zone, leading to an odd-man the other way. Jakub Zboril circled the net and found an all-alone Chase Stewart to add some insurance at 2-0. 15 seconds after that, Matthew Highmore took advantage of Turner Ottenbreit trying to throw a big hip check and dropped a pass to an open Mathieu Joseph. The Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick filed it and Seattle was in a hole at 3-0. Spencer Smallman chased Seattle’s rookie goalie with 5:03 left in the second period after Julien Gauthier powered through Jarret Tyszka and centered a pass to the Carolina draft pick, who batted it home for the 4-0 lead. Rylan Toth came in and did not fare much better giving up Saint John’s fifth and sixth goals of the night in just his first 2:16 on the ice. First, Nathan Noel and Simon Bourque connected on a couple great passes along the right half-boards, before Bourque fired a pass to the back door for Cole Reginato. Then, a Bear pass intended for Zach Andrusiak was tipped by his teammate Scott Eansor right to Bokondji Imama. The Tampa Bay prospect quickly filed a shot and just like that it was 6-0. All told, they scored five goals in just three minutes and nine seconds. The period mercifully came to and end with no more Saint John goals, but at 6-0, Seattle’s fate seemed all but sealed. The period was likely the worst in the WHL career for Scott Eansor who has made so many great plays and scored so many great goals in his career with the T-birds. He is a fan favorite, who was likely looking forward to the tournament as a showcase of his talents, hoping for an NHL deal.
Saint John sealed the game with one more goal and it was from talented “16-year-old” Joe Veleno. He burst past the Seattle defense and tucked a shot in past Toth’s left pad. It was his second goal of the night and the final marker in Seattle’s 7-0 demise.
Seattle’s power play was so solid for them throughout the WHL playoffs at 35.8 percent overall. In the tournament, they did not convert on any of the eight chances they had on the man advantage. Saint John will move on to the semi-final on Friday evening. Their power play is 1/11, after failing to convert on their three chances Tuesday.