The Seattle Thunderbirds are up against the brink for the first time in more than a year.
The Memorial Cup host Windsor Spitfires truly had their way with the WHL champions Sunday at the WFCU Centre, sending the Thunderbirds to the bottom of the standings while placing themselves firmly on top.
It seems the only solace to come out of Seattle’s blowout loss was the resurrection of Rylan Toth’s career.
Toth was lucky enough to make an appearance in his second straight Memorial Cup Sunday — the overage goaltender backstopped the Red Deer Rebels to a third place finish as last year’s hosts. But Toth’s season hasn’t been all that fortuitous.
While he was traded to Seattle in September to fulfill a starting role with the Thunderbirds, Toth had his season seemingly cut short by injury on March 11 — snuffing his final chance to make a run for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
The unfortunate situation provided the Thunderbirds with the feel-good story of the season, as rookie netminder Carl Stankowski stepped into the fray and flourished to lead Seattle to the first championship in a 40-year history — but that tale took a turn against the Spitfires.
Stankowski’s storybook season became a nightmare on the ice in the blink of an eye. The Spitfires took six weeks of pent up aggression out on the struggling T-Birds, chasing Stankowski from the pipes after beating him three times on just six shots to start the game.
It marks only the second time Stankowski has been pulled in his young career, but this time Seattle had a veteran waiting in the wings.
While he wasn’t perfect, Toth stopped 18 of 22 Spitfire shots after being called on for the first time in 71 days — leaving Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk in a highly unenviable position entering Tuesday’s group stage finale against the QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
Whether they go with the hot-handed rookie hoping for a rebound, or the veteran looking to close out his career on a high, the Thunderbirds must win on Tuesday in order to keep their hopes of reaching the final alive. The puck drops at 7 p.m. EDT.
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