(1090 The Fan) — One of the bright spots for Seattle over its recent winning stretch (nine victories in the last 10 games), has been rookie Ryan Gropp.
Gropp, 17, whom we highlighted earlier this season as a young player, has overcome some early-season injuries to really show progression in his debut season in the Western Hockey League.
He has played very well for the T-Birds of late, stepping up in absence of key forwards like Mathew Barzal, Roberts Lipsbergs, Jaimen Yakubowski and Branden Troock. Through Sunday’s win over Kelowna, Gropp has scored 12 goals and doled out 14 assists, giving the forward 26 points in 38 games.
Due to the absence of the aforementioned forwards, Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk has had to adjust his lines and give players like Gropp a larger role. So far, Gropp has thrived.
He’s continued to carry a bigger role even as the T-Birds have gotten healthier recently. Now playing on a line alongside Barzal and Justin Hickman, Gropp seems to have found a comfort zone.
“I’m getting more comfortable with each game,” said Gropp. “I think that when we had all those injuries, it opened up a lot of opportunity for different guys and I thought I responded well with that.”
His coach has noticed.
“Gropp has steadily gotten better and better…It should be a pretty dangerous line for us going forward,” added T-Birds head coach Steve Konowalchuk.
Penalty Kill Strong For Seattle Over Weekend
Another key component of the Thunderbirds’ successful run has been the team’s special teams play.
In the three game stretch from Friday to Sunday, Seattle faced two of its U.S. Division rivals, plus the top hockey team in the league. All told, Seattle held Tri-City, Everett and Kelowna to 1-for-11 on the power play.
A major part of that has been Seattle’s new force in net, goaltender Taran Kozun. After Sunday’s 4-1 win over Kelowna, the newest T-Bird improved to 6-0 as Seattle’s starting goalie.
Kozun, 19, pinpoints the defense as the key to his success.
“They’re getting all the pucks out, they’re blocking tons of shots in front of me,” Kozun said. “It’s making my job really easy. I just got to make the saves when they get through.”
Shea Theodore, 18, who has been leading the Seattle’s defense all season long, agreed.
“I just think we have been playing really strong and we’ve been focusing a lot on video, shooting lanes, stick lanes and just getting clears,” said Theodore. “When we do that every kill, it’s a big positive.
“We’re just playing good defensive hockey.”
-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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