By Nick Patterson Herald writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips have played better of late. However, tonight they face the sternest test of their season so far.
The high-flying Kamloops Blazers invade Comcast Arena tonight, and the Tips know they have their hands full.
“It’s a tremendous test, no question,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “Obviously they’re running on all cylinders. They’re deep everywhere, they have a great power play, great penalty killing, a tremendous forward group, good goaltending. They’re as good as you get as far as junior hockey is concerned.”
Said overage winger Ryan Harrison: “Obviously it’s a huge challenge for us. It’s exciting to play a team of their caliber and try and knock them off the mountain.”
Kamloops is off to a historic start. The Blazers have taken to the ice 16 times so far this season. They emerged victorious 15 times. Kamloops has yet to lose in regulation or overtime — its only defeat was a 4-3 shootout loss at Victoria on Sept. 28. Since then the Blazers have won 13 straight, which matches the storied franchise’s longest ever winning streak. The impressive run propelled Kamloops to the top ranking in the entire Canadian Hockey League.
Last season Kamloops reached the WHL’s Western Conference finals, and this season returned the core of its team, so the Blazers were considered one of the conference’s favorites before this season began. But nobody anticipated this kind of domination.
“It’s a little over and above expectations,” Kamloops coach Guy Charron said. “When you first start a season you don’t expect to go into a winning streak the way we have, but it’s a credit to the players. They came into camp in real good shape and they came with a mission. Last year, the push we had in the playoffs, I think it was a very positive thing for our hockey team. This year they’ve decided they want to do something even better.”
Kamloops has done it with a little bit of everything. The Blazers have the league’s most explosive offense, scoring 78 goals, which is 13 more than any other team in the WHL. Kamloops also has allowed just 36 goals, the second-fewest in the league.
And the Blazers feature what’s easily been the deadliest line in the league. The trio of right wing JC Lipon (39 points), center Colin Smith (38 points) and left wing Tim Bozon (29 points) has combined to average more than six points per game, and those three currently occupy the top three spots on the league’s scoring chart.
Lipon in particular has been a revelation. The 19-year-old had a solid 2011-12 season, yet still finished just fifth on his own team in scoring with 65 points in 69 games. However, he’s now on pace to score 175 points this season. Not bad for a player twice passed over in the NHL draft.
“It’s something they started last year,” Charron said about the trio. “They were a good line last year, and here they are in the second year and they’re still playing together, the chemistry can only grow. They do things that happen only because they’ve been playing together for so long. As a trio, I said from the very beginning watching them execute in training camp, they’re worth the price of admission. They’re getting a lot of attention from every team, and they seem to battle through it all. It’s pretty good line to have for a hockey club.”
So what’s Everett’s strategy for stopping that line?
“Hopefully they come down with a flu bug or get some food poisoning,” Ferner quipped. “They’re going to get their chances because they’re good players. We just have to limit them as much as possible, limit their second opportunities. It’s easier said than done, and it’s a good challenge.”
But while the Blazers represent a challenge to the Tips, they also represent an opportunity. Knocking off the top-ranked team in the CHL and ending its 13-game winning streak would be quite the feather in Everett’s cap.
“It would definitely be nice,” Harrison said. “Seeing Seattle come close (Sunday night, when the T-birds took the Blazers to overtime before falling 4-3) makes it look a little better for us as well. It would be huge for our confidence to knock them off.”
The league ruled on Everett defenseman Nick Walters on Monday, giving Walters a three-game suspension for his hit on Spokane’s Mitch Holmberg last Friday. Walters was given a roughing minor on the play, but was suspended under supplemental discipline. Walters has served one game and will be eligible again this Friday at Tri-City. … Tips winger Joshua Winquist, who’s tied for second on the team in scoring and missed both of last weekend’s games because of a minor injury, remains questionable for tonight’s game. … Everett raised more than $80,000 to help combat breast cancer during last weekend’s Pink the Rink festivities. The funds are being donated to the Providence General Foundation.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.