Saturday, 7 May 2016

Wheat Kings put Thunderbirds on ropes

Seattle’s mental toughness faces huge test in WHL finals

The Wheat Kings mob Jayce Hawryluk (#8) after his OT winner.
    BRANDON, Man. – Jayce Hawryluk potted one of those ugly overtime winners that drove a dagger through the hearts of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    With the host Brandon Wheat Kings locked in a 2-2 tie in overtime with the Thunderbirds in Game 2 of the WHL championship series on Saturday night, Hawryluk had the puck in the right corner of the Seattle zone. The Roblin, Man., product tried to hit linemate Nolan Patrick with a backdoor pass for a scoring chance. 
    Hawryluk’s pass banked off the inside of one of the pads of Thunderbirds goaltender Landon Bow and bounced into the Seattle goal 6:56 into extra time. The marker gave the Wheat Kings a 3-2 victory before 5,621 delirious onlookers at Westman Place, which seats 5,102.
Ethan Bear gave Seattle a short-lived lead.
    Brandon takes a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which moves to Seattle for Game 3 on Tuesday. The Thunderbirds aren’t dead as they also host Game 4 on Wednesday and a potential Game 5 on Friday, but they are on the ropes. Saturday’s loss has to be a tough pill to swallow, as even the winning goal scorer himself admitted he wasn’t trying to put the puck in the net with his pass attempt.
    “I was trying to hit Patrick backdoor,” said Hawryluk. “I saw him going in. It caught a fortunate bounce.”
    That positive bounce marked the second straight overtime victory for the Wheat Kings, who took Game 1 a night earlier by a similar 3-2 outcome. Brandon centre Tanner Kaspick netted the winner in the series opener, when he showed great hand-eye coordination in knocking a puck out of the air into the Seattle net.
    Seattle’s mental psyche is being tested like it never has before in the 2016 post-season. Over the first three rounds of the WHL playoffs, the Thunderbirds won 12 out of 13 games. Now, they have lost two straight overtime games in a battle for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, and they drop two contests they could have won, if they had just a couple of breaks go their way.
Jayce Hawryluk finds a way to come through for Brandon.
    On Saturday, the Thunderbirds never trailed until Hawryluk’s winner went in. Seattle led 1-0 and went up 2-1, when a point shot from defenceman Ethan Bear found the back of the Brandon goal. Donovan Neuls scored Seattle’s first marker just a minute into the second period.
    The Wheat Kings, who were swept out of last year’s WHL title series by the Kelowna Rockets, found a way to get it done, and that has ultimately made the difference so far in this year’s league title series.
    Just 81 seconds after Neuls’s goal, Patrick wired home his 12th of the post-season on a two-on-one break to tie things up at 1-1. Patrick’s goal came when the Thunderbirds were on the power play.
After Seattle went up 2-1, Wheat Kings left-winger Tyler Coulter netted the equalizer with 5:20 to play in the third to force a 2-2 score.
    Wheat Kings goaltender Jordan Papirny proved to be a Thunderbirds nemesis making 37 stops to earn the win in goal for Brandon. Bow, who had a stellar night outside of Hawryluk’s winner, turned away 36 shots to take the loss in goal for Seattle.
The Thunderbirds couldn't crash in a potential winner late in the third.
    Right now, the Wheat Kings, who have won 14 of their 18 post-season games, have to be feeling they can overcome every obstacle that comes their way. Some doubt has to be creeping in the minds of the Thunderbirds, who don’t have a whole lot of history of recent long playoff runs.
    Game 3 is a must win for the Thunderbirds. If the Thunderbirds fall, a sweep will likely be in the cards for the Wheat Kings.

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