Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Austin Strand has had an interesting career in the WHL. He has played in the Memorial Cup twice to go along with a total of 37 WHL playoff games. After winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup last year with the Thunderbirds, Strand is part of a veteran group on Seattle’s blue line that is leading the way for the T-birds, who are off to a 9-8-1-1 start.
With the loss of so many of the team’s forwards to professional hockey, Strand and his cohorts on the defense have stepped up by chipping in offensively this year. Of the team’s 60 goals, 19 have come from defensemen. Strand himself has 10, with nine coming on the power play.
“We have such a veteran group with me Otto (Turner Ottenbreit), (Jarret) Tyszka and Hymes (Aaron Hyman). Even (Reece) Harsch has been contributing quite a bit from the back end. We are all just pretty good on the blue line and with our younger forward group. We are just trying to help out,” Strand said.
Strand and Seattle’s other d-men have been given a lot of freedom to jump up into the play and make things happen. Strand appreciates the trust that Seattle Head Coach Matt O’Dette and his assistants have placed in his unit. “It’s awesome. Obviously we have to play a specific way in the d-zone, but in the o-zone they are giving us the green light to do whatever we want as long as it benefits that team and helps us get the puck in the net.”
Strand leads his team in points with 24 is just eight points back of the 32 he put up over 74 total games between Red Deer and Seattle one season ago. Coming into this year, he had just one career regular-season power play goal. He credits the increase in opportunity this year with Seattle as being a big reason why he has his nine goals on the man advantage.
“The opportunity coaches give me by putting me in that spot. Loading up my one-timer and stuff, but teams are kind of picking on it now so I have to start finding some other ways to get goals. It’s just kind of the way it’s been going so it’s kind of nice but I have to start chipping in a little more five-on-five.”
Strand has definitely enjoyed his time with Seattle, since the Red Deer Rebels traded him and a sixth-round draft pick for Brandon Schuldhaus back on Dec. 30, 2016.
“In Red Deer, I didn’t really get any opportunity with the Mem-Cup and the guys that we brought in. As soon as I came here last year, a bit of the confidence came back and with feeling comfortable with the coaching staff and what they let me do here, it helped with the confidence. I think I always had that side to my game, just with growing up playing with my bantam and midget teams.”
Strand got the chance to attend training camp with the Edmonton Oilers which provided him a glimpse at life behind the scenes in the show, which gave him some added incentive to make the jump to pro hockey after this season.
“I think working out at Crash Conditioning and a lot of pro guys work out there. I was in a group of a bunch of other guys who are 18, 19, 20 and 21-years-old. Most of the guys are in the AHL right now, so that showed me how much harder I have to work. Going to Edmonton’s camp I learned a couple things there and got a little taste for that life. It made me want it that much more. Seeing how they get treated and the things they get there.”
Watching Strand play is a real treat as the overage blue liner has really found his comfort zone. He is all over the ice, making plays and scoring big goals. If he and Seattle’s defense can continue providing goals from the back end, he could end up adding a few more big moments to what has already been an eventful WHL career.