By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips are finally home.
And they’re hoping they brought back with them the game they found while on the road.
Everett took to the ice for practice Tuesday for the first time since they returned from their longest road trip of the season, and spirits have been buoyed by a trip that appears to have gotten the Tips’ season out of neutral.
“Honestly, we could have won every game,” Everett winger Joshua Winquist, who scored a team-leading five goals during the road trip, said following Tuesday’s practice at Comcast Arena. “We’re starting to play well, starting to get it together and play 60 minutes.
“I think we have a lot of momentum coming back to our barn.”
Everett headed into its swing through the WHL’s East Division, a stretch of six road games in nine days across the Manitoba and Saskatchewan prairies, riddled with questions. The Tips had won just one of their first seven games, and Everett was in desperate need of a change in fortunes. The Tips were hoping the two weeks away from home would spark that change.
It turns out a stretch on the road was just the tonic the Tips needed. Everett won four of its six games on the trip, including the final three. The four wins got Everett off the bottom of the U.S. Division standings and back among the pack.
“It went really well,” said Tips captain Ryan Murray, who tied with Winquist for the team lead in scoring during the trip with seven points. “I thought we really came together nicely and won some key games. We had a slow start, so we had to make up a lot of ground, and I think we did that out there.”
Everett did a lot of positive things during the road trip. The Tips led at some point in all six games. Everett allowed two or fewer goals in each of its four victories. Winquist and Manraj Hayer continued to show good chemistry together and give the Tips the makings of a legitimate No. 1 line. And Daniel Cotton, an emergency acquisition just before the road trip began because of an injury to No. 1 Austin Lotz, solidified Everett’s goaltending.
But Tips coach Mark Ferner said it wasn’t any one thing in particular that Everett did better during the trip, but rather a general improvement in all aspects of the game.
“It was everything,” Ferner replied when asked what the Tips did better during the road trip. “We got better. Hopefully we can sustain that at home. The kids played hard. It’s never easy to go out there, but at the same time I thought our kids deserved at the very least to be 4-2 coming home, and we could have been better.
“Sometimes it’s easier to play on the road,” Ferner added. “You get an opportunity to spend more time with each other, there’s no distractions. I’m not saying that’s why we were losing, but at the same time it’s always healthy to get on the road early, especially with a young group.”
Murray credited the improved play to better chemistry up front, along with better communication at the back.
“I think we just seemed to jell offensively a lot more,” Murray said. “I thought we were getting a lot more scoring chances. And we really tightened up our defensive zone as well. Our forwards were really helping us out back there clearing pucks, and whenever it was getting a little bit scrambly we seemed to be able to talk it out.”
As well as the trip turned out for the Tips, they also believe they may have left a few points in Saskatchewan. In the two games Everett lost, at Regina and Moose Jaw, the Tips had two-goal leads in each, only to watch their opponents rally in the third period.
“We had the opportunity to win every game,” Murray said. “We were leading in the games we lost. If we could have pulled those together we would have had six wins. But we definitely learned from those losses and used that learning experience to our advantage the next couple games.”
Now the Tips hope that carries over at home, too.
Lotz, who has been sidelined since Oct. 6 because of a strained groin muscle, practiced with the team Tuesday, the first time he participated in practice since suffering the injury. Ferner said it was possible Lotz would be available in time for this weekend’s home games against Spokane and Seattle. Tips winger Lucas Grayson will be eligible to return from suspension this weekend. Grayson has one game remaining on the five-game suspension he received from the league for his checking-to-the-head major penalty against Regina. He’ll be available for Saturday’s game against Seattle.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog. and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterso