Winnipeggers come up big for T-birds
It was late in Game 7 of the WHLs Western Conference final Tuesday night and Ryan Gottfried was doing what he does best protecting a lead for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Seattle was leading Kamloops 3-1 and the host Blazers had just pulled their goaltender in favour of an extra attacker with three minutes left in the third period.
When he was done, Gottfried and his blue-line partner Tyrel Bauer, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick, had helped Seattle survive a desperate final push by the Blazers for a 3-2 victory.
As a reward, the T-birds earned a trip to the league final against the powerful Edmonton Oil Kings.
I came off for a little bit maybe 20, 30 seconds but those three minutes almost felt like 10 minutes, said Gottfried by phone as the Thunderbirds packed their bus Wednesday morning for a nine-hour trip to Edmonton. It went by pretty slowly.
We were up by two at that point and we were pretty calm with our defence and our goaltending and then we did let one in with about six seconds left but we were pretty confident that we had it in the bag.
Seattle general manager Bil La Forge said Gottfried, a 6-4, 210-pound Winnipegger, and the 6-3, 208-pound Bauer have been integral to the clubs success through series wins over the Kelowna Rockets (in five games), Portland Winterhawks (in seven) and Kamloops.
Ryans been great, said La Forge. He was on the shut-down pair with Ty Bauer, playing between 20 and 25 minutes a night. Theres nothing really fancy about his game but he is a big heavy 20-year-old who commands attention out there. Hes just really, really solid.
Late in the regular season, Gottfried sustained a broken ankle bone and missed the clubs final 11 regular-season games and the first two games of the conference quarter-final before returning to the lineup. He appears to be rounding into shape.
If were up a goal and we need some defence, Im usually out there playing a little bit more, said Gottfried. Im a shut-down D, but (it changes) from game to game. Its kind of whatever the team needs. On the injury side, it hasnt really been affected me too much at all. Ive been able to kind of just push through it…
I just needed some time to recover and it did recover pretty nicely.
The undrafted Gottfried and Bauer got a crucial assignment in Games 3 through 7 of the Western final when they were matched up with Blazers scoring ace Logan Stankoven, who was held to three assists in the final four games of the series.
The Thunderbirds are also getting a major playoff contribution from Winnipegger Conner Roulette.
The 19-year-old left-winger, chosen in the fourth round of the 2021 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars, has three goals and 15 points in 19 post-season games.
Hes played really well, said La Forge. Hes playing both ends of the rink. I bug him, I call him Selke all the time. I call him that because hes always paying a lot of attention to the back-checking, making sure hes the high guy (in the defensive zone) and where hes supposed to be.
Hes done some really good things that way. His effort level is great. His compete levels good. Hes been really good for us.
Seattle are certain to be severely tested in the final.
Not only is Edmonton a heavy favourite, but the Oil Kings are also scheduled to have home ice at Rogers Place for Games 1 and 2, on Friday and Sunday, and if necessary, Games 5, 6 and 7.
The Thunderbirds are home for Games 3 and 4 but had to cede Game 5 to the Oil Kings because the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash., is booked for another event.
Theyre a good team, said La Forge of the Oil Kings. Theyve got a lot of high-end potential and big time prospects so itll be fun. Were looking forward to measuring ourselves against them.