Thunderbirds co-captain Mathew Barzal hoists the Ed Chynoweth Cup in front of hundreds of T-Birds fans who welcomed the coaches and players home to the ShoWare Center on Monday – a day after the team clinched the Western Hockey League title with an overtime Game 6 victory against the Regina Pats in Saskatchewan. HEIDI SANDERS, Kent Reporter

Bringing home the cup

A rainy Monday afternoon couldn’t dampen the excitement of Seattle Thunderbirds fans waiting to greet the Western Hockey League champions at Kent’s ShoWare Center.

Hundreds of T-Birds supporters turned out to welcome the players and the Ed Chynoweth Cup home after the team’s dramatic Game 6 overtime victory in Regina, Saskatchewan, on Sunday evening, securing the first WHL title in the franchise’s 40-year history.

“I heard there would be a few fans. I didn’t expect that many,” coach Steve Konowalchuk said of the turnout Monday. “That’s awesome. I know our players were a little bit surprised – not that they should be, because we have great support all year – the best fans, the loudest fans.”

Konowalchuk and his players were still savoring the win nearly 24 hours later.

“It sure is exciting to be able to come back late in the game,” he said. “To win the championship in overtime was a special feeling for all the players and coaches included.”

T-Birds co-captain and WHL playoffs MVP Mathew Barzal said it would have been nice to win the title in front of the home crowd.

“Sometimes that’s what it takes. You’ve got to win on the road,” Barzal said. “We had such a good supporting fan base that came to Saskatchewan to watch us, so it made it look like we were almost playing at home. … It is that much harder to win on away ice, so it made it that much better.

“(I’m) so, so proud of this group of guys. We worked hard all year so it’s really rewarding to be able to bring a championship back to Kent.”

Now, the team’s focus shifts to the next task – winning the Memorial Cup. On Wednesday, the team traveled to Windsor, Ontario, where they will play in a round-robin tournament for the Canadian Hockey League championship this weekend.

The Memorial Cup starts Friday, and the T-Birds’ first game at the tournament is at noon Saturday against the Erie Otters.

“We are going to kind of forget about (winning the WHL title) almost for the time being for this playoff,” T-Birds co-captain Scott Eansor said. “We really have another goal in mind. We’re not done yet. We want to keep breaking records.”