The Everett Silvertips were playing a game of immense importance, one that ultimately determined the fate of that team's season. Little did they realize just how long the effects of that result would linger.
Everett heads to Spokane Arena tonight to take on the Spokane Chiefs, and the Tips are hoping they can finally put to rest a curse that's afflicted the team for nearly four years.
Everett has lost 15 consecutive games at Spokane Arena, and that interminable drought began on that fateful March day in 2010.
"I've been here four years and haven't got to celebrate in that arena," Tips center Manraj Hayer lamented. "It's a bit of a weird feeling, but we all kind of have a chip on our shoulder, knowing we have to break this streak."
To understand the skid, one must flash back to March of 2010. The 2009-10 season was the last time Everett was any kind of contender. The Tips rallied in the second half of the season to pull themselves toward the top of the Western Conference standings.
It all came down to the final day of the regular season. Everett was tied with Tri-City for the most points in the conference. The Americans' season was done, while the Tips had one last game on the season's final Sunday. Everett traveled to Spokane, knowing it needed just a single point to claim the U.S. Division title and the No. 1 seed to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs had absolutely nothing the play for. Spokane was already locked in as the conference's fourth playoff seed, and the Chiefs rested leading goal scorer Kyle Beach.
In the game, Everett twice tied it after the Chiefs took the lead. But the Chiefs scored with 10 minutes remaining -- a goal by a 16-year-old rookie named Mitch Holmberg, who currently happens to lead both the Chiefs and the WHL in scoring -- in the third period, and the Tips were unable to tie it a third time as Spokane held on for the regulation win. The result handed Tri-City the division title and the top seed to the playoffs based on a tiebreaker.
Tri-City went on to defeat eighth-seeded Chilliwack in the first round of the playoffs and march all the way to the WHL finals. Meanwhile, Everett drew sixth-seeded and defending league champion Kelowna in the first round, a team that had major injuries throughout the season but got healthy just in time for the playoffs. The Rockets went on to upset the Tips in a riveting seven-game series.
Everett went into a three-year downward spiral following that playoff defeat, and in many ways it can all be tracked back to that loss the Chiefs that began the Tips' string of futility in Spokane.
"I remember that game," said Tips overage winger Joshua Winquist, the only player on the roster who's ever experienced a victory at Spokane Arena in an Everett jersey. "But I don't look at it as (having created a curse). I look at it as they stole first place in the conference from us and the first seed in the playoffs. But that didn't start a curse, we just have to bear down and win there."
Since then Spokane Arena has been a house of horrors for the Tips. Everett is 0-14-1-0 in Spokane since, never even managing to get a game into a shootout. The streak has included drubbings by scores of 5-0, 6-1 and 8-1.
So why has Spokane Arena given Everett so many struggles?
The primary reason is that the past three seasons Spokane has been a vastly better team than Everett. From 2010-13 the Chiefs compiled a 132-69-11-6 record, while the Tips went 75-113-12-16. Spokane finished an average of 33 points ahead of Everett in the standings those three seasons.
The other factor is Spokane Arena's unique set-up. The configuration of Spokane's locker room with regards to the arena's suites compelled the Chiefs to have the teams shoot into their own end in two of the three periods. Every other building in the WHL has the teams shooting into the opposing end in two of the three periods. The discrepancy in Spokane means teams have the long line change -- when the players have to skate farther to get back to their bench -- twice instead of just once. Technically there's no advantage to the home team, since both teams have to deal with the additional long change. However, there's no doubt the Chiefs are a little more practiced in dealing with the situation.
"They're a really good team at home," Hayer said. "They play to their advantage with the two (long changes). They have set plays to figure it out and catch teams on line changes. That's a big factor. But it's kind of an unlucky rink, and hopefully things change (tonight)."
Said Winquist: "It's a tough rink to play in. It's the weirdest rink I've ever played in in my life. But we can't let that faze us.
"We've been getting outworked there, and we let it get to us that we haven't won there," Winquist added. "We can't let that happen if we want to beat them and have success."
Everett's chances of lifting the curse might never be better than they are tonight. For the first time in memory, the Tips (21-6-4-0) enter a game in Spokane with a better record than the Chiefs (18-12-0-2). Spokane also is reeling, having won just once in its past six games. That includes thumpings at home at the hands of both Seattle (twice) and Portland. Meanwhile, the Tips are coming off a confidence-building 7-0 victory at Kamloops on Saturday.
So is tonight the night the curse finally comes to an end?
"I hope so," Winquist replied. "We're due for a win there.
"I want to beat them, and I'm sure they want to try and beat us. It's just a rivalry, and whoever comes out and works harder will get the two points."
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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