Winnipeg Ice

Thunderbirds Lead WHL Championship Series 3-1

May 18, 2023 - Western Hockey League (WHL)
Winnipeg Ice News Release

Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Guenther (Edmonton, Alta.) scored the game-winning goal 7:47 into the third period, sending a one-timer to the back of the net for his 16th goal of the 2023 WHL Playoffs to give the Seattle Thunderbirds a 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg ICE and a three games to one series lead in the WHL Championship Series presented by Nutrien.

"A go-ahead goal in the third period, that was a huge goal for us," said Matt O'Dette, Head Coach of the Thunderbirds. "Our bench was pretty fired up after that. I thought our play in the third was pretty stable the rest of the way. But that was a monster goal. That was a very hard-fought game. Tight-checking, close game, not a lot of margin for error. I'm happy with the way our team finished the game. We had a good third period, we needed it. We buckled down and found a way to win the game."

The two teams went back and forth from start to finish Wednesday evening, as the Thunderbirds looked to take control of the series, while the ICE aimed to even the affair.

The first period saw Ottawa Senators prospect Carson Latimer (Surrey, B.C.) continue to exert his influence on the proceedings, recording his fourth goal of the post-season at the 16:25 mark. Busting in from centre ice, Latimer outhustled Thunderbirds defenceman Jeremy Hanzel (Coquitlam, B.C.), beating him to a loose puck and chipping it over the shoulder of 2023 NHL Draft prospect Thomas Milic (Coquitlam, B.C.) for a 1-0 Winnipeg lead.

"These guys are a great team and you have to expect a response after every game," Milic said. "They did that right away, they had a good start, but we had a good start as well. I think that's one of my strengths as a goaltender - being mentally strong and having a short memory, regardless of what's happening during the game."

Before the first period could expire, Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kevin Korchinski (Saskatoon, Sask.) evened the score. Taking a pass from Calgary Flames prospect Lucas Ciona (Edmonton, Alta.), Korchinski sent a wrister through ICE goaltender Daniel Hauser (Chestermere, Alta.) to make it a 1-1 game with 16.3 seconds to go in the first period.

2023 NHL Draft prospect Gracyn Sawchyn (Grande Prairie, Alta.) put the Thunderbirds ahead for the first time in Game 4. With the Winnipeg ICE down a man, Sawchyn converted on the power play, registering his third goal of the 2023 WHL Playoffs to put Seattle in front 2-1 early in the second period. A heavy shot from the point courtesy of Hanzel ricocheted off the end boards right to Sawchyn, who was all but happy to slam it home at the side of the net.

Sawchyn was the only skater on either side to finish with a multipoint performance in Game 4. He added a secondary assist on Korchinski's first-period marker. The 18-year-old also led the Thunderbirds in the faceoff circle, successful on 60 per cent of his faceoff attempts (9/15).

The ICE clawed back midway through the second period. Defenceman Ben Zloty (Calgary, Alta.) fought off a check just inside the Seattle blueline, maintaining possession and the offensive zone, before sending a shot in on net. A rebound off Thunderbirds goaltender Thomas Milic (Coquitlam, B.C.) landed right on the stick of Evan Friesen (Winnipeg, Man.), who deposited it into the open net behind Milic making it a 2-2 game 8:33 into the second period.

Moments later, the ICE nearly made it a 3-2 game. A scramble atop the crease saw a point-blank opportunity land on the stick of Arizona Coyotes prospect Conor Geekie (Strathclair, Man.) who wasted no time sending a shot in on net. But, despite being seemingly down and out, Milic kicked out the left toe and managed to get a piece of the puck, just enough to redirect it over the gaping cage with 7:13 to go in the second period.

The third period brought with it the rocket off the stick of Guenther, who showed off his NHL-calibre release 7:47 in. A bang-bang play featuring two quick passes from Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop (Edmonton, Alta.) to fellow Nashville Predators prospect Reid Schaefer (Spruce Grove, Alta.) to Guenther resulted in a laser of a one-timer off the stick of the former Edmonton Oil King, and Guenther made it 3-2 for Seattle.

On the following shift, Hauser responded with a game-saving stop. After making an initial breakaway save, Hauser found himself swimming on his back. Desperation prevailed as the WHL Goaltender of the Year finalist stretched out with the paddle of his stick to reject a glorious opportunity for the Thunderbirds, keeping Winnipeg within striking distance.

With 7:27 to go in the third period, Milic - the 2023 WHL Goaltender of the Year - took care of business in his own end, stopping a one-time opportunity from Ottawa Senators prospect Zack Ostapchuk (St. Albert, Alta.) in tight to preserve the 3-2 lead for Seattle.

2023 NHL Draft prospect Nico Myatovic (Prince George, B.C.) sealed the outcome with an empty-net goal with 7.4 seconds remaining in the third period.

"A bit of a heart-breaking loss," said James Patrick, Head Coach of the ICE. "We played more like we have to play. The game was there. We had chances when it was 2-2, even when they went ahead we had chances and we weren't able to get the go-ahead [goal] or [game-tying goal]. We have to focus on the process. We can't think about the what-ifs. We just have to focus on playing the game the right way. We cleaned up a lot of our game from [Game 3]. There's still some little areas that need improvement. We'll focus on playing the best game possible and we'll worry about the result when it's all said and done."

Milic was once again key to victory for Seattle, earning second-star honours and turning aside 31 of 33 shots sent his way to earn his 15th win of the 2023 WHL Playoffs. At the other end, Hauser was also outstanding, named the third star of the game thanks to 33 stops on 36 shots.

The Thunderbirds host Game Five Friday night, (8:30pm CT on CFRW 1290 AM Radio / 9:05pm CT on TSN) An ICE victory brings the series back inside Canada Life Centre for Game Six Sunday night at 7:00.

Notes: Wednesday's loss represents the first time all season the Winnipeg ICE have lost three consecutive games ... For the first time in the 2023 WHL Championship Series, Winnipeg Jets prospect Brad Lambert (Lahti, Finland) was held off the scoresheet ... The Thunderbirds finished the game 1-for-5 on the power play ... The ICE went 0-for-3 with the man advantage ... Seattle owned a narrow edge in the faceoff circle, winning 50.8 per cent of the draws (32/63) ... Buffalo Sabres prospect Matthew Savoie (St. Albert, Alta.) was the top faceoff man between both Clubs, winning 61.1 per cent of his draws (11/18) ...

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