Former Seattle Thunderbirds captain Mathew Barzal was in town Tuesday with the New York Islanders, his first competitive matchup in Washington state in five years since Game 5 of the 2017 Western Hockey League championship series.
Barzal helped lead the Thunderbirds to their first WHL championship, beating the Regina Pats in six games on an overtime winner by current Kraken farmhand Alexander True. And Barzal picked up right where he left off a half-decade ago scoring-wise, collecting an assist Tuesday night early in the game.
As Barzal noted during his pregame media availability, this isn’t exactly a true homecoming for him since the Thunderbirds play home games in Kent.
But he was looking forward to it nonetheless.
“It’s cool coming back here,” he said. “I think people sometimes don’t know the full story. The Seattle Thunderbirds where I played was probably 25 minutes out of the city. So, we came down here every once in a while. But aside from that, it’s just cool being back in an area where I know that … there’s probably going to be a lot of Thunderbirds fans.”
Barzal texted with his former Thunderbirds assistant coach, Matt O’Dette, who now has the head coaching job.
“I think the whole Seattle Thunderbirds team is coming and all the staff,” Barzal said. “Honestly, it’s just awesome to be back. It’s just that feeling you get when you have history in a certain spot.”
Barzal said that due to COVID-19 and border crossing issues, he really doesn’t know how much family and friends will attend the game from his native British Columbia.
He said he was impressed by Climate Pledge Arena, adding the seating and several features reminded him of the Islanders’ new UBS Arena home — which was also built by Tim Leiweke and his Oak View Group. Kraken winger Jordan Eberle, who played with Barzal in New York for several seasons, had been talking up Climate Pledge to him ahead of time, particularly the glass wall of windows in the arena’s north end.
“It’s kind of a Seattle highlight I guess, with all the light coming in,” he said. “It kind of makes it a little bit outdoorsy with the big window there and people can see through.”
Asked whether he could recall a “defining moment” from his Thunderbirds teams, he not surprisingly singled out the championship victory.
“There was definitely this euphoric feeling that I got and we got as a team,” he said. “I really felt like we worked so hard for four years. And to accomplish that in my 19-year-old year … a bunch my good friends and teammates that year we came up at 16 and 17 and 18 and won it at 19 so it was certainly rewarding.”
Hakstol looking ‘big picture’
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said he prefers taking a “big picture” approach when gauging the performance of his goaltenders. Though he’ll also look at segments of games and even nightly performances, he said he wants to put the ”entire season” in perspective before forming any conclusions.
And that season continues to evolve, with both Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger appearing more consistent of late than they had earlier this season. The Kraken nonetheless still entered Tuesday’s game last in the NHL in team save percentage at .877, with Grubauer at .887 in 38 outings, Driedger at .893 in his 15 appearances and Joey Daccord at .858 in four contests.
Driedger gave up four goals on 46 shots against Vancouver on Monday night in his first action in a week since coming on against the Toronto Maple Leafs in relief of Grubauer. And though he allowed at least a goal, maybe two, he’d have liked to have back Driedger did make some key stops to keep the Kraken in it.
“Honestly, it’s a little easier when you have a lot of action,” he said of the barrage of shot faced. “It keeps you staying with it.”
On the heels of Grubauer stopping 35 of 37 shots against Calgary the prior game, the Kraken are hoping some of their early struggles are now past. Hakstol said the goaltenders feeling comfortable with the tendencies of defenders in front of them should no longer be an issue.
“Goaltending, without a doubt, it’s a position that draws a spotlight,” Hakstol said. “It’s very important. We need to rely on those guys. But everybody else has to do their job in front of them at the exact same time.”
Granato pleased with women’s hockey
New Canucks assistant GM Cammi Granato had a front-row seat to her new team beating her former Kraken one Monday. Granato was asked about the controversy surrounding women’s hockey at the Olympics, with some suggesting it should be pulled from the Games due to a lack of competition from countries beyond Canada and the U.S.
“I think sometimes the negative noise on Twitter gets the most clicks,” she said. “The people start clicking on it, clicking on it, clicking on it. And then everybody’s talking about it but yet it’s only a small group of people.”
Granato noted, as have others, that Olympic sports such as basketball and table tennis have also long been dominated by a small group of countries. She added that the women’s game overall has evolved well beyond when she played back in the 1990s and 2000s.
“The skill and the skating, I noticed that immediately,” she said.
She added that participation levels have exploded globally but it will take time for some nations to catch up.
“Until all those countries can get the same infrastructure as the U.S. and Canada have, it’s going to take a little longer,” she said.
But she noted that the Czech Republic had been tied with the U.S. in the third period of their quarterfinal game, meaning the gap might be closer than some think.
“That’s a victory,” she said. “That other (criticism) stuff, it doesn’t carry much weight for me. The growth I’ve seen with just the sheer numbers playing throughout the world, the opportunities for girls, it’s just growing. But it’s going to take time.”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.