While the Kraken couldn’t quite go the distance this year, it seems the team has instilled something in the whole of King County and King County-affiliated hockey with that playoff run, because not only did the Firebirds just wrap up their Pacific Division win over Calgary, the local junior team just won the WHL!
How they did it:
Early Bird (and round) sweeps
The reality of the WHL, and junior hockey in general, is that the first round, and sometimes the second round, is a weeding out process. You rarely see the teams that put money and effort into recruting get bounced unceremoniously; and when they are it becomes a headline. For the first two rounds, that was very true of their first two opponents, the Kelowna Rockets and the Prince George Cougars, both of whom were swept out of the playoffs quickly in 4 games each.
And they did that through…
Third Period Explosions:
The T-Birds might not have been the best starting team in the WHL, but they unquestionably turned the final 20 minutes into their personal playground; scoring the vast majority of their goals throughout the entire playoffs in the third period. It didn’t matter if they were already up or dead to rights; you had to pin them to the dirt to keep them down and make sure they never got up, because they were going to get back into it.
Of course, you only get to do that when you’ve got a star goalie playing out of his mind. I am pleased to say that their biggest strength and X-factor coming into this playoffs ended up being…
Thomas Milic standing on his head:
To play goal at any slightly high level of this game, you need to be a little nuts. To play well at goal in this game, you need to have a lack of fear that some might consider absurd. You need to be able to perform insane feats with your body in order to keep the other team out of the back of the net.
Thomas Milic did not just understand the assignment, he passed it with flying colors.
I could show you any number of crazy saves Milic pulled off, but I think the easiest way to show you what he’s been doing this playoffs is to show you his unbelievably clutch inverted kick save. In the Finals.
They made this dude out of something other than human, because Milic was unstoppable for Seattle; he led the entire playoffs in SV% with a .933 on a staggering 556 shots; the most faced by any goalie in the WHL playoffs this year. All from an undersized goalie who has been passed on in the last two drafts and has one final crack at it this year. Something Luke Prokop took a little exception to afterwards:
“It’s a note to all the NHL scouts and GMs out there. I don’t give a crap about his size. If he can stop the puck, he can stop the puck and he deservingly should get an NHL contract and he’ll be playing there in a few years.”Luke Prokop post-game, on Thomas Milic
Ron Francis once had interest it’s been said…I wonder if he takes another look?
What’s next for the T-Birds?:
The Memorial Cup, a round robin tournament played between the three CHL league winners and the host city’s team. This year, it’ll be Local…ish, to the WHL; with the Kamloops Blazers, a team Seattle already beat, getting a chance to prove themselves again as the host. As of this writing the OHL and QMJHL, the other two CHL leagues, have yet to crown their champions, though Peterborough and Quebec have leads in their respective finals. Those games begin in a mere six days.
After that? The NHL draft. Some of these guys have already had their names called. Some haven’t yet.
It’s the busiest time of the year in hockey for a reason.
But I bet these T-Birds are ready for it.