By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Injuries are robbing the Everett Silvertips of key experienced players and the team’s predictament just might have gotten worse.
The Silvertips are staring at the prospect of traveling to Spokane today without any of their overaged players. The Western Hockey League is mainly for players aged 16-19, but each team is allowed three 20-year-olds and those overagers are often a team’s lifeblood — their age and experience usually making them among the team’s best players.
The Tips already have been playing without overage forwards Joshua Winquist and Manraj Hayer because of concussions. Now, overage defenseman and team captain Matt Pufahl is a doubt for tonight’s game against Spokane because of a foot injury.
Pufahl suffered the injury late in Wednesday’s 1-0 shootout loss at Victoria when he took a shot off his foot and had to be helped off the ice. Pufahl hasn’t practiced since. He’s undergone tests on the foot, but the full results weren’t expected to be available until this morning.
If Pufahl isn’t able to go tonight, an already thin Everett defense becomes even thinner. The Tips already are without defensemen Mirco Mueller, who’s participating in the World Junior Hockey Championships, as well as Kevin Davis and Noah Juulsen, who are at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge. If Pufahl doesn’t play, Everett will have just five defensemen available tonight, one fewer than teams usually dress, and one of those five would be 16-year-old call-up Jordan Wharrie.
“We’d have five D,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “We’d be missing four of our top D, so no doubt it would be challenging. But I’ve never minded being considered a bit of an underdog, which maybe we would be considered given all the bodies we’d be missing. But that’s OK, I kind of enjoy that role every once in a while. We’ll still have to make do.”
Winning in Spokane is difficult enough for Everett at full strength — the Tips have dropped 16 consecutive games at Spokane Arena, dating back to March 14, 2010. Being short-handed on defense will make the task of beating Spokane on its home ice that much more difficult, especially considering the unusual configuration at Spokane’s arena. Teams are forced to make the long line changes in two periods at Spokane Arena instead of one, making it harder for the defensemen to keep their shifts short.
“It’s a lot more minutes for guys and it’s an opportunity for guys,” said Ben Betker, who becomes Everett’s senior defenseman if Pufahl can’t play. “Hopefully (Pufahl) plays, but if he doesn’t we’re all going to have to step up and fill his role. He’s a tough guy to replace, but we have to pull together here.”
The good news for Everett is that the team may be getting one of its overagers back. Winquist hasn’t played since Everett’s 4-2 victory on Dec. 17 at Portland, the team’s final game of the first half. Winquist, the Tips’ leading scorer, took full part in practice Friday and could possibly return to the lineup tonight.
“He may play tomorrow, we don’t know for sure yet,” Constantine said of Winquist. “We’ll have to see how (Friday’s full practice) affected him. If he does play (tonight), he’s not going to be playing in complete shape because you can’t be when you miss almost three weeks of training. But it’s all positive that we could get him back on the ice and through a full practice. So he’s on his way back.”
Hayer, who suffered his concussion the last time Everett played in Spokane on Dec. 11, continues to sit out practice and will not play tonight. If none of Everett’s overagers are able to go tonight, the Tips will be at least two skaters short of a full lineup.
One consolation for Everett is that reinforcements arrive after tonight’s game. Davis and Juulsen definitely will be back from Nova Scotia in time for Wednesday’s home game against Portland.
Mueller was originally scheduled to return from Sweden on Wednesday morning, making his participation against Portland unlikely. However, with Switzerland already eliminated from World Juniors, the Tips were trying to arrange for Mueller to fly back to Everett early.
“We’ve played five games just short of bodies, period,” Constantine said. “When you do that you’re risking wear and tear on other bodies. So just from the point of having 20 available players, that alone is good thing about them coming back, let alone the fact they’re all talented players, that’s why they’re at these events. From a talent standpoint it’s good to get them back, but in addition we need bodies.”
And the Tips are just hoping they have at least one of their overage bodies available tonight.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.