“We need lots and lots of shots on Lotz.”
That might sound like Dr. Suess, but it’s actually the sentiments of Shea Theodore, the star defenseman for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Theodore said a barrage of shots, along with rush-hour traffic in front of the net, is the best way to beat red-hot Everett Silvertips goaltender Austin Lotz.
Theodore and Lotz, gold-medal winning teammates for Team Canada at the 2013 U-18 World Champioinships in Sochi, Russia, will resume acquaintances when the Thunderbirds and Silvertips meet in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs beginning Saturday in Kent.
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The series will be historic in the sense that it’s the first time in 11 seasons that the teams, located about 45 minutes away depending on a different kind of traffic, have played in the postseason. And it could not be closer.
In the 10 meetings in the regular season, seven were decided by one goal. Two ended in overtime. Everett won five times. Seattle won five times. Each earned 11 standings points.
Seattle finished 41-25-2-4 with 88 standings points. Everett finished 39-23-7-3 with 88 standings points. Seattle earned the home-ice advantage due to the fact the Thunderbirds had more wins and only after Everett lost a shootout to Portland in the final game of the regular season.
The series will alternate between sites beginning with Saturday’s game in Kent and Sunday’s in Everett.
Theodore is a first-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks and the highest-scoring defenseman in the league with 22 goals and 79 points in 70 games.
“Our emotions will be running high,” Theodore said. “Being so close, our fans will make the trip to their barn and theirs will be coming to ours. We know how important this is to our fans.”
Lotz, an athletic goaltender known for spectacular saves, compiled a record of 31-18-3-2 in the regular season. He takes a slightly different approach.
In fact, he won’t even notice the color of the jerseys coming at him, the score, or how the series stands.
“I just focus on stopping the puck and whoever is shooting it,” Lotz said. “I concentrate on the next shot. I think most goalies are that way.”
Lotz, who is in his draft year and could see his stock soar will a stellar playoff run, will urge his teammates to keep Theodore from shooting.
“Obviously, Shea is a great player, a first-round pick and very smart,” Lotz said. “He can skate very well if you give him ice, so we have to make sure we cover him very well.”
Both Lotz, who is from St. Adolphe, Manitoba and Theodore, from Aldergrove, B.C., feel it will come down to which team works hardest. Both are preparing for a grueling, physical, seven-game series.
Theodore isn’t the only first-round pick in the series. Everett’s Mirco Mueller was selected by the San Jose Sharks with the 18th overall pick and has grown into an elite junior player.
Seattle coach Steve
Konowalchuk said a lot more than bragging rights will be decided.
“We believe in our team and know we have a tough matchup,” Konowalchuk said. “Whichever team comes out of this series has a chance to keep going.”
Everett is led by Josh Winquist, who set a season franchise record for goals with 47 and finished 10th in the league scoring race with 93 points.
The T-birds rely on more balanced scoring with Alexander Delnov second behind Theodore with 63 points and Roberts Lipsbergs leading the way with 33 goals. The T-birds also get significant contributions from rookies Mathew Barzal, a former first overall selection in the bantam draft, and first-round pick Ryan Gropp.
The T-birds got a big lift when they acquired goaltender Taran Kozun in a trade midway through the season. He compiled a 14-9-0-1 record with the T-birds.
|Thunderbirds vs. Silvertips|
|The Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips begin their Western Hockey League playoff series Saturday.|
|Game||Home team||Date, Time|
|1||Seattle||Saturday, 7:05 p.m.|
|2||Everett||Sunday, 4:05 p.m.|
|3||Seattle||Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.|
|4||Everett||March 28, 7:35 p.m.|
|5, if nec.||Seattle||March 29, 7:05 p.m.|
|6, if nec.||Everett||March 31, 7:05 p.m.|
|7, if nec.||Seattle||April 2, 7:05 p.m.|