Just 15 players took part in Thursday's optional practice for the depleted Tips. And as Everett prepares to depart on a three-game road trip, a question hangs in the air: Does Everett have enough players available to field a lineup?
"Yeah, it was lonely," said defenseman Landon Oslanski, who actually wore a forward's practice jersey Thursday just so there would be an even number of forwards and defensemen on the ice. "We have a big schedule coming up, so with an optional skate some guys are tired."
Everett is in the midst of a brutal section of its schedule. Beginning with Tuesday's home game against Kamloops, the Tips embarked on four games in five nights in four different cities. Those four opponents currently have a combined record of 46-14-2-2.
And now Everett is dealing with that stretch short-handed, prompting Ferner to make Thursday's practice optional.
"Rest is important right now," Ferner said. "Obviously we're banged up and guys are playing a lot. Some kids are saying this is as much as they've played in four years. We're just going to have to make sure we're going out and working on things, but also giving ourselves the best chance to win, too."
Everett already was walking a thin line with regards to numbers, particularly up front. The recent defections of forwards Ryan Chynoweth and Zach McPhee left the Tips with just 12 forwards on the roster, the number a team would usually dress in a game. And now Everett is dealing with a rash of physical ailments up front.
The most damaging of those ailments are to 19-year-olds Joshua Winquist and Manraj Hayer. Winquist and Hayer are tied for the team lead in scoring among forwards. However, it was revealed Thursday that Winquist has mononucleosis and will miss three weeks. Hayer is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but Ferner regarded Hayer as doubtful for this weekend's games. Winger Trent Lofhouse is also day-to-day because of a lower-body injury.
Winquist, Hayer and Lofthouse sat out Wednesday's 5-2 loss at Portland, forcing the Tips to skate two players short and dress just nine forwards. It also thrust rookies like 17-year-old Carson Stadnyk and 16-year-olds Tyler Sandhu, Ty Mappin and Dawson Leedahl into more prominent roles.
"Knowing our circumstance, where we were a little bit short-handed, I just asked our kids to go out and compete as hard as they could, and they did," Ferner said. "We played a real good hockey team that was sitting there waiting for us. Other than 10 minutes -- they scored four goals in 10 minutes -- I thought we were pretty good."
The Tips do have some reinforcements on the way. Defenseman Nick Walters has completed his three-game suspension for his hit on Spokane's Mitch Holmberg and is eligible for tonight's game. Everett also brought in forward Brandon Bruce from the British Columbia Hockey League to serve as cover. Bruce, a 19-year-old from Cranbrook, B.C., was playing with the Merritt Centennials, with whom he had three goals and two assists in 15 games. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder appeared in 34 games with the Swift Current Broncos in 2010-11.
All of Everett's players, with the exception of Winquist and defenseman Austin Adam (broken hand), will be on the road trip, which includes two off days in Spokane on Sunday and Monday. However, there's still a chance the Tips again will look down at a short bench.
"You have to have short shifts," Oslanski said about dealing with the player shortage. "Don't bag yourself for two-minute shifts or it will hurt you for the rest of the period. We just kept our shifts short, 30-40 seconds, and went from there.
"We handled it really well (against Portland). I didn't see many guys who were too tired out there."
Adam, who has been out since the season's first week, is nearing a return. He is scheduled to have his cast removed Monday and is expected to be ready to return shortly after.
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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