By Nick Patterson Herald writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips kept themselves afloat through the turbulent waters created by a coaching change.
But though the Tips took a sigh of relief from surviving the initial deluge, they’re now staring down an approaching tidal wave.
Everett is entering a brutal eight-game stretch where the Tips face wave after wave of the best the WHL has to offer, and the coming storm will reveal just how much resolve these new Silvertips truly have.
“We’ve got a lot of tough teams to play against going down the stretch here,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “I guess we’ll see where we’re at going through these games. We have our work cut out for us.”
Davidson fired head coach Mark Ferner and assistant coach Chris Hartsburg on Jan. 8. Everett has played nine games since, going 5-3-1-0 for a .611 winning percentage. The Tips had a .405 winning percentage before the coaching change.
However, the schedule was in Everett’s favor following the change. Five of Everett’s past nine opponents have a .509 winning percentage or worse.
That changes drastically beginning tonight, when the Tips play host to the Portland Winterhawks. Portland has the league’s best record at 39-7-1-2, and the Winterhawks are a perfect 7-0 against Everett this season.
It doesn’t get any easier after that. The following seven games include two against each of the top two teams in the B.C. Division, Kelowna and Kamloops, as well as single games against Tri-City, Calgary and Spokane. All of the teams Everett faces between tonight and Feb. 15 have winning percentages of .590 or better.
Davidson is trying to turn Everett into a team that puts more emphasis on offense, with some examples of success. But that didn’t that didn’t work so well against the tougher opponents Everett has faced. Everett’s three regulation losses since the coaching change include an 8-0 drubbing by Portland and a 6-1 thumping by Tri-City.
“I think everyone’s looked at our schedule, and we see that over the next two or three weeks we have a pretty hectic schedule, some pretty good teams coming in,” Everett center Kohl Bauml said. “So we’re going to have to play our A game. We have to grind them out. We’re not going to be able to run and gun with teams like Portland. That’s what they do and they’re good at it. So we’re going to have to play a little more defensive, chipping pucks out and laying the body on them.”
The one silver lining in Everett’s upcoming schedule is the lack of travel, as six of those eight games are at home.
However, the Tips learned Monday they’ll have to navigate this stretch without defenseman Ayrton Nikkel. The 17-year-old Nikkel, acquired at the trade deadline from Brandon in exchange for defenseman Nick Walters, suffered ligament damage to his finger during a fight in Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Prince George. Nikkel is scheduled for surgery and will be out two months.
“It’s a very tough blow,” Davidson said. “The one good thing is that Micheal Zipp will get more ice time. He’s played very well in the last 10 days, and as he’s gotten more ice time his confidence has gone up. But for us as a group, we’d sure like to have Ayrton in there. He’s been very physical and he’s going to be a good player for us going forward.”
Everett will be missing three other players tonight because of injury. Overage winger Ryan Harrison and defenseman Austin Adam are both out with concussions, while winger Lucas Grayson continues to be hampered by a lower-body injury. Davidson is hopeful Harrison and Adam will be ready to return by the weekend.
With Nikkel and Adam out, overager Landon Oslanski is expected to switch back to defense. Oslanski has oscillated between defense and forward all season.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.