Hot on ice: Barzal, T-Birds face Prince George in WHL playoffs

It's been an exciting run for Seattle Thunderbirds center Mathew Barzal.

Seattle’s Mathew Barzal prepares to take a penalty shot during the Thunderbirds’ 4-1 win against Spokane at the ShoWare Center on March 15. Barzal converted and the T-Birds went on to clinch the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division title.

Seattle’s Mathew Barzal prepares to take a penalty shot during the Thunderbirds’ 4-1 win against Spokane at the ShoWare Center on March 15. Barzal converted and the T-Birds went on to clinch the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division title.

It's been an exciting run for Seattle Thunderbirds center Mathew Barzal.

The New York Islanders took the 18-year-old Coquitlam, British Columbia, native in the first round of the NHL draft last June and invited the young prospect to the team's training camp.

But right now, Barzal's personal success is in the back of his mind, as he and his teammates prepare for the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs. The T-Birds, winners of 17 of their last 19 games, face Prince George at 7:35 p.m. Friday in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at the ShoWare Center. Game 2 is 7:05 p.m. Saturday, also on Kent ice.

“We are just super excited to get the playoffs going,” Barzal said. “It is going to be a real fun ride.”

The T-Birds (45-23-4-0) finished the regular season with a 4-1 win over the Portland Winterhawks on Sunday. In addition to securing home advantage in the playoffs, the T-Birds won the U.S. Division for the first time since 2005 and had the second most regular-season wins in franchise history.

Barzal and the T-Birds, who posted a league-best 29-5-2-0 home record, second-best in team history, welcome the ShoWare stage.

“The fans have been great this year,” said Barzal, who finished the season with 27 goals and 61 assists for 88 points, tied for 11th best in WHL scoring. “It is great we get to play in front of them first. I think they are going to be real excited.”

Barzal started playing hockey when he was 4 years old.

“My dad played hockey so he always wanted to get me on skates young and get me going,” Barzal said. “I love the game. Ever since I was that age, I have had a passion for it and just really like working at it and getting better.”

He doesn't know where he'll be playing next year, but said he'll be happy as long as he gets to play.

“Of course, playing in the NHL would be a dream of mine,” he said. “That would be my goal but there's no shame in coming back to the WHL as a 19-year old. I think we could have a really strong team next year as well.”

Barzal said he was grateful to be drafted by the Islanders and attend training camp.

“They put on a great camp,” he said. “I learned from some of the top players in the NHL like John Tavares. I learned a lot and was able to grow as a player.”

Barzal is in his third season with the T-Birds.

“When they drafted me at 15, I didn't really know how it was going to be or how it was going to go,” he said. “Honestly, it has been great. I have met so many great guys and grown so much as a player.”

General Manager Russ Farwell said Barzal has brought talent and excitement to the organization.

“We have other guys that are drafted and signed (by the NHL) but Matt has kind of been the centerpiece in the last to two years,” Farwell said. “He draws the most attention and has us a real starting presence. He is an exciting guy to watch.”

Farwell said he hopes the momentum Barzal and his teammates have will carry the team through the playoffs.

“The way the guys finished the year and how we played the last 15 games was really encouraging,” he said. “I think everyone is excited to going into the playoffs.”

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WHL PLAYOFF GLANCE: T-BIRDS VS. COUGARS

Best-of-seven, first-round series

Game 1 – Prince George at Seattle, Friday, March 25, 7:35 p.m.
Game 2 – Prince George at Seattle, Saturday, March 26, 7:05 p.m.
Game 3 – Seattle at Prince George, Tuesday, March 29, 7 p.m.
Game 4 – Seattle at Prince George, Wednesday, March 30, 7 p.m.
Game 5 – Prince George at Seattle, Friday, April 1, 7:35 p.m.*
Game 6 – Seattle at Prince George, Sunday, April 3, 7 p.m.*
Game 7 – Prince George at Seattle, Tuesday, April 5, 7:05 p.m.*

* if necessary

Single-game playoff tickets are on sale on seattlethunderbirds.com and at the ShoWare Center box office. The box office is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday game days at noon.


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