By Anthony Dion

In the midst of Seattle’s recent roster upheaval, no transaction was more important than the return of star defenseman Shea Theodore to the Thunderbirds’ lineup. In his second game back from winning gold with Team Canada at the World Junior Challenge, Theodore delivered a goal and an assist as Seattle trumped Tri-City 4-2 Sunday to end a two-game losing streak.

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Theodore now has five points in two games since joining the T-Birds Thursday, tying him with Thomas Hickey for second place on the Thunderbirds all-time defensive scoring list with 177 points.

“Obviously, (Theodore) helps,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “As of late, we’ve been pretty solid defensively. So if we can capitalize on our power plays, it can really help us down the stretch here.”

As Konowalchuk alluded to, the power play is the one area where Theodore impacts the Thunderbirds the greatest. Coming from a star-studded Canadian junior team, Theodore brings an experienced scoring prowess as good as any at the junior level. Sunday, Theodore collected both points while leading Seattle’s (20-16-2-3) top power-play unit.

“We’re just moving the puck (well). We’re getting lots of shots through . . . I know (Millette) got a real lucky bounce, I don’t know if it went off his skate, but things are going in for us right now,” said Theodore.

It set the tone early for Seattle’s dominant effort against Tri-City. On its second chance of the game at 10:10 of the first period, Theodore slid to the right face-off circle and slapped a one-timer past Americans goaltender Evan Sarthou.

In fact, Seattle’s first two goals each came from its power play. In the second period, Theodore and Alexander True, fresh from the World Junior Challenge himself, connected to give the T-Birds a 2-0 lead at 3:51 when True tipped Theodore’s slap shot from the high slot past Sarthou.

“We’ve got two pretty good units and we’ve got some competition within them,” Konowalchuk said. “We have a nice mix of guys that can play a power play role.

“If we can keep creating chances, it will be good for us.”

From there, the Thunderbirds continued to pour it on against their U.S. Division rival in front of 3,602 at the ShoWare Center, exacting revenge from Friday’s 4-3 shootout loss. Penalties on Taylor Vickerman (high-sticking), Jordan Topping (goalie interference) and Richard Nejezschleb (slashing) kept piling up on Tri-City as the offensive statistics grew lopsided in the second period.

With nine minutes remaining, the Thunderbirds held a 34-7 shot advantage in a 3-0 game. After Cory Millette scored at 7:51 for his first goal with Seattle since being acquired from Prince Albert prior to Saturday’s Western Hockey League trading deadline, Millette added an assist in the sequence that led to Nolan Volcan’s fifth goal.

As Seattle cycled in the Americans’ zone, Millette found Kaden Elder in the slot who then whipped a pass over to Volcan near the right point. And Volcan didn’t miss.

In the third period, Tri-City awoke from its slumber for two goals, ending the shutout attempt by Seattle goaltender Taran Kozun who had 31 saves in improving to 18-11-2-3. Lucas Nickles scored at 9:50 and Nejezscleb added a late goal with less than two minutes to play.

Despite the late fade, coach Konowalchuk was pleased with his team’s performance and taking three out of four points in the mini two-game series with Tri-City (20-20-0-2).

“It was a good win,” Konowalchuk said. “It’s always tough to lose, but when you lose a game like (Friday’s) when you have it in control on the road, it’s tough. It was good to get back at it, good that our guys put it behind them and went and played.

“Three out of four points against a division team, and a good hockey team. You take that all year and you’ll be in good shape.”

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The win improved the T-Birds to 3-2-0-1 in six games against the Americans this season and within 11 points of Everett for first place in the division. The 19-year-old Theodore played a key role for a loaded Canadian junior roster against the top junior talent in the world. He returns to the Seattle lineup playing his best and ready to help lead Seattle to the top.

“The confidence is there for me right now and I feel like I’m playing good hockey,” said Theodore. “I think we have a really good team here.”

The Thunderbirds hope it propels them to the top of the U.S. Division over the next two months.

SCORING SUMMARY

First Period

1. SEA Shea Theodore (5) (Pederson, Bear), 10:10 (PP)

Second Period

2. SEA Alexander True (6) (Theodore, Eansor), 3:51 (PP)

3. SEA Cory Millette (9) (Lipsbergs) 7:51

4. SEA Nolan Volcan (5) (Elder, Millette), 13:29

Third Period

5. TC Lucas Nickles (14) (Gutierrez), 9:50

6. TC Richard Nejezschleb (13) (McCue, Gutierrez), 18:22

NOTES

Theodore trails for T-Birds defenseman Craig Channell by 10 points for the club’s all-time scoring lead . . . The T-Birds played their second game without 20-year-old forward Justin Hickman who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery this week. Hickman provided Seattle with 28 points (nine goals) in 31 games in 2014-15. He finishes his career 11th on the Thunderbirds’ franchise list with 285 games played . . . Seattle center Mathew Barzal and forward Ryan Gropp were two of 40 2015 draft-eligible prospects selected by NHL scouts to participate in the 20th annual CHL BMO Top Prospects Game in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada on January 22. It is unknown whether Barzal, currently on the mend from a fractured knee cap suffered in practice in early November, will compete. The original eight-week timetable will be reached Tuesday.

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