By Nick Patterson Herald Columnist
The Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds played any number of competitive and compelling games the past three seasons.
They weren’t necessarily of high quality, but they sure were compelling.
Which raises the anticipation for tonight’s first encounter between Everett and Seattle at Comcast Arena to levels rarely seen in the I-5 rivalry. Not only is another competitive and compelling contest on tap in this first meeting of the season, now there’s something significant at stake, too, with both teams flying high in the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division.
It’s the first of 10 meetings between the teams, as well as the only head-to-head contest before Christmas. Therefore, if you want to catch the Everett-Seattle spectacle anytime soon, you have to do it now.
Games between Everett and Seattle on Saturday night are always rocking. The close geographic proximity between the two teams creates a natural rivalry, and fans of the two teams regularly made the trip to the opposing building to create additional atmosphere. The 45 miles between Comcast Arena in Everett and ShoWare Center in Kent is the shortest distance between any two teams in the WHL, just s bit closer than the distance between Regina and Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan.
In addition, with it being the Tips’ Pink the Rink night for breast cancer awareness, there should be an enthusiastic full house at Comcast Arena.
But even with all those circumstances that would normally create an electricity around Everett-Seattle, this time there’s an amplifier that could cause some singe burns on the concourse walls. This time the game actually means something.
Everett entered the weekend with the best winning percentage in the WHL. Seattle came in with the second-highest point total in the league, two points ahead of the Tips. For perhaps the first time in history, both teams come into a game thinking they may be something special.
Though Everett and Seattle have built a spirited rivalry over the years, there’s never been anything that’s truly elevated the rivalry to a higher level. Everett and Seattle have never been contenders in the same season. After 10 years, the teams are still awaiting their first playoff series against one another.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been competitiveness in the rivalry. Indeed, the past three seasons saw Everett and Seattle battle tooth and nail to the bitter end. There were times when I remarked the Tips and T-birds should cancel the remainder of their schedules and just play one another the rest of the season, because the games between the two were so much more exciting than games against other opponents.
The problem was they were fighting over the Western Conference crumbs. Although Everett and Seattle were never separated by more than three points in the final standings those three seasons, they were propping up the remainder of conference. Last season, Seattle and Everett were separated by a single point, but finished seventh and eighth in the 10-team conference and both were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. Everett edged Seattle for the eighth-and-final playoff berth in both 2011 and 2012, with the Tips winning what was essentially a winner-takes-all game at Kent in thrilling fashion to conclude their 2011-12 season.
But even then, what did that game really mean?
Sure, the Tips made the playoffs while the T-birds were left out in the cold. But Everett was swiftly swept out in the first round by top-seeded Tri-City. Meanwhile, Seattle ended up winning the bantam draft lottery and selected uber-talented center Mathew Barzal first overall. The same Mathew Barzal who happens to be leading the T-birds in scoring as a 16-year-old rookie. So, who really ended up the winner?
Now the tone has changed.
This week Seattle is ranked ninth in the entire Canadian Hockey League, while Everett received its first recognition as an honorable mention. Both teams find themselves at heights they haven’t achieved in years, and both are trying to prove they belong.
So yes, tonight’s game will be much like the typical Everett-Seattle matchup. The crowd will be excited and the play likely will be competitive.
There’s just one difference.
This time there’s something real worth playing for.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.