As if Western Hockey League teams don't log enough bus time, the Seattle Thunderbirds got a few extra hours on Wednesday. The T-birds were late to their game in Kamloops, B.C., when they...
As if Western Hockey League teams don’t log enough bus time, the Seattle Thunderbirds got a few extra hours on Wednesday.
The T-birds were late to their game in Kamloops, B.C., when they were stuck without moving for more than three hours on the snowy Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia. Two big rigs had jack-knifed, blocking traffic, so the T-birds sat and waited.
No one aboard the bus could get a cellphone to work as emergency crews and tow trucks scrambled to get around them.
Seattle general manager Russ Farwell finally found a trucker who had a signal and got word to Sport Mart Place in Kamloops that the T-birds were delayed.
Even though the team left Seattle at 11 a.m., it didn’t arrive in Kamloops until 8:30 p.m. The game, scheduled for 7 p.m., didn’t start until 9:14.
To make matters worse, Seattle lost to Kamloops 3-2, falling to 19-8-0-0 and out of first place in the U.S. Division behind Everett, 17-8-3-2.
Immediately after the game ended at 11:31 p.m., the T-birds grabbed a quick meal in Kamloops and returned to their bus. They kept moving over snowy roads with only brief stops in Calgary for breakfast and in Swift Current for lunch.
The T-birds will make a full stop in Regina, where they will set up headquarters to play all five East Division teams over the next nine days.
Speaking by cellphone from near Swift Current, Seattle coach Rob Sumner wasn’t quite ready to describe it as the trip from hell.
“It wasn’t the greatest, but everybody is still in good spirits,” Sumner said. “I was actually pleased the way our guys handled it and the way a lot of the team played. It was disappointing because even with all the waiting and sitting on the bus, we thought we played well enough to get at least one point and probably two.”
Sumner said his team was ready to move on.
“Nobody is pleased with what happened in Kamloops, but we’re still excited about the rest of the trip,” Sumner said. “We’re focused on our next game with Regina. We’ll try to get that one and go from there.”
The T-birds are scheduled to play in Regina on Saturday and in Brandon on Sunday. Then it’s off to Moose Jaw on Dec. 14, to Saskatoon on Dec. 15 and the trip ends in Prince Albert on Dec. 17.
The bus ride home will include even more stops with all but seven players dropped off somewhere near their homes in Canada to spend the holiday break.
Bridges absent from Team Canada list
It is the year of the goaltender in the WHL with 70 shutouts recorded already this season.
All four of the goaltenders invited to play for Team Canada in the World Junior tournament are from the WHL. One name conspicuously missing is Seattle goaltender Bryan Bridges.
The statistics from this season clearly suggest that Bridges has played better than the four selected Kevin Nastiuk of Medicine Hat, Rejean Beauchemin of Prince Albert and Jeff Glass of Kootenay.
Bridges leads the WHL in goals-against average (1.51), is tied with Nastiuk with seven shutouts and tied in save percentage with Glass among starters at 93.8 percent.
“We’ve talked about it and he’s disappointed because it would have been such a great opportunity, but he’s very focused on what he’s doing here,” Sumner said. “I’m sure he wants to continue and prove to some people that he belonged on that team.”
Polls put T-birds second
The Thunderbirds are second this week in two polls.
In a poll of NHL scouts, the T-birds are second in the entire Canadian Hockey League, behind only the London Knights who are 27-0-1-0.
The T-birds are also down a spot to second in a poll of writers who cover the league. In that poll, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, 11-0-2-0 in their last 13 games, are No. 1. Kootenay, Saskatoon and Kelowna round out the top five with Everett ranked sixth.