WHL playoff recap: the Seattle Thunderbirds are your 2016-17 WHL champions

(photo courtesy Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)

Seattle 4 @Regina 3 (Seattle wins series 4-2)

Game story:

-Patrick Marleau, Calvin Pickard, Shea Theodore, Glen Goodall, Victor Gervais, Chis Herperger… the list goes on. The Seattle Thunderbirds have a strong alumni that won many big games for their franchise. But until Sunday evening in Regina, the Thunderbirds had yet to win the WHL title and hoist the Ed Chynoweth cup. The best they had done was get to the final in 1997 and 2016, but lose out; winning a total of just one game. After coming from down 3-1 with 7:48 left, Seattle roared back and tied it before getting the overtime and series-winner off the stick of Danish import Alexander True. That goal stands as the biggest one in franchise history as it gives them their first front door entrance into the Memorial Cup. It was fitting that True score the winner as the import was often maligned in Seattle for his lack of scoring touch. That changed during this playoff run as True notched a team-high 12 goals , including seven over his last eight games. Seattle’s Mathew Barzal was named WHL playoff MVP after leading his squad to the league title a year after falling short.

At just barely 17 years old, goalie Carl Stankowski played above his years all playoff and that continued Sunday. He stopped 28 of 31 and finished the post-season with a GAA of 2.18 and a save percentage of 0.910. While Barzal was deserving of the MVP, there are some that would make a case for the rookie goalie. Tyler Brown turned away 39 of 43 in a losing effort and finished the post-season with a GAA of 2.64 and a save percentage of 0.911. Those stats took a bit of a hit in this series as Seattle found success in aiming high on Brown and creating rebounds in his crease area. He stopped 175 of 198 shots against Seattle for an 0.884 save percentage. Stankowski was better at 0.892 in the final series.

Regina opened the scoring for the fifth straight game and again it was on the power play. After Alexander True hacked down Braydon Buziak in the slot, the Pats went to work on their dangerous power play. Josh Mahura drove into the zone, drawing the Seattle defense before slipping a pass to Sam Steel in the slot. The WHL-player-of the-year drove a low shot that beat Carl Stankowski and the Pats had a 1-0 lead. Despite out shooting the Pats 10-3 in the period, the T-birds trailed 1-0 after one.

In fact it would take 21 shots on Tyler Brown, before Seattle would finally solve the Regina goalie. Scott Eansor intercepted a Mahura dump in along the right side boards and flipped a pass off the boards and to the speedy Sami Moilanen in space. Moilanen skated in on a two-on-one, beating Brown on the blocker-side 8:55 into the middle frame. The goal was the Finnish, draft eligible forward’s seventh of the post-season. Regina coach John Paddock appeared upset that interference was not called on Moilanen as he put his left arm on Mahura’s back, appearing to knock the d-man to the ice. Seattle would soon take their turn to be in disbelief as Turner Ottenbreit was given a five minute major for charging and a game misconduct for a hit he put on Austin Wagner near the blue line. Defenseman Chase Harrison had sent a pass to Wagner that the speedy winger had tipped into the zone. Just as he put his stick to the puck, Ottenbreit lined him up and checked him in the midsection. The hit laid him out but he would return in time to play on the man advantage. Ottenbreit had lined up Adam Brooks with a similar hit in game 1 and had not received any penalty. Since Wagner returned, there should not be any worry about Ottenbreit getting suspended for any Memorial Cup games. The stagnating Regina offense could not take advantage of their extended power play though and we would enter the third period tied at one.

Regina finally broke open the deadlock with a goal 11:50 into the third period. A shot from the high slot by Jeff de Wit gave Stankowski trouble and Josh Mahura jumped into the play, batting home the bouncing puck. The goal was Mahura’s eighth of the playoffs. It started to look like there would be a game 7 just 1:22 later as Austin Wagner forced a turnover by Austin Strand at the Regina blue line and burst in alone on a breakaway. He fired a quick shot past Stankowski to give his squad a 3-1 lead with just 7:48 left. The Thunderbirds would not need that long though as they showed by getting things started just 1:26 later. Ethan Bear kept the puck from getting out and after his dump i, went off a skate, Ryan Gropp collected the puck near the right face off dot. He showed incredible patience by waiting out the Regina defense and Brown, before wiring a shot over the goalie’s glove. After Harrison held Donovan Neuls away from the puck, the T-birds completed the comeback with a goal from their other star sniper on the man advantage. Bear used the threat of his one-timer at the blue lien to set up Kolesar for one of his own and the game was tied at three with 2:54 left. All told, the Thunderbirds had used under four minutes of action to take away the Pats two-goal lead.

Overtime then ensued for the third time in the series. True made history for Seattle by scoring 12:36 in. Keegan Kolesar set the goal up with a nifty flip pass near center ice, springing True in on an odd-man rush. True’s initial shot was stopped but he pounced on the rebound amid some Pats players and roofed it, winning the game, series and league.

Regina went 8/24 on the power play in the series for 33.3 percent, while Seattle went 9/27 for 33.3 percent. Both teams scored at least one goal on the man advantage in each game.

Seattle will next play Saturday, May 20th at noon PST vs. Erie, the OHL champions in the Memorial Cup.

Game 1: Seattle 2 @Regina 1(OT)

Game 2: Regina 4 Seattle 3(OT)

Game 3: Regina 3 @Seattle 2

Game 4: Seattle 6 Regina 1

Game 5: Seattle 7 Regina 4

Game 6: Seattle 4 @Regina 3(OT)

Leading scorers:

Regina: Sam Steel (10-19-29 points), Dawson Leedahl (12-12-24 points), Connor Hobbs (6-17-23 points). In the series: Josh Mahura (4-4-8 points), Steel (3-3-6 points), Leedahl (1-5-6 points).

Seattle: Keegan Kolesar (12-19-31 points), Ethan Bear (6-20-26 points), Mathew Barzal (7-18-25 points). In the series: Bear (1-9-10 points), Kolesar (3-6-9 points), Barzal (2-6-8 points), Ryan Gropp (3-5-8 points).




Brandon Rivers

Longtime Portland Winterhawks' blogger on hodgesheroes.blogspot.com. I also write for SB Nation on the for the Seattle Sin Bin at http://www.sonicsrising.com/seattle-sin-bin. Further, I have a Seattle-sports podcast over at 206sportsjocks.com Originally from the Portland area, now living in Seattle. Proud husband and Father.