Seattle Thunderbirds goalie Thomas Milic hopes to have the last laugh when his team takes on the Quebec Remparts in the Memorial Cup championship game on Sunday afternoon. Saturday, Milic fell short of winning the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) goaltender of the year award. That went to one of the other three finalists Nathan Darveau of the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Although it stands outside the perimeters of official league play for the QMJHL, Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League, the World Junior Championship is a huge fortnight on the CHL calendar. Milic backstopping Team Canada to a Gold Medal obviously didn’t play a part in the voting. In fact, the two main goaltending awards in that competition went to a Slovak and a Czech.
Milic would prefer the wins. After claiming the WHL title, the Seattle Thunderbirds are one victory away from the major junior hockey mountaintop in a fitting locale, Kamloops, British Columbia. The mountains and foothills of the Thompson River Valley looked down upon the CHL Awards ceremony on Saturday.
Silvertip Turned Blazer
Everett Silvertips fans will always fondly remember the career of top defenseman Olen Zellweger, who left western Washington for central British Columbia in a trade this season to help Kamloops with their Memorial Cup push as hosts. The fond memories of his first three-and-a-half seasons of junior hockey in Everett are mutual.
“Kind of grew up there and developed into the player I am now,” Zellweger said after accepting the 2023 CHL Defenseman of the Year Award. “i just know we had a lot of good teams there. Although the one year was cut short by Covid, we were really close to the US Division championship with Portland the year before that, one win away, and then the Covid year we were really good with the US Division championship and last year we won the western conference, so we had a lot of great teams and a good winning culture there.”
After 28 points in 23 games for what eventually amounted to a .500 Silvertips hockey team this past season season, the 19-year-old lefty was moved to the Blazers where he piled up 52 more points in 32 games. The change was a challenge on a lot of levels, but one Zellweger chalks up to life experience.
“It was emotional too,” he added. “I played a lot of hockey there, had a great relationships with teammates, billets, coaching staff. It turned out to be a great thing here too, we had a great opportunity with a great team and I learned a ton this season that I’ll be able to take with me to the next level. It’s part of the journey and being traded was a really good thing for my development.”
Former Silvertip Olen Zellweger was the CHL Defenseman of the Year.
No surprise at all, but for the first time in CHL history, a player swept the Top Scorer award, Top Prospect Award, and the CHL Player of the Year Award went to one player, Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats. The North Vancouver, BC native is a lock to go 1st-overall to the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Draft later this month in Nashville, Tennessee.
Bedard didn’t play against Seattle this season. He hadn’t made it back yet from the WJC tournament when the Pats lost to the Thunderbirds on January 6th.
Seattle’s Biggest Game Approaches
The Quebec Remparts went through a full skate Saturday morning in preparation for the Memorial Cup final on Sunday afternoon while the Seattle Thunderbirds took it easy with just a brief media availability.
Makes sense in both cases as the Quebec League champs will have had four days off from game action before the puck drops while Seattle played Friday night in winning the semi-final over the Peterborough Petes.
That fact might show up in the early going. How long will it take for the Remparts to find their legs and rhythm again? Which team will be looser?
The other questions don’t change from any other championship situation with the main focus being on goaltending and special teams. That’ll be Seattle’s Milic against Quebec’s William Rousseau, who was pulled in his last start at the 3:37 of the 3rd period after giving up the 4th goal to the Petes in the 4-2 round robin loss on Tuesday.
That’s the last time Quebec played.
Puck drop is a little after 4 pm at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops on Sunday.