Thursday, October 12, 2017

What the Blazes? A Giant Win

In an early season schedule with very few games, Seattle got a taste of what's to come when they played three games in four nights this past week.  Despite a stumble at home in the first game, the T-birds came out of the week with a pair of wins and four points.

The ten spot allowed to Portland in the loss last Saturday is concerning but not as much as you'd think since the Winterhawks have been scoring at will against most of their opponents. It's not just a Seattle thing.  Seattle did not play well though, especially after an early Zack Andrusiak goal put then on top.
Portland's game is up tempo, push the pace, run and gun hockey.  For it to work they have to have puck possession.  To minimize it, you have to eliminate turnovers.  Way too many Seattle turnovers in that game.  The T-birds still scored five goals and that should be enough to win most nights.  This was not one of those nights.  In their two games against Portland, Seattle has allowed 17 goals against.  In their other five games, they've only allowed 11.

The T-birds didn't get the best goaltending in that loss either. But both Matt Berlin and Liam Hughes bounced back with solid efforts in Seattle's two wins.  Berlin made 32 saves Sunday in Kamloops, in a 4-3 win over the Blazers, and Hughes earned his first win as a Thunderbird on Tuesday with a 33 save effort (plus two more in the shootout), in a 3-2 win over Vancouver at the accesso ShoWare Center.

Seattle is getting solid early season play from their special teams.  The power play is clicking at just under 31 percent on 8-for-26 success.  The T-birds have been shorthanded 30 times in the first seven games but have only surrendered seven goals and two of those were scored while the opposition was skating 5-on-3.  

The T-birds got down to the 20 year old roster limit by placing Tyler Adams on long term injured reserve.  Adams needed hip surgery and has gone back home to Regina where he'll face a long recovery. By not releasing him Seattle could bring him back at some point later this season, although I'm not sure whether this type of surgery will allow Adams to play again at this level. 

Seattle GM Russ Farwell has made many under-the-radar trades over the last five or six seasons.  Taran Kozun comes to mind, but the Kozun deal still cost Seattle two players and two fourth round draft picks.  Meanwhile, Adams only cost Seattle a prospect, Mckenzie White.  Adams addition seemed to settle down the Thunderbirds when he came over last December. He became a multi-purpose tool as the T-birds were able to use him up and down their top four lines.  The ability to plug him in anywhere in the lineup when other players were out was a key to Seattle's run to the championship.

You don't want to toot a rookie's horn too loudly so early in the season.  You wouldn't want them to start reading their press clippings and begin thinking they've got it all figured out.  I don't think Dillon Hamaliuk is the type of player who would let praise go to his head.  At least for now it appears he's found a spot on the T-birds second line with Noah Philp and Matthew Wedman.  First and foremost, he works hard at both ends of the ice.  He's strong on the boards and in the past couple of games has shown a knack for being around the front of the net when pucks are there.  His game still has a lot of developing left but he's on the right track.  Along with another rookie, defenseman Jake Lee, Hammer leads the team with a +3 rating.

The good news for Hamaliuk is that, while this is his 17 year old season, he is a late birthday and thus not eligible for the NHL draft until the spring of 2019.  This means he still has two seasons to impress the scouts, instead of one.

My T-bird Three Stars for the week:

Third Star:  Defenseman Jarrett Tyszka.  The Montreal Canadiens prospect
 had four assists in three games and is currently riding a five game point streak.  He has taken on a bigger role this season on the Seattle power play and that is one reason it is currently top five in the WHL.

2nd Star:  RW Sami Moilanen.  Four goals in the three games and now has eight on the season to lead the team.  In fact, as of Thursday his eight goals tied him with three other players for second most in the WHL.  The native of Finland looks very comfortable out there at the start of his second season in North America.

First Star:  C/W Noah Philp.  Snake bitten in the first few games of the season with his new team, he's come on lately and picked up five points (2g, 3a).  Listed as a center by trade, he is playing wing on the second line with Wedman the pivot.  He, Weds and Hamaliuk have created some very good, early season chemistry. Facing defeat, his shootout goal against Vancouver Tuesday pushed the T-birds fortunes around.  Had he missed, Seattle would have lost.  By scoring, he gave Andrusiak, and Hughes, a chance to win it.



Sunday, October 1, 2017

One and One Equals Two

In their first multiple game weekend of the season the Thunderbirds earned a split, winning at home Friday and falling on the road Saturday, thus earning two points and leaving the month of September with a 2-1-0-0 record.

There were equal parts good and not so good elements in both games.  Friday, in their 5-1 win over Prince George at the accesso ShoWare Center, the T-birds had a solid start and 25 minute into the game had built a four goal lead.  As so often happens in a game you dominate on the scoreboard early, players start getting away from the structure of their game plan and start looking for individual reward. This got Seattle into trouble with turnovers and penalties.  It almost allowed the Cougars back into the game.  Seattle survived and earned a 5-1 win.  Hopefully a lesson learned by the young team going forward.  A similar scenario against a stronger team might result in a different outcome.

Saturday down in Portland the Thunderbirds compete level kept them in the game well into the third period before a few negative elements of their game caught up with them.  A postive?  Surprisingly, while deploying an entirely new top unit from a year ago, the T-birds power play has been solid in the early going and provided them with both goals against the Winterhawks. 

One negative?  Puck management, especially on breakouts.  Seattle just turned the puck over too often in all three zones on the ice.  Part of that was due to Portland's aggressive nature.  They employ a very good forecheck and use speed and quickness to create an in-your-face style to get Seattle off pucks.  This is all the more reason then for the T-birds to pay attention to the small details that go into puck management.

The effort was there from Seattle but effort does not always equal execution.  There was a need for the T-birds to make better passes and a better job of carrying the puck out of the defensive zone.  It's not the amount of shots on goal by Portland that will be worrisome to the coaching staff, it will be the amount of extra puck possession time given to the Winterhawks by the lack of consistent puck management by Seattle.

These are some of the growing pains this team will go through with their young forward group.  Its a need to be more consistent from shift to shift.  It's no surprise that Seattle's first and second lines, their older lines, were more consistent with the puck in both games. The bottom six forwards, the young first and second year players, are getting their on the job training. The goal?  To be better tomorrow then they were today, to be better at the end of the season then they are at the beginning.

One young forward whose game I liked this weekend was Dillon Hamaliuk.  Hammer actually caught my eye at the start of last season too when, as a 16 year old, he played in 17 regular season games and recorded his first WHL goal before being sent down when all the older players like Ryan Gropp, Mat Barzal and Keegan Kolesar returned.  He did come back up and play in two postseason games, including the Chynoweth Cup clinching Game Six in Regina.

Listed at 6'3" and 182 lbs, the Leduc, Alberta native may still be filling out his frame but he is already a physical presence.  He's a strong battler along the boards and seems well on his way to becoming a prototypical WHL power forward.  In fact, Seattle has a number of young players who seem to fit that same physical mode.  The T-birds currently have nine rookies on the roster, either 16 or 17 years old, who average 6'2" and 189 lbs. and they are still growing.  They offer lots of promise.  Of course size means nothing without the skill and that is the task before these players, to develop their game to best utilize that size.

I have no problem with the third period Turner Ottenbreit hit on Joachim Blichfeld being called a penalty. Bang-bang play and in real time you have to give the official the right to make that call as he sees it.  I don't believe it was a check to the head though.  Interference was probably the more proper call as it looks like the puck is past both players at the point of contact.  But after seeing the replay from two different camera shots, Ottenbreit never leaves his skates, tucks his right arm into his body and delivers a shoulder to shoulder check.

The pass up ice put Blichfeld in a vulnerable position.  He's reaching for the puck with his head down.  Ottenbreit's job is to separate the player from the puck and prevent him from entering the defensive zone cleanly.  It's a timing play and Otto's timing may have been off by a mere fraction of a second. Is it a dirty play?  No.  Is it an intent to injure play?  No.  It's a hockey play.  To not make the hit would be asking Ottenbreit to give Blichfeld a potential breakaway opportunity.  Does Ottenbreit play the game on the edge?  Yes, but so do most of those who play this game.  The WHL, and hockey in general for that matter, would like to get those high hits out of the game.  Player safety should be paramount but its a contact sport and the hit delivered by Otto is taught throughout the game.

What isn't up for debate is the response by Portland's Alex Overhardt.  In the heat of the moment he races up ice to deliver a two-handed baseball bat-like swinging slash to the back of Ottenbreit's knees.  This is not a hockey play.  This is a play with one purpose, intent to injure.  Suspend Ottenbreit because you deem him a repeat offender?  Fine, but Overhardt deserves a suspension as well.  A crime of passion is still a crime. Do I think Overhardt is a dirty player?  No, he got caught up in the heat of the moment and tried to deliver frontier justice.  But the league needs to come down hard on his actions otherwise, they are condoning it. You can't complain about the Ottenbreit hit then look past Overhardt's actions.  That would be the height of hypocrisy.

My T-birds three stars for September:

Third Star:  Goalie Matt Berlin.  Carl Stankowski injured?  Call the Wall.  All Berlin does with Stankowski on the sideline is win games or earn Seattle points in the standings.  He's now 9-2-2-0 in his T-birds career which isn't yet one year old.  That includes 2-0 and 64 saves on 68 shots to begin the new season.

Second Star:  RW Sami Moilanen.  The Sipoo, Finland native is off to a strong start in his second season, scoring four goals in three games, including a hat trick in Friday's win over PG.  What sometimes gets lost in his offensive numbers is his ability to play a complete 200-foot game and be a strong penalty killer. He's a definite candidate to represent Finland this winter at the World Junior Championships.

First Star:  Defenseman Austin Strand. Through three games he's Seattle's top scorer, averaging two points per game with six points (2g, 4a) and a +3 rating.  At least early on he's filling the void on the power play created by the departure of Ethan Bear.  His second power play goal Saturday in Portland was WHL Plays of the Week worthy.




Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rise Into the Night

Any way you slice it, this opening night was one for the ages.  Not four months but forty years in the making.  If you were going to put on a show for the old fans, the new fans, the hockey aficionados and the hockey novices, the old owners and the soon-to-be-new-owners, this was it.

It had a little bit of everything starting with a red carpet arrival on a gloriously sunny early fall day.  Their was the obligatory video montage recap of the run to the Championship along with the traditional introduction of the entire roster and coaching staff.  This all helped to get the sold out building fired up, as if any firing up was needed for the 6,000+ who were ready to burst.  But there was so much more before that final horn sounded on the first of 72 games this season.

There was the return of recently "retired" assistant coach Tyler Alos to carry the Chynoweth Cup onto the ice.  A terrific choice.  Alos, a former player as well, who had been with the team through some of the franchise's darker days, who then helped oversee their climb to glory.  A perfect bridge from past to present.  What a sight to see him walk through the darkness of the Zamboni gate through fog and laser lights and onto the ice with the Cup.

Then came,what most fans, especially the long suffering fans, had waited for.  The raising of not one, but two banners for a second straight home opener.  First, the franchise's third Western Conference Championship banner, the second in as many years.  A little appetizer before the main course.  Like the other two, a banner made up of a white background with T-birds-blue print to proudly proclaim their 2016-17 conference victory.

It was followed in sheer contrast by the franchise's first ever WHL Championship banner.  The dark blue background, with white lettering, setting it apart, as it should be, from the other banners in the accesso ShoWare Center rafters.  With a spotlight shining on it front and back, it slowly rose up into the night. And as it inched higher and higher the voices of the raucous, sellout crowd rose with it.  On the big screen the in-house camera panned the players standing at center ice and you could almost see the adrenalin pumping into their veins.

That might have been enough for most, but there was still the game to be played.  A night like this deserved a Hollywood ending.  It would have been hard to write a better conclusion to this night then to have it punctuated in the way Seattle won so many games a season ago, on their journey to the top of the WHL mountain; a comeback win.

It was Star Wars-esque in the way it played out and, at least on this night, the Tri-City Americans were more then willing to play the part of the Evil Empire to Seattle's rogue band of rebels.  The heavily armed Americans, ranked 7th in the CHL Top Ten preseason poll, delivered the first blow on a 5-on-3 power play. It was much like the Death Star destruction of Alderaan with thousands of voices silenced.  The T-birds, undeterred, gamely fought back to take a lead with a pair of markers midway through the first, thanks to a couple Tie Figher Pilots, Andruskiak and Moilanen, veterans of the Clone Wars, also known as the WHL Playoffs.  Late in the first period though, Tri-City would pierce the bow of the Millennium Falcon and tie it back up.

In the second period, just when it looked like Seattle was ready to reclaim the lead the shot instead hit the deflector shields.  No only did the Dark Side fend off the attack but they caught the T-birds with a flesh wound, scoring shorthanded.  The Americans were back up, 3-2.  Now it was the Rebel Alliance's turn and Han Solo, in the guise of Elijah Brown, slipped through the forest of Endor and answered back for Seattle to tie the game at three as the two sides headed into the Mos Eisley spaceport cantina for a rest up ahead of the final battle of Good versus Evil.

The third period began.  As the Death Star rounded the planet, ready to destroy the rebel base, a young Jedi named Jake Lee summoned the Force, most assuredly from his missing mentor Turner Ottenbreit, and with computer systems off, unleashed a perfect strike into an exhaust porthole only two meters wide.  It was like shooting womp rats back home in his T-16.

In the end the Empire was licking their wounds. We know they were beaten but not defeated and will come back for another battle of two. But the rebels too, showed they will not disappear into a galaxy far, far away.









Friday, September 22, 2017

Whirlwind Offseason Complete

Has there ever been a four month period in Seattle Thunderbirds history like the one the franchise has just experienced?   It started last May with the team winning their first ever WHL Championship and concluded this week, on the eve of a brand new season no less, with the team announcing the franchise has been sold, pending approval by the City of Kent and the WHL Board of Governors.

In between, the team saw head coach Steve Konowalchuk exit in June, taking a position as an assistant coach with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks.  In July assistant coach Matt O'Dette was named as Konowalchuk's replacement.  At the same time it was announced that assistant coach Tyler Alos was leaving the organization to pursue an opportunity outside hockey.

That prompted the hiring of two new assistants, Kyle Hagel and Castan Sommer to join O'Dette on the Seattle bench.  There was the usual offseason activity such as the trade of Anthony Bishop to Victoria for Blake Bargar and the signing of the team's top three picks from the spring Bantam Draft.  Then came the injury to Carl Stankowski at camp with Canada's U-18 team that will keep the T-birds goalie on the shelf until November.  Just before training camp head scout Dan McLean accepted a job with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and Mark Romas was chosen as his successor.

Even the building the T-birds play in got an updated name, now known as the accesso ShoWare Center.  There were a couple more minor trades that brought Noah Philp and Liam Hughes to the organization.   Last week it was announced the Thunderbirds would be honored down in Olympia by Governor Jay Inslee for their 2017 Chynoweth Cup win and Thursday Turner Ottenbreit was announced as this season's team captain.

But the T-birds saved the biggest news for last.  A little over 24 hours from raising their Championship banner, they announced the tentative sale of the team to Dan Leckelt and Lindsey Leckelt, Co-CEO’s of Silent-Aire, a company, which according to the team's website engineers and manufactures custom HVAC solutions for data centers, institutions and industrial facilities with over 50 schools alone in Washington State utilizing Silent-Aire equipment. Silent-Aire also engineers and manufactures equipment for the world’s largest hyper scale data center companies.  The company has bases in Seattle, Edmonton, Phoenix, Virginia and Ireland.

The prospective owners aren't hockey neophytes either.  Both played minor and pro hockey and are owners of the Stony Plain Eagles Senior AAA hockey team as well as the Spruce Grove Jr. A Saints.

If approved, it will mark the first ownership change in club history in nearly two decades.  In the early 2000's Russ Farwell, Colin Campbell and their group purchased the club from Bill Yuill.  They then built it into a profitable, championship caliber, Major Junior franchise in the WHL's biggest market.  That's not an easy task considering the other options in the region vying for the sporting public's dollar.  They worked with the City of Kent to cultivate a partnership after moving into the ShowWare Center in 2009.   They essentially turned over a good chunk of their fanbase from their KeyArena days.   They've embraced their new community and region and the community has embraced them back.

If the sale is approved, both Farwell and Campbell will stay on in their roles as General Manager and Assistant General Manager and continue to help oversee what they have built.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Net Gain

With presumptive starter Carl Stankowski on the shelf with injury until late October/early November, Thunderbirds General Manager Russ Farwell swung a deal for goaltender Liam Hughes.  Farwell sent a 2019 fourth round Bantam pick to the Edmonton Oil Kings in exchange for the 18 year old netminder.

Hughes, a native of Kelowna, B.C. played in seven games last season for Edmonton, posting a record of 1-4-2-0 with a 3.26 GAA and a save percentage of .895.  He went 0-1 in two preseason games this September. 

Hughes was selected in the seventh round of the 2014 Bantam draft.  Hughes will most likely compete with Matt Berlin for ice time until Stankowski is healthy enough to return.  I would surmise T-birds brass wants to see young 16 year old Cole Schwebius get more seasoning, as well as more ice time, possibly with a Junior A team, although it is possible Seattle could start the season with three goalies on the roster and keep Schwebius for a week or two.

The addition of Hughes now gives Seattle four signed goaltenders in their system.  As short as three weeks ago the T-birds only had two and one, Stankowski, was injured.  Schwebius, a 2016 10th round Bantam selection signed just before the start of the preseason.  While his preseason numbers aren't stellar, he competed well and looks like he will be part of the future in goal.

By dealing for the 18 year old Hughes, Seattle didn't have to pay too steep a price, surrendering just the 2019 fourth round pick.  While there are a few free agent 20 year old goalies, such as Cody Porter and Mario Petit, looking for roster spots in the WHL, acquiring one would have cost Seattle one of their current 20 year olds in either Donovan Neuls, Tyler Adams, Turner Ottenbreit or Austin Strand. That would have been a steep price to pay for essentially two months of service.   As it is the T-birds will have to trim or trade one of those from their roster at or before the 20 year old cutdown date.  I'm sure they didn't want to have to depart with two of that group.

Meanwhile Hughes, at age 18 still has three years of WHL eligibility left.

  

Friday, August 25, 2017

Starting Over

Now that the rookie prospects portion of training camp is complete, it is time to turn the attention onto main camp and the job of building the 2017-18 Thunderbirds roster.  The biggest task?  Finding a way to replace over 350 points now gone from last season's championship club.

Seattle has a strength to build around.  They return five of their top six defenseman from the team that captured the Chynoweth Cup.  Of course, that one defenseman not returning won't be so easy to replace.  Ethan Bear is the reigning WHL Defenseman of the Year, was an integral part of the T-birds very successful power play and was one of the top scoring defenseman in the league each of the past two seasons.  Those will be big skates to fill.

Still, the team returns a good mix of veterans and young and up and comers in their blue line crew.  They are led by a pair of 20 year olds in Turner Ottenbreit and Austin Strand along with 19 year old Aaron Hyman.  Returning for his third season with the club is 18 year Montreal Canadians draft pick Jarret Tyszka while fellow 18 year old Reese Harsch enters his second year with the team after a solid rookie campaign.  

To fill the spot vacated by Bear the T-birds will use a combination of 2016 first round bantam pick Jake Lee and 17 year old Tyson Terretta.  While those two are officially entering their rookie seasons, both actually made their WHL debuts last year.  In fact Lee not only made his regular season debut with the team last season but also played in two playoff games as a 15 year old, twice taking the ice in the Western Conference Final versus Kelowna.

With the five players returning and the two rookies, Seattle essentially ices a group of defenseman with the same average age of the group that led them to the WHL title last spring.

Goaltending should be in good hands with 17 year old Carl Stankowski, who played every minute of Seattle's WHL playoff run, and 19 year old Matt Berlin. The unknown is the situation with an injury Stankowski suffered this summer while training with Canada's U-18 team.

The biggest question mark for the T-birds will be the forward group.  Look, no team is going to replace the likes of Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp, Scott Easnor, Keegan Kolesar and Alexander True in one offseason.  Those are five players expected to play this coming season in either the NHL or AHL.  Those five were a once-in-a-generation group that, along with Bear, led this team to their first ever WHL championship.  Still, it took two to three seasons to develop their chemistry and reality says it will take a few seasons to develop the next generation of T-bird forwards.

They should have a solid top line centered by 20 year old Donovan Neuls, flanked on the wings by fourth year player Nolan Volcan and 18 year old Finnish import Sami Moilanen.  What the T-birds need to do is cobble together a second, third and fourth line from a group of youngster led by 18 year old center Matthew Wedman and 2015 first round bantam pick Elijah Brown.

First year head coach Matt O'Dette and his new look coaching staff of Kyle Hagel and Castan Sommer, will be looking for returning players such as Zack Andrusiak, Luke Ormsby and Ian Briscoe, along with newly acquired Blake Bargar, to take the next step in their development while infusing the lineup with a number of rookies such as Dillon Hamaliuk,Tyler Carpendale, Holden Katzalay, Russian import Nakita Malukhin and 16 year old Cody Savey.  The good news?  All but Malukhin and Katzalay have had a taste of the WHL.

I would also expect the team to keep a couple more untested 16-year old forwards, depending on which ones sign.  Two potential candidates are 2016 draftees Eric Fawkes and Nakodan Greyeyes.  I also wouldn't be surprised to see the team make a September trade for an 18 or 19 year old forward with WHL experience.  I'm not saying it will happen, because it all depends on cost in terms of draft capital and prospects, but should such a player become available I would expect General Manager Russ Farwell to at least kick the tires.

The team also has a decision to make on winger Tyler Adams who played a prominent role the second half of last season after being acquired from Swift Current in December.  Adams is one of four 20 year olds in camp fighting for three roster spots.  If Adams is retained, one of Neuls, Ottenbreit or Strand would have to be traded or released.  It may come down to which three of that foursome have the most value to this year's team as opposed to which of the four garners the most return in a trade.  This is a decision that probably won't be decided until the mid-October 20 year old cut down date.

One more thought as we embark on main camp and, next weekend, the preseason.  This will be my 17th season broadcasting Thunderbirds hockey.  Over that span I've seen firsthand the cyclical nature of the WHL.  Players come and players go as they push through in hopes of developing into pros.  Heck, the 20 year old players on the roster my first season with the club back in 2001, are now in their mid-30s.  When I began, my son was a one year old.  He's now entering his senior year of high school.  During that span a few hundred players have worn the Thunderbirds jersey, some for as many as five seasons and some maybe for as little as five games.

It has started to hit me though, how special this last group that just passed through, truly was. That I  won't see Barzal out there on the ShoWare Center ice to fire that last puck during pregame warmups.  I won't hear Kolesar's full-of-confidence, bellowing voice chirping someone, rookie, vet, it didn't matter, from the back of the bus or that, try as I might, I've missed my chance to turn Eansor away from the Denver Broncos and into a Seahawks fan.  There won't be any smiling, laid back "how's it goin'" greeting from Gropper any more as I walk down the hallway back near the locker room in search of a player interview and no more True lurking tall over everyone as he taped his stick outside the equipment room, his game face seemingly always on.

But what really made me think about this most recent passing of the torch was the noticeable absence of the dozen or so Bear jerseys and the many Bear family members who annually seemed to descend upon the ShoWare Center for the start of training camp these past five years.  It seems like only yesterday those six players arrived on the scene and blazed a trail to a championship and now, they're gone.

Man, I miss those guys already.



Friday, August 4, 2017

Helping Hands

As we get closer to the start of training camp and a new hockey season, the Thunderbirds have completed their new look coaching staff for 2017-18.   There are just two holdovers from the staff that brought the franchise its first ever WHL Championship.  Matt O'Dette is back, albeit in a new position, being elevated from assistant coach to head coach with the departure of Steve Konowalchuk to the NHL's Anaheim Ducks. Ian Gordon remains as the team's goaltending coach.

Gone, along with Konowalchuk, is Tyler Alos.  After four seasons as a T-birds player and four more as a T-birds assistant, Alos has taken a full-time job outside of hockey, although he will keep a toe in the water, I mean on the ice, by taking a part-time coaching position with the Wenatchee Wild of the BCHL. 

I do want to take a moment to thank Tyler.  Both in his playing days and his time as an assistant coach he was always available for an interview.  I particularly appreciate him coming on our post-game show the past four seasons after home games, especially after a loss.  He never made excuses or ducked tough questions.  He was well spoken, both on and off mic.  He never missed a chance to praise an unsung player for putting in hard work and doing the little things that made a difference in a game.  It was enjoyable to watch his transition from player to coach and to see his evolution as an assistant coach as he took on more responsibility each season. He did this while taking advantage of the WHL's education program, attending college classes (even if they were through WSU, go Dawgs!).  He was integral to the success this team had the last four years and he will be missed.

With O'Dette elevated to head coach and Alos leaving the organization, the T-birds spent the summer seeking two replacements. In early July Seattle hired Kyle Hagel to take over as the primary assistant coach, basically filling the role O'Dette occupied the past four seasons.  Hagel comes to the T-birds after a nine year playing career, primarily in the AHL, including one season as a teammate of O'Dette's in Fresno.

This week the T-birds completed the coaching hires with the addition of Castan Sommer, who will take over the Alos role.  LIke Hagel, Sommer joins Seattle directly from the playing ranks, having spent last season with Kallinge/Ronneby, a Division 1 team in Sweden.  The year before that he was with the ECHL's Manchester Monarchs.

While the 32 year old Hagel is new to the coaching game, Sommer, who turns 26 in late October, has some experience in that department having served as a skating coach at the San Jose Sharks Development Camp in 2016.  Both of the new assistants also played four seasons of college hockey.  Hagel, a native of Hamilton, Ontario attended Princeton while Sommer, a Shrewsbury, Massachusetts native matriculated at Holy Cross.

The Thunderbirds also made one player move this past week.  General Manager Russ Farwell sent 19 year old defenseman Anthony Bishop to the Victoria Royals in exchange for 19 year old right winger Blake Bargar.  The deal allows Bishop to play his natural position back on the blue line. In his only season with Seattle, Bishop split time between defense and forward but probably skated more as a forward. 

Playing on the wing, Bishop was getting ice time so he didn't complain and in the end, it got his name on the Chynoweth Cup.  His preference though, is to be a defenseman and I'm sure that's how the Royals plan to use him.  In Kent, it may have been difficult for him to crack the top six defensemen this coming season with five veterans returning (Turner Ottenbreit, Austin Strand, Jarret Tyszka, Aaron Hyman and Reese Harsch) plus at least two highly regarded rookies (Jake Lee and Tyson Terretta) needing ice time as well.

In return, Seattle gets the Californian, Bargar.  I'm just theorizing here but it is my guess that Bargar gets a role similar to what the T-birds envisioned for Tyler Adams when they acquired Adams at the trade deadline last season from Swift Current; an older forward to play on the third or fourth line and protect some of the younger players.  Of course, because of injuries, Adams seldom played that role with the Thunderbirds, often playing on the first or second line.  While Adams made the most of it, knock on wood that isn't the case again this season with Bargar in that role.  It would mean the T-birds once again are dealing with injuries to top end players.

So, less then a month before players begin reporting for training camp, the T-birds new look coaching staff is in place.  Despite the 90-plus degree temperatures of early August, the ice is now back in at the Accesso ShoWare Center.  It's just about time to get down to the business of hockey.