Down their top two centers in Mathew Barzal (lower body) and Alexander True, the latter competing in the 2014 World Junior Challenge for Team Denmark, the Thunderbirds moved captain Justin Hickman to the center position on their top line.
Just as thoughts of a disastrous first-half conclusion began forming, Seattle (14-15-2-2) answered with two late goals from Donovan Neuls and Ryan Gropp to earn a 5-4 victory in front of 5,099 at the ShoWare Center.
For Seattle (13-15-2-2), the loss was its first to Portland this season and third in the last four games. The team played a much more energetic, focused and disciplined game after Friday’s 4-0 shutout loss to Tri-City.
After his poor rookie campaign, there was almost zero buzz surrounding the forward from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Two short months have changed that. The word is out, and it would be more surprising now if Kolesar weren’t a high-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Despite a late push from Keegan Kolesar, the Eastern Conference squad held on for a 5-3 road victory over Seattle. Zach Fischer provided a goal and an assist to lead Medicine Hat, while points leader Trevor Cox notched his 33rd assist, second-best in the Western Hockey League.
Friday’s victory came on the heels of a dominant 4-1 win over Spokane Sunday when the team opened a 2-0 lead. Suddenly, Seattle (12-12-2-2) has won three of its last four after losing five of six.
Seattle’s 6-foot-2 leading scorer entered Friday’s contest with 12 goals and 10 assists through 27 games. He now has 13 goals and 11 assists for a six-point advantage over the Thunderbirds’ next leading scorer.
Starting goaltender Taran Kozun provided 20 saves in his return to the Seattle (11-12-2-2) lineup, while Ryan Gropp scored two power-play goals to lead the T-Birds to a victory which helped salvage a three-game weekend.
The NHL Central Scouting department released its November Watch List for 2015 Entry Draft eligible prospects who are displaying the skills that may warrant selection. In addition to center Mathew Barzal who was given an “A” grade, Seattle forwards Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar were tagged with “B” grades. T-Birds defenseman Ethan Bear received a “C” grade.
Seattle (9-10-2-1) returns home for six of its next seven games after a 2-4 road swing through the Eastern Conference. The trip started off well enough with a 6-2 win over Prince Albert, only to end with losses in four of the final five games.