By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The midway point has arrived for the Everett Silvertips.
The first half of the WHL season ends this weekend for the Tips with a home-and-home set against the Portland Winterhawks. After that, the Tips receive some well-deserved time off as they break for Christmas.
“Things have gone pretty quick,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “It’s obviously been up and down for our group, but we have two more games here and we need to focus on them.”
Everett plays at Portland tonight, then welcomes the Winterhawks to Everett on Sunday. Then the Tips have 11 full days off before resuming play Dec. 28 at Seattle, allowing the players some quality time at home over the holidays.
“The season has flown by pretty quick, it seems just yesterday was training camp,” Everett center Manraj Hayer said.
“It will be nice to get a nice break here, go home and see the friends and family, get a little time off the ice and rest some injures,” Hayer added. “But we still have two games left before the break, so our mindset’s focused on that.”
That rest time will be crucial for the Tips, who have been beset by physical ailments. Injuries were the story of the first half for Everett as the Tips lost most of their top players at some point. Among those who missed substantial time were key forwards Hayer, Joshua Winquist, Kohl Bauml and Ryan Harrison, and star defenseman Ryan Murray was lost for the year.
So even though the season is halfway done, the constant shuffle of players in and out of the lineup means Ferner still isn’t exactly sure what he has to work with.
“It’s tough for us to even assess our group,” Ferner said. “We haven’t had a full group all year. We’ve had our share of injuries, and consistency is something we haven’t been great at. But at the same time I think some of our young kids have taken huge strides with the playing time they’ve been given.”
Everett heads into the final weekend of the first half at 13-20-0-2. That puts the Tips in last place in the U.S. Division, and once again Everett finds itself in a battle just to get into the playoffs. The Tips, who snagged the Western Conference’s eighth-and-final playoff berth each of the past two seasons, find themselves back in that familiar eighth-place position.
However, it’s a substantial improvement from a year ago. Everett was 6-21-1-5 at the break last season and had the worst record in the league.
“Obviously it’s a little better than last year,” Hayer said. “I think our team’s working hard and we’re progressing steadily. These final two games against Portland will be tough, but we’ve just got to play our game.”
Indeed, the Tips couldn’t find a greater challenge to end the first half. Portland has the league’s best record at 25-5-1-0, and the Winterhawks have had their way with the Tips for nearly three years. Portland won all three of the previous meetings this season, and the Tips haven’t won in Portland since prevailing 4-3 on Jan. 22, 2010. In between Everett has dropped 12 straight in the City of Roses.
But Everett played well against Portland in two meetings earlier this month, including building a 4-1 lead at Portland on Dec. 4 before succumbing 7-5. So the Tips see some hope at heading home for the holidays happy.
“We’ve played them pretty tough the past two games,” Hayer said. “They’re a good team, but we’re just going to go out there, lay the body and hopefully we can frustrate them a bit.”
Everett center Kohl Bauml was back on the ice at practice Thursday, though he was wearing a no-contact jersey. Bauml, tied for second on the team in goals with 10, has missed three games because of a shoulder injury. However, despite practicing Thursday, Ferner said Bauml will not play until after the Christmas break, and there’s no timetable for his return. …
Everett will also be without rookie winger Dawson Leedahl this weekend. Leedahl suffered a knee injury in an accidental collision with teammate Ryan Harrison during Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout victory at Tri-City. The extent of the injury is not known, and Leedahl is scheduled to undergo an MRI. …
Portland will be missing several players this weekend who are away preparing for the World Junior Hockey Championships. Wingers Ty Rattie (Canada) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (Denmark) and defensemen Tyler Wotherspoon (Canada) and Layne Viveiros (Austria) are already gone. Defenseman Seth Jones (U.S.) will miss at least Sunday’s game.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.