2021 Seattle Thunderbirds ready for a clean slate

 

The Seattle Thunderbirds are opening their 2021 season at home against the Spokane Chiefs on Friday, March 19.

While there will be no fans in the arena, the Thunderbirds will be looking to return to form over the season’s 24 scheduled games. Just four years removed from a WHL title, the Thunderbirds had a bit of a down season, but are poised to make a run for the top.

Last season’s final numbers

4th in the division
16th in the league
24-32-4-3 in 63 games played last season
18th in goals for with 175 and 17th in goals against with 240

Most penalty minutes last season with 889, 44 higher than the next highest team so playing a more controlled game is going to be important for the Thunderbirds to work on, especially as the season is shortened. There is not much room for mistakes.

A year of opportunity

The Seattle Thunderbirds have plenty of room for improvement following last season. They also have more than enough young talent who can make it happen. With ten rookies on their roster this season, including both goaltenders, fans have the opportunity to watch all the new names and faces shine in the US Division. With all 24 scheduled games being played solely against the rest of the US Division, the Thunderbirds are facing some of the league’s top young talent. Luckily they have some incredible returning players combined with many rookies who are eager to prove their value in the WHL.

Shape of the roster

Returning players:
Forwards: Keltie Jeri-Leon, Henrik Rybinski, Mekai Sanders, Kai Uchacz, Payton Mount, Brendan Williamson, Jared Davidson, Matthew Rempe, Conner Roulette, and Lucas Viona
Defensemen: Cade McNelly, Tyrel Bauer, Luke Bateman, and Ryan Gottfried

Rookie players:
Forwards: Jordan Gustafson, Gabe Ludwig, Sam Oremba, Sam Popowich, and Reid Schaefer
Defensemen: Jeremy Hanzel, Kevin Korchinski, and Spencer Penner
Goaltenders: Thomas Milic and Jackson Berry

Import

The Thunderbirds will not carry any import players this season, due to travel and COVID-19 restrictions that are in place. One name that fans were looking forward to seeing in the rink this season is Samuel Knazko, Seattle’s first-round pick in the 2020 import draft at 21st overall. The 18-year-old native of Slovakia has remained in Finland, playing for TPS U20 in the U20 SM-sarja league this season. Knazko was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL Entry Draft in October and served as captain of the Slovakian team at the 2021 World Junior Championship.

Off-season roster losses

Last season’s starting goaltender, Roddy Ross, was traded to the Regina Pats on April 22 of last year. Ross posted a 20-21-7 record with a .908 save percentage and a 3.17GAA. At the time, this left the Thunderbirds with Blake Lyda as their starting goaltender however, he is not returning to Seattle this season. The loss of both of last year’s netminders means that rookie, Thomas Milic, likely inherits the starting position for the season start. Owen Williams, who would have been an overage player this season is also not returning to Seattle.

Player to watch

My pick for the player to watch on this year’s Seattle Thunderbirds roster is rookie Sam Oremba. The 16-year-old Oremba was drafted by the Thunderbirds in Rd 1 #7 overall in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft last April. In 31 games with the Regina Monarchs U15 AA team last season, Oremba posted 75 goals and 58 assists for a total of 133 points. So far this season, he has added another seven goals and six assists in just seven games with the Regina Pat Canadiens U18 AAA team. He could make quite the name for himself amongst the competition in the US Division this year.

 

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