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Wednesday, April 1, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Whl / T-Bird Notebook -- Seattle Must Find New Mix

Special To The Seattle Times

It was supposed to be a marriage of talent and experience for the Seattle Thunderbirds.

The defending Western Conference champions had something old (15 players returning), something new (eight rookies, including four promising 16-year-olds) and something borrowed (eight additions from trades, college hockey and the junior ranks). But they ended up blue, jilted in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.

With captain Mark Parrish, Matt Demarski and Kevin McDonald gone, T-bird General Manager Russ Farwell must try to rebuild the team this summer.

Each WHL team is permitted only three 20-year-olds after mid-November, but six returning players will become overage next season.

No one would be surprised if defensemen Greg Kuznik and Cory Sarich signed pro contracts. Sarich was drafted two years ago in the second round by the Buffalo Sabres. Kuznik was a seventh-round choice of Hartford (now Carolina) the same year.

The futures of Stanislav Gron, the No. 2 pick of the New Jersey Devils last year, and Torrey DiRoberto, Buffalo's fifth-rounder, could hinge on their pro-camp performances. But left wing Chris Thompson and goaltender Cody Rudkowsky also will turn 20.

"I'm sure they'll turn it around," Parrish said. "The 16-year-olds won't be ignorant 16-year-olds next season. And they'll have some great leaders in guys like Chris Thompson and Bret DeCecco. Cody Rudkowsky and Matt Cockell will be back in goal, too."

DeCecco, disappointed at the season's unexpected twists, said: "It was a good lesson. It showed we have to be prepared mentally every game. But I'm definitely excited about next year's team."

Trade shocks Parrish

Though he said he's "still in shock over the trade, it hasn't hit me yet," Parrish said he's excited about his prospects with the NHL's Florida Panthers.

The Colorado Avalanche, which drafted Parrish in 1996 out of St. Cloud State in Minnesota, traded his rights, along with a third-round draft pick, to the Panthers for right wing Tom Fitzgerald on March 24. He must sign a contract by June 1 or become a free agent.

"It'll be tough, but I hope I get a chance with them," Parrish said. "They don't have the depth Colorado has, so I probably have a better chance than with Colorado."

Ossachuk has surgery

Left wing Justin Ossachuk will take home a few unusual souvenirs of Seattle next week - two metal plates, eight screws and a piece of bone grafted from his hip to his chest.

Ossachuk underwent surgery Monday at Swedish Hospital Medical Center to repair a cracked sternum. Team physician Alfred Blue, who performed the 1 1/2-hour operation, said all went well. Ossachuk will rest at his Seattle home for about a week before returning to his family in Kelowna, B.C.

Trainer Curt Kamp predicted Ossachuk could be ready to skate by early July.

Morrow takes toll

Portland left wing Brenden Morrow took his toll on the T-birds in more ways than one during their first-round playoff series. Not only did he collect points in each of the five games, but he was involved in plays that left two Seattle players injured.

Morrow's high stick during the final game opened a cut in defenseman Nathan Forster's mouth that required 12 stitches.

In Game 3, also at Portland, he hit DeCecco, giving the right wing a slight concussion and a broken bone in his right cheek. DeCecco, who tied Parrish for the T-birds' regular-season scoring lead with 92 points, missed the last two games of the playoffs.

Around the WHL

-- T-birds eligible for the 1998 NHL entry draft June 26 in Buffalo are forwards DeCecco and Ossachuk and defensemen Jason Beckett and Forster.

-- Tom Renney and Don Hay, former NHL and Kamloops Blazer coaches, are among the possible candidates for the vacant coaching job at Tri-City. General Manager Bob Brown said March 20 that the team would not renew the contract of Coach Rick Lanz, who stepped in Oct. 15 after Bob Loucks was fired.

Renney and Hay rank one-two in WHL career coaching winning percentages. Renney was fired by the Vancouver Canucks this season.

Hay, fired after the 1996-97 season as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, spent this season as an Anaheim assistant. His son, Darrell, is a defenseman for the Americans.

-- Sergei Varlamov, a Swift Current right wing from Kiev, Ukraine, finished as the WHL scoring leader with 119 points. Left wing Ramzi Abid of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens took the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title with 136 points. Center Peter Sarno of the Windsor Spitfires won the Ontario Hockey League scoring championship with 121 points.

-- Championship teams from the WHL, OHL and QMJHL will join the host Spokane Chiefs in the 1998 Memorial Cup tournament May 11-15.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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