Sunday, 14 May 2017

Thunderbirds WHL title dream comes True

Seattle wins first league crown in team history with OT thriller

Mathew Barzal, centre, gives a cheer after the Thunderbirds OT win.
    REGINA – Alexander True came up true in the biggest moment in the history of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    On Sunday night before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators at the Brandt Centre in Regina, True’s Thunderbirds were locked in a 3-3 tie in overtime with the host Pats and were looking to close out the WHL Championship series with a Game 6 victory.
    At the 12:36 mark of the extra session, the 19-year-old import centre from Copenhagen, Denmark, broke down the right wing, fired a shot on Pats netminder Tyler Brown, followed the rebound and popped home the WHL championship winning goal.
    True’s marker gave the Thunderbirds a 4-3 victory in game, a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven series and the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champions. The win marks the first time the Thunderbirds have claimed the WHL title in team history. The Thunderbirds date back to 1977, when the club was formed as the Seattle Breakers.
Alexander True (#16) fires home the WHL championship winning goal.
    “Unbelievable feeling. It is just really special,” said True, who said the OT winner was the biggest goal in his hockey career. “I don’t really know what to say.
    “I didn’t think much. I just wanted get the puck on net. Luckily, I got the rebound and saw the net was pretty open.”
    The Pats held a 1-0 lead after the first period, but the Thunderbirds pulled even at 1-1 scoring the lone tally in the second. Regina shot out to a 3-1 lead in the third period, but Seattle replied with two markers late in the frame to force overtime.
    Feisty Thunderbirds right-winger Keegan Kolesar wired home a one-time feed from star defenceman Ethan Bear on the power play for the equalizer with 2:54 remaining in the third.
Alexander True celebrates his OT winner.
    “We’re a team that doesn’t give up,” said Bear, who had a pair of assists and was a plus-two in the plus-minus department in Sunday’s win. “We’re going to have to keep doing that moving forward.
    “Through all the adversities and injuries, a lot of guys stepped up. We really, really earned this, and it feels amazing.”
    Bear, who has a signed NHL entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers, had over 100 family and friends in attendance from his home stomping grounds in Saskatchewan’s Ochapowace First Nation. The 19-year-old big time appreciated his backers.
    “It is amazing to look at all my family and all my friends,” said Bear. “I am not the only guy from (Saskatchewan), so I bet they (his Saskatchewan teammates on the Thunderbirds) feel the same.
    “It couldn’t be any better.”
    Bear, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 205 pounds, said he draws motivation from his friends and family in Ochapowace.
    “They supported me a lot,” said Bear. “Everywhere I went, they all supported me no matter what I did.
    “That really helps me push myself to get a little bit further. Hearing and seeing all the crowd we had, you know it felt like home ice. Without them, I don’t think we could have done it.”
Seattle RW Keegan Kolesar (#28) tries to slip past Regina D Connor Hobbs.
    Sami Moilanen and Ryan Gropp both netted singles for the Thunderbirds. Sam Steel, Josh Mahura and Austin Wagner all netted singles for the Pats.
    For a moment, it looked Wagner was going to have a storybook type game. With the contest locked in a 1-1 draw, Wagner was nailed with a high hit in the open ice by Thunderbirds 19-year-old defenceman Turner Ottenbreit.
    Wagner, who had been battling bum shoulder in the playoffs, laid on the ice for a few moments before being helped to the dressing room. Ottenbreit was given a major penalty for charging, and that infraction will trigger an automatic review by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
    After missing the rest of the second period, Wagner returned for the third. The speedy winger got in alone on Thunderbirds netminder Carl Stankowski and netted his 16th goal of the post-season to give the Pats a 3-1 edge with 6:48 to play in the frame.
Thunderbirds defenceman Ethan Bear holds up the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Bear said his Thunderbirds expected the Pats to be resilient. The Pats topped the WHL’s regular season standings with a 52-12-7-1 record and were rated first in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings released on March 22.
    In the second round of the playoffs, the Pats trailed the Swift Current Broncos 3-1 in a best-of-seven series and rallied for a 4-3 series win. In the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series, the Pats trailed that best-of-seven set 2-1 to the Lethbridge Hurricanes and rallied for a 4-2 victory.
    “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Bear. “Right from the get go, they were a team that every time they were down in a series they came back and won.
    “We knew that. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so we just stuck to it. It feels amazing.”
    Stankowski made 28 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Thunderbirds. Brown was sensational turning away 39 shots to take the loss in goal for the Pats.
Austin Wagner (#27) celebrates his goal that gave the Pats a 3-1 lead.
    Thunderbirds star centre Mathew Barzal was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs.
    The Coquitlam, B.C., product missed the first round of the post-season due to illness, but he returned to piled up seven goals, 18 assists and a plus-eight rating in 16 playoff contests.
    The Thunderbirds will make their first appearance at the four-team Memorial Cup tournament for the first time since they hosted the event in 1992, when they lost out in a semifinal contest. The other three teams at this year’s Memorial Cup are the Ontario Hockey League champion Erie Otters, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Saint John Sea Dogs and the host Windsor Spitfires.
    The Memorial Cup begins Friday and runs through to Sunday, May 28 in Windsor, Ont.
    The Pats were making their first appearance in the WHL Championship series since 1984 and will host the Memorial Cup next year.
    After losing last year’s WHL Championship series in five games to the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Thunderbirds returned 14 skaters this season and had to survive missing key players to injuries and illness over extended stretches. Stankowski, who is in his 16-year-old season, played every minute in the post-season in goal for Seattle after star overage netminder Rylan Toth sat out with a lower body injury.
Seattle C Matthew Wedman (#21) is stopped by Regina G Tyler Brown.
    During the regular season, the Thunderbirds posted the WHL’s fourth best overall record at 46-20-4-2. In the WHL playoffs, Seattle rolled off a 16-4 mark.
    Thunderbirds long time veteran general manager, part owner and WHL legend Russ Farwell stood off to the side watching his players, coaches and staff enjoy the moment. Before he ever joined the Thunderbirds, Farwell was the general manager and architect of the Medicine Hat Tigers league and Memorial Cup championship teams in 1987 and 1988.
    After the 1988 Memorial Cup title win, he joined the Thunderbirds for his first stint as general manager, which ended with a departure to the NHL ranks in 1990. Farwell has continuously been with the Thunderbirds since getting back involved with the team in 1995.
    He wanted to savour this first personal league title win in 29 years.
The Thunderbirds get set for the team picture with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    “You appreciate it a little more I think the longer you have been doing it,” said Farwell. “This is a special group of guys.
    “It is a bigger challenge in the U.S. to build that kind of team. This year this group has really, really battled through a lot of things. It is the funniest year I have ever had right down to Carl (Stankowski) having to step in for us in goal.
    “They’ve just overcome so many things.”
    Farwell said he would always remember this league title win.
    “They are all big, but this is special certainly for our group, our scouts and everyone there in Seattle,” said Farwell. “It has been a long, long time coming.
    “We worked at it. We had a run last year. It is really special to get there and see these guys get there.”

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