PHOTO: Wenatchee Wild goaltender Daniel Hauser battles to cover the puck in front of the Wild net in the first period. The Seattle Thunderbirds used a goal with 33 seconds left to seal a 3-2 win over Wenatchee in Western Hockey League play Saturday. (Photo courtesy: Russ Alman/Wenatchee Wild)

Austin Draude Wenatchee Wild Media Relations & Broadcast Manager

Saturday’s Western Hockey League matchup between the Wenatchee Wild and Seattle Thunderbirds may have been only two games into Wenatchee’s inaugural WHL season, but the rematch between last year’s league finalists had a certain playoff feel to it. Scoring chances were hard-fought, a raucous crowd of more than 3,300 ramped up the energy inside Town Toyota Center from start to finish, and a last-minute goal gave the contest a dramatic ending.

That goal from Sam Popowich put the Thunderbirds in front with 33 seconds to go, sealing a 3-2 victory for a team making its 2023-24 debut after the Wild opened their own season with a 6-5 victory over the Portland Winterhawks the previous night.

Coster Dunn opened the scoring on a Seattle power play at the 13-minute mark, rolling one in under Daniel Hauser to put the Thunderbirds in front first. When the teams switched ends at the start of the second period, though, Wenatchee gave the goal judge some extra work, starting with Miles Cooper’s tying goal at the 1:23 mark. Oscar Lovsin collected a rolling puck in the slot, feeding Cooper at the post for a tap-in to even the game at 1-1.

The Wild took the lead with 9:12 left in the period, as Evan Friesen threaded a stretch pass to Briley Wood, who raced in and rolled the puck past Spencer Michnik for a 2-1 Wenatchee advantage.

The Thunderbirds flipped the ice again in the third, when Breyden Cootes tossed in a loose puck from just outside the goal crease with 2:19 off the clock. The teams battled for the lead until the final 33 seconds, when Popowich sealed the game with a goal on a 3-on-2 entry into the Wild zone.

“It was a fun, entertaining game against last year’s champs that came down to each team having a great chance to score in the last minute of the game,” said Wild head coach Kevin Constantine. “It’s disappointing to lose, but I’m not disappointed in the effort.”

Michnik made 28 saves to collect the win for Seattle, while Hauser took the loss with 33 saves of his own. The Thunderbirds opened their season with a 1-for-4 mark on the power play, while killing off both Wenatchee power plays along the way.

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After opening the season with a pair of home games, Wenatchee embarks on its longest road trip of the season, playing eight games in seven arenas before returning home on October 20. First up on the road swing is a visit to the Everett Silvertips on Friday night, with the opening puck drop scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Live coverage is available on Newsradio 560 KPQ and WHL Live.

Wenatchee’s return to home ice brings the Vancouver Giants in for the team’s Wild About Awareness Non-Profit Night on Friday, October 20th.


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