The Thunderbirds face Kelowna starting Friday night to open a best-of-7 series.
A young Turner Ottenbreit stared longingly at the classroom computer his teacher had allowed him to watch for incoming results from the Western Hockey League’s annual Bantam-level draft.
One by one, players were drafted ahead of the lanky defenseman from the small Saskatchewan town of Yorkton, to where Ottenbreit, then 14, was brooding by the time his mother picked him up for a dental appointment. Upon returning home, a miserable, griping Ottenbreit flipped another computer on one last time — and saw his name chosen 261st overall by the Saskatoon Blades out of a possible 262 picks.
“It’s obviously a pretty cool feeling and you’re excited,’’ said Ottenbreit, 19, who launched into celebration mode and forgot the prior snubs. “I kind of knew what was going on and knew where I was picked, but I didn’t let it sink in. I didn’t think about it too much.’’
Seattle vs. Kelowna
Game 1: Friday, 7:35 p.m., ShoWare Center, Kent
Game 2: Saturday, 7:05 p.m., ShoWare Center, Kent
Game 3: Tuesday, 7:05 p.m., Prospera Place, Kelowna, B.C.
Game 4: Wednesday, 7:05 p.m., Prospera Place, Kelowna, B.C.
Game 5*: April 28, 7:35 p.m., ShoWare Center, Kent
Game 6*: April 30, 5:05 p.m., Prospera Place, Kelowna, B.C.
Game 7*: May 2, 7:05 p.m., ShoWare Center, Kent
Fast-forward five years, and the top-line Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman is no longer anybody’s second-to-last-choice. Paired with longtime Saskatchewan pal and NHL prospect Ethan Bear, Ottenbreit has helped the Thunderbirds advance to a third-round WHL playoff matchup against the Kelowna Rockets that opens Friday night at the ShoWare Center in Kent.
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The Thunderbirds’ depth has been evident throughout an 8-0 run in two playoff rounds against Tri-City and Everett. For every NHL draftee like Bear, there’s an unheralded Ottenbreit clawing his way to first-line recognition as the T-birds attempt to reach the WHL finals for a second straight year.
Interestingly enough, the player taken first overall in that Bantam draft back in 2012 was current Thunderbirds star center and New York Islanders prospect Mathew Barzal. And when the puck drops Friday, the near-bookend picks will be out there in the same starting five together.
“I’ve obviously gotten bigger and stronger,’’ the 6-foot-3, 192-pound Ottenbreit said of what WHL scouts might have initially missed. “Obviously, as you get older, things come. But just my defensive game.”
When both were 7, Ottenbreit’s dad, Grant, coached a regional “spring team’’ of the area’s best players, and he and Bear — who lived 65 miles away in the town of Ochapowace — played together on it.
Ottenbreit’s father was a commanding presence in Yorkton, where he played Junior A and set the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s all-time career…