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Shea showing the way for playoff-bound Thunderbirds
From a small Canadian town, Shea Theodore is working his way to bigger things.
The popular Seattle defenseman is developing a following as he leads the Thunderbirds (41-25-2-4) into the Western Hockey League playoffs Saturday against the Everett Silvertips (39-23-7-3). Face-off for Game 1 of the best-of-seven Western Conference series is 7:05 p.m. at the ShoWare Center.
Theodore's two goals from last Sunday's regular-season finale, a 6-1 win over Tri-City, gave him 45 with the team, breaking the record held by Deron Quint (1993-1995) for most career goals by a T-Bird defenseman.
While the 18-year-old Theodore continues to blossom for the T-Birds — so far he's clocked 22 goals and 57 assists this season alone — he's got an even brighter future possibly in the NHL.
Last fall the Anaheim Ducks signed the Aldergrove, B.C., native as their first-round draft pick – 26th overall choice in the NHL Draft – to a three-year-entry level contract. He will remain in the junior ranks until he finishes high school.
He attended the Ducks training camp in 2012, a valuable experience for him.
"Everything's just at a higher level than you see here," said the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Theodore. "Their job's on the line every time they come into camp, so it was pretty cool to get to see."
Getting drafted and playing for an NHL team means earning a professional salary.
"If it's your contract year and you're trying to sign, it's definitely a pivotal year," Theodore said.
Players who don't sign with an NHL team often head to the American Hockey League, the 30-team development league that primarily feeds the NHL.
Joining the T-Birds
Theodore grew up in rural town about five minutes from the U.S.-Canadian border and signed with the T-Birds in 2011 for a half-season. He returned to play his first full season in 2011-2012.
The move down to Kent was a change, but Theodore most distinctly remembers the size of his audience.
"I played my first few games as a 15-year-old, so going from playing in front of, I don't know, probably 50 people at a Midget game up in the Fraser Valley to playing in front of probably 3,000 on an average nightly basis here ... it's pretty special," he said.
Theodore describes himself as an "offensive defenseman."
"I'm a D-man first," he said, "but I'll join the rush, sometimes I'll lead the rush. You're manning the point on the power play, you're playing a lot of minutes."
He didn't intend to adopt this style of play, he says, but it was a byproduct of circumstances.
Playing on a small team in the 12,000-person town of Aldergrove forced Theodore to become a versatile player.
"I grew up in a small town, so we didn't have that many kids to pick from," Theodore said.
While larger cities in his area, such as Abbotsford, might attract 400 kids to try out for a 19-person team, the Aldergrove Snipers drew around 22.
"Our team's obviously not going to be as good, and I always had to step up going through minor hockey," Theodore said. "So I kinda had to put a little bit of load on my back. I tried to do as much as I could growing up, and I guess that kinda just carried over and kinda made me the player that I am."
Theodore's talent also has taken him around the world. He joined the Canadian under-18 championship team to play in Sochi, Russia in 2012 and followed it with playing in the U-18 championship team again in the Czech Republic in 2013. His team won gold medals both years.
One of his toughest experiences, and the time he realized he needed to make some personal improvement, was after his under 17 championship team auditions.
The under-17 and under-18 teams are all-star teams made up of the best young players in a country. Canada fields four teams. Theodore tried out for the under-17 team in 2011, but didn't make the cut. He returned the next year to try out for the under-18 team and made it in, bypassing the U-17 that feeds most players to the U-18.
With several successful seasons with the Thunderbirds behind him, as well as his work on the U-18 teams, Theodore will be a name to watch as he moves up in the ranks.