Prior to the Pandemic
The Thunderbirds stayed right around where they had been since winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2017, as they had just clinched a Western Conference wild card spot for the third straight campaign when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season.
The team did make one major move heading into the new season as they dealt Philadelphia Flyers draft pick and starting netminder Roddy Ross to the Regina Pats for draft picks, one of which was used on netminder Scott Ratzlaff, who was able to suit up for a game this year.
The 2020-21 campaign got off to a rocky start as two Thunderbirds forwards were released from the club for the remainder of the season after a racist taunting incident. Both players are not going to return the team and could have their rights trade elsewhere prior to next season.
On the ice, the Thunderbirds hovered around the .500 mark for most of the year, but a 3-6-1 finish to the campaign left them in third place in the U.S. Division as the Portland Winterhawks picked up seven wins in their final 10 contests to pull away in the race for second.
The offence showed a slight improvement in the shortened slate as their goals per game average jumped from 2.77 to 2.91, while the goals against per game average dropped from 3.80 to 3.56.
- Keltie Jeri-Leon (17-10-27 in 23 games)
- Vladimir Alistrov (1-3-4 in 38 games for Dinamo Minsk – 19-16-35 in 57 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2019-20)
- Henrik Rybinski (7-21-28 in 23 games)
- Cameron Berg (Unsigned 9th round pick in 2017 – 27-31-58 in 51 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks – Committed to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)
- Stanley Cooley (Prince George’s unsigned 3rd round pick in 2017 – 7-12-19 in 49 games for the Lincoln Stars – Committed to the Colorado College Tigers)
- Jared Davidson (9-10-19 in 23 games)
- Payton Mount (3-4-7 in 15 games)
- Matthew Rempe (1-4-5 in eight games – New York Rangers Draft Pick)
- Lucas Ciona (2-11-13 in 23 games)
- Sam Popowich (0-2-2 in 23 games)
- Conner Roulette (6-6-12 in 11 games)
- Mekai Sanders (1-1-2 in 23 games)
- Reid Schaefer (0-1-1 in 18 games)
- Connor Gourley (Unsigned 4th round pick in 2019 – 4-3-7 in eight games for the Camrose Kodiaks – Committed to the Arizona State Sun Devils)
- Jordan Gustafson (4-7-11 in 23 games)
- Cruz Lucius (Unsigned 8th round pick in 2019 – 6-12-18 in 26 games for the US NTDP – Committed to the Minnesota Golden Gophers)
- Gabe Ludwig (3-3-6 in 23 games)
- Nico Myatovic (3-0-3 in 12 games)
- Brayden Dube (2nd round pick in 2020 – 4-2-6 in seven games for the Parkland Under-18 Rangers – 74-56-130 in 36 games for the Parkland Under-15 Rangers)
- Sam Oremba (2-3-5 in 15 games)
The most experienced forwards on the Thunderbirds roster ended up being the pace-setters on offence as Keltie Jeri-Leon and Henrik Rybinski went back and forth for the team scoring crown all year long. While Jeri-Leon is set to age out of the league, Rybinski can come back for an overage campaign, especially since the Florida Panthers elected not to sign their fifth round pick in 2019 and put him back into the draft pool.
While New York Rangers draft pick Matthew Rempe was limited to just eight games due to an injury, there were other faces that helped Seattle find the back of the net. Jared Davidson had a career year in his third season for the team, Lucas Ciona matched his rookie point total in nearly a third of the games, 2021 NHL Draft prospect Conner Roulette was a point per game player before joining Canada’s gold-medal winning Under-18 side and 2019 first round selection Jordan Gustafson had a solid freshman campaign.
The most exciting piece for the team going forward though might be Sam Oremba. Although the seventh overall pick in last year’s WHL Bantam Draft only played in 15 games, he showed why he was the leading scorer in the Saskatchewan Under-15 ranks in 2019-20 when he put up 133 points in 31 games for his hometown Regina Monarchs.
- Ryan Gottfried (1-6-7 in 23 games)
- Cade McNelly (2-3-5 in 20 games)
- Luke Bateman (1-5-6 in 22 games)
- Tyrel Bauer (2-5-7 in 23 games – Winnipeg Jets Draft Pick)
- Samuel Knazko (Unsigned 2020 Import Draft Pick – 5-10-15 in 23 games for the TPS Under-20 team in Finland – Columbus Blue Jackets Prospect)
- Jeremy Hanzel (2-7-9 in 23 games)
- Kevin Korchinski (0-10-10 in 23 games)
- Spencer Penner (0-1-1 in 13 games)
- Sawyer Mynio (3rd round pick in 2020 – 4-19-23 in 23 games for the Yale Hockey Academy Under-15 Prep Team in 2019-20)
It’s not often that a 16-year-old ends up leading all blueliners on a team in scoring, but that was the case for the Thunderbirds this season as Saskatoon’s Kevin Korchniski joined the club that picked him 10th overall in 2019 and quickly established himself a key player.
The second leading point producer on the backend was another rookie in Jeremy Hanzel, who was a listed player that signed with Seattle last March after nearly putting up a point per game in the Under-18 ranks for the Vancouver NE Chiefs.
In what might be a scary thought for other teams in the Western Conference, Seattle’s entire blueline could come back next year. With talented youngsters and a veteran group that’s led by Winnipeg Jets draft pick Tyrel Bauer, opposing offences could face some long nights.
- Jackson Berry (4-8-1 with a 3.59 GAA, an .878 save percentage and zero shutouts)
- Thomas Milic (5-4-0 with a 2.74 GAA, a .913 save percentage and one shutout)
- Scott Ratzlaff (1-0-0 with a 2.98 GAA, an .867 save percentage and zero shutouts)
In dealing Ross to Regina, it opened the door for Thomas Milic to become the starter for the Thunderbirds this season. After putting up dazzling numbers for the Burnaby Winter Club and Canada Red at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, the 18-year-old from New Westminster, B.C. was impressive in his rookie campaign as he was a finalist for the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy and also played for Canada at the World Under-18’s.
A former prospect of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Jackson Berry took over the starting duties in Milic’s absence, while Ratzlaff also gained some in-game experience as the pair will likely be battling it out for the backup job next year.
Other than Jeri-Leon, the entire Thunderbirds lineup can return for next season, but general manager Bil La Forge is already looking to add to their roster to make them even deeper.
They already know that 2020 second round pick Brayden Dube, who some said was the best player to come out of Manitoba in last year’s draft, is joining their forward core, but they also hope to land Columbus Blue Jackets defensive prospect Samuel Knazko and American forward Gracyn Sawchyn, who was the top pick by Red Deer in last year’s U.S. Prospect Draft but is currently slated to play for the US NTDP in the fall.
One thing that will help the Thunderbirds is the number of draft picks they have at the moment. They currently own their own first, second and fourth round picks for December’s Prospect Draft, along with a second from Kelowna that was acquired in the Dillon Hamaliuk trade at the 2019 draft, a third from Everett they picked up for Zach Andrusiak at the 2019 trade deadline and a conditional fourth from Winnipeg, though that may not end up going to Seattle as forward Eric Fawkes looks likely to join the NCAA’s RPI Engineers and not join the Ice’s roster.
In terms of the 2022 draft, they currently have their own picks in the first five rounds, along with Kelowna’s first from the Hamaliuk trade, Everett’s fourth from the Andrusiak deal and Saskatoon’s fifth that was picked up in a January 2019 trade that involved Reece Harsch.
If there’s a team that’s worth keeping an eye on for the next couple of years, it’s Seattle. With established veterans and exciting young talents on the roster, they could challenge for the U.S. Division title as soon as this winter and might be in the mix for a league championship again in 2023, which is when the WHL is expected to host the Memorial Cup once again.