Silvertips' coach: 'We just weren't good enough'
Everett players head home frustrated by a disappointing season that ended in an early exit from the WHL playoffs.
Everett's disappointing campaign came to an end Thursday when the Tips were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Portland Winterhawks. That concluded a frustrating, lost season during which little went right for the Tips.
"We're not very happy, obviously, with the way everything turned out," Everett coach Craig Hartsburg said. "I think after a long season and the short playoff you realize we just weren't good enough. It wasn't for any lack of all of us trying to make it right. It just wasn't good enough."
The season began with great optimism.
Everett was coming off a campaign in which the Tips tallied 97 points and finished tied for the best record in the Western Conference. High-profile offseason player acquisitions fueled the notion Everett would again be a contender.
Instead, the Silvertips finished a pedestrian 28-33-7-4 for 67 points, and Everett backed into the conference's eighth and final playoff berth on a stretch of 10 defeats in 11 games. The Tips then were swatted aside by top-seeded Portland in the playoffs.
The Tips gathered one last time at Comcast Arena on Friday for exit meetings, and everyone -- from general manager to coach to players -- expressed nothing but dissatisfaction with how the season played out.
"It was obviously a bit disappointing," said defenseman Ryan Murray, one of the team's few bright spots as he was named a second-team Western Conference all-star. "I thought we had a good talent level and a lot of good players, but things just didn't click."
The season's first hiccup didn't even occur on the ice. Hartsburg was diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm, which required open-heart surgery to repair. He missed 24 games from Oct. 20-Dec. 28 because of the procedure, depriving the Tips of their head coach during the formative section of the schedule.
But with or without Hartsburg, this edition of the Tips never reached the heights predicted when the season began. Everett, with heavy player turnover from last season, just never found a way to replicate the magic created during last season's second half.
"I don't think we played the game hard enough," Hartsburg said. "To me that's the simple answer. I think we were a team that was way too soft and way too passive.
"We lost eight character guys from last year," Hartsburg added. "We're talking about guys who were naturally hard-working, competitive, team-first players. We tried to patch things up, but we weren't even close to the team we were the year before character-wise. To me that was the biggest difference in the two teams."
Several aspects of Everett's game stood out as trouble spots.
The first was the offense. Everett scored 171 goals during the regular season, an average of just 2.4 per game. That was the second-lowest offensive output in the league.
The offensive woes manifested themselves even worse on the power play, where the Tips floundered while finishing last in the league at a 14.2 percent conversion rate. Only winger Tyler Maxwell, who scored 41 goals, provided anything close to consistent offense among Everett's forwards.
The big offseason additions, who were supposed to help replace the offense lost from last season's team, didn't produce as expected.
Landon Ferraro, acquired in a trade that sent Byron Froese to Red Deer, managed just 10 goals and 17 assists during an injury-plagued season. Josh Birkholz, who arrived from the University of Minnesota, notched just 18 goals and 11 assists. Froese by himself outscored Ferraro and Birkholz combined by 25 points. Also, veteran returners Clayton Cumiskey and Scott MacDonald were unable to build upon last season's efforts.
"We were getting quality scoring chances, but they weren't going in," Ferraro said about Everett's offensive woes. "Personally, it was frustrating because that's what I was brought here to do, to help with that. Only getting into 41 games and getting 10 goals wasn't exactly what Doug (Soetaert, Everett's general manager) was thinking when he traded for me.
"You get into a slump and you start gripping your stick too tight and start missing easy shots you normally wouldn't. It kind of compounded."
Another issue was physical play. Everett showed little grit and was ineffective in battles along the boards, in the corners and in front of the net. The Silvertips also lacked any sort of physical deterrent, allowing opposing players to manhandle them without fear of retribution. That resulted in an epidemic of concussions that left Everett one of the most-injured teams in the league.
Even an area the Tips though would be a strength -- goaltending -- was a problem for a while. Kent Simpson, expected to be a horse in goal this season, had a roller coaster first half as he adjusted to being the primary netminder. Simpson's play improved dramatically in the second half and helped the Tips get into the playoffs. However, an ankle sprain suffered in early March sent Simpson to the sidelines just as he was at his peak, and he never got back in the lineup.
It all added up to one big mess, as Murray summed up:
"It was kind of a roller coaster, and nobody could really figure it out."
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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