The Seattle Thunderbirds’ slogan this season is ‘Unleash The Thunder’; at least, that’s what it reads on the side of their bus.
On Friday night, they unleashed Kamloops native Ryan Gropp.
Gropp scored his club’s first three goals and linemate Keegan Kolesar struck 58 seconds into overtime as the Thunderbirds beat the Kamloops Blazers 4-3 at the Sandman Centre.
Kolesar’s 15th goal of the season ended this one just 58 seconds into OT. The goal came after centre Scott Eansor, who may have been Seattle’s best player in his first game back after a nine-game absence, forced a turnover at the Kamloops line.
“I think I’m like P.K. Subban and those other guys who don’t like (3-on-3 overtime),” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said
with a grimace. The Blazers (9-8-3) lost 4-3 in overtime to the visiting Kelowna Rockets on Wednesday night.
The Thunderbirds haven’t enjoyed much success in Kamloops over the past few seasons; in fact, they were 1-7-3 in their last 11 appearances here, going back to a 7-2 victory on Nov. 13, 2009.
And they came awfully close to giving this one away.
“Don’t mention it,” Gropp said. “It was crazy.”
Left-winger Collin Shirley gave the Blazers a 1-0 lead at 13:58 of the first period, taking a nifty breakaway pass from centre Garrett Pilon and going in alone to out-wait goaltender Taz Burman and flip in his 15th goal.
That set the stage for the Ryan Gropp Show, aka the second period.
Gropp, who now has 13 goals, tied the game at 1:13, beating goaltender Connor Ingram with a high wrist shot. That goal was preceded by Shirley blocking a shot and two saves from Ingram, who, once again, was terrific in a 37-save performance.
At 5:37, Gropp scored his second goal, this one on a rebound, giving Settle a 2-1 edge.
He made it 3-1 at 14:12, when he lost control of the puck and had it go in off his right skate. They went to video review on this one before ruling that Gropp hadn’t kicked the puck into the net.
“I just beat the guy through the middle,” Gropp said. “I was trying to go back to my forehand and kind of lost it.”
He also got a huge break when the two referees — Kevin Bennett and Colin Watt — chose not to penalize centre Mathew Barzal for hooking. All he did was take the stick right out of defenceman Ryan Rehill’s hands, leaving Gropp a clear path to Ingram.
“It was perfect timing so I’ll take that one, for sure,” Gropp said of the hook.
Asked about the non-call, Hay took the high road, replying: “Well . . . yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. . . . I don’t want to talk about it.”
Down 3-1 and seemingly out of it, the Blazers showed that they don’t know the definition of the word ‘quit.’ Patrik Maier, a defenceman by trade, was moved to a forward line due to injuries and he cut the deficit to 3-2 when he banged home a rebound at 3:34 of the third period.
A couple of minutes later, left-winger Matt Campese tied it, scoring off another rebound.
Maier has two goals this season; Campese has three.
“We got two goals in the third period from guys who aren’t normally in that position,” Hay said.
Gropp and Barzal, along with Kolesar, obviously have some chemistry. Barzal drew three assists, and now leads the WHL, with 28, while Kolesar had the winner and two assists. Barzal has 33 points in 18 games; Kolesar has 31 in 21.
“We are working hard,” said the 19-year-old Gropp, who has 20 points in 18 games. “We support each other on pucks down low. The big thing is to keep things simple and pucks will find a way into the back of the net.”
It was the third time in his WHL career that Gropp, a second-round selection by the New York Rangers in the NHL's 2015 draft, has scored at least three goals in a game. He struck four times in a 7-2 victory over the Chiefs in Spokane on March 20. His first hat trick came on Jan. 7, 2014, in a 9-7 victory over the Cougars in Prince George.
This one, though, was a bit more special.
“It’s alway special to play in front of friends and family,” said Gropp, who admitted to growing up watching the Blazers and dreaming of being the first star in a game in this building.
“Finally,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. We haven’t won here for a while.”
Despite the loss, there wasn’t any reason for the Blazers to hang their heads. They went toe-to-toe with Seattle (14-6-1),
one of the Western Conference’s top three teams, and didn’t come away bloodied. Kamloops also was without three of its top six or seven forwards as centre Gage Quinney joined Matt Needham and Jake Kryski on the sideline, along with defenceman Dallas Valentine.
Quinney, the team’s leading scorer, was hurt in the first period against Kelowna but finished the game. Hay said Quinney “may” play tonight against the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings.
With those players missing, Hay said, “We had a gutsy effort . . . a gutsy performance.”
The coaching staff moved Patrik Maier to a forward line and went with two 16-year-olds — Nolan Kneen and Conner McDonald — on defence. The Blazers also got a monster game from veteran defenceman Ryan Rehill.
“He knew that he had to be a real reliable guy,” Hay said of Rehill. “He was good. He took a lot of face-offs in the defensive zone early in the game when we wanted to ease the young guys in there. He showed great leadership and was really solid.
“Our goaltending was good. We got an outstanding effort from two 16-yer-olds on the back end. We got a good effort from everybody.”
They got a really big game from Pilon, who stepped in between Shirley and Deven Sideroff.
“Pilon was one of our best players,” Hay said. “Pilon is a really versatile guy. He has been a real valuable guy.”
In the end, though, it was that one Seattle line.
“We asked the payers to check like hell and I thought we did a pretty good job of that,” Hay said. “The one line is pretty talented and it was hard to contain them.”
The Thunderbirds, who have won five in a row, hustled out of Kamloops immediately after the game. They will meet the Portland Winterhawks tonight in Kent, Wash.
The Blazers, who are 6-0-3 in their last nine outings, hustled home to bed. They’ve got the Oil Kings here tonight. Edmonton lost 6-1 to the Rockets in Kelowna last night.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,656. . . . Burman finished with 24 saves. . . . Seattle was 1-for-4 on the power play; the Blazers were 0-for-4. . . . Seattle was without F Wyatt Bear, F Nolan Volcan (leg) and F Luke Osterman. . . . Game time tonight is 7 o’clock. After tonight, the Blazers won’t play at home until Dec. 1 when the Kootenay Ice comes calling.
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