By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Ryan Harrison went down as if shot.
The Everett Silvertips winger dropped in a heap when he was hit in the jaw and throat by teammate Ryan Murray’s deflected slap shot during the second period of Tuesday’s 7-2 loss at Tri-City.
For several minutes afterward, Harrison had difficulty breathing and he did not return to Tuesday’s game. However, two days later he was skating like normal as the Tips conducted practice at the Comcast Community Ice Rink.
Indeed, we’ve arrived at the juncture of the WHL season where players are all about fighting through their minor injuries.
“It’s definitely huge for us to all stay healthy and not get hit by pucks,” Harrison said with a wry smile.
“Guys are playing through a little bit of pain,” Harrison added. “I know some guys have been playing through injuries all year. My jaw being numb, it will be fine for me to play.”
Nick Walters can relate. The Everett defenseman also took a puck to the face recently, suffering a nasty cut to his lip during Everett’s 4-2 victory over Vancouver on Feb. 11. The cut required 23 stitches to close, yet not only did Walters not miss any games, he didn’t even play with a face shield when the Tips returned to action six days later.
“You don’t want to let your teammates down,” Walters explained. “If it’s just a puck to the mouth and some stitches, you don’t want to sit out because of that.”
Everett was already skating one short Tuesday because of players missing due to injury or suspension. The last thing the Tips needed was to lose yet another player, especially the team’s hottest offensive player as Harrison has nine goals and 18 assists in Everett’s 26 games since the Christmas break.
That’s particularly true given Everett’s current situation in the standings. The Tips are one of four teams battling for the final two playoff berths in the Western Conference. With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season those four teams are separated by just two points.
So players are sucking it up and dealing with the pain.
“You know what, this is hockey,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “We’ve got 13 games left and every team is sore and banged up and has injuries. That’s what makes this a great sport, it reveals your character. We need guys to play through some injuries, that’s for sure.”
Everett has been playing short the past couple weeks, and the Tips are expected to play one short again tonight when they return to Tri-City. Defenseman Brennan Yadlowski has three games remaining in his 10-game suspension, while forwards JT Barnett (knee), Manraj Hayer (concussion) and Zach McPhee (head) and defenseman Evan Morden (ankle) remain out injured.
For Ferner, the challenge is figuring out the best way to handle his depleted roster.
“It’s important, too, that as coaches we manage the ice,” Ferner said. “Rest is sometimes the best thing. Our practices haven’t been long. We can’t win the game out here in practice, we have to make sure our guys are as fresh as possible.”
Being short-handed hasn’t seemed to affect Everett’s performances. The Tips have been scrambling since Yadlowski began his suspension on Feb. 7 at Victoria. Yet Everett, which still has the fewest wins in the league with 16, is 4-3 since.
“We’ve been playing some good hockey since the break, and we seem to be clicking,” Walters said. “I think (the injuries) help a little sometimes. Guys who were usually in and out of the lineup, they stay and get chemistry with everybody. It is tiring, but that’s part of hockey.”
The good news for the Tips is they may be on the verge of being able to field a full lineup again. Ferner said McPhee, who practiced fully Friday, should be able to return at some point this weekend. Hayer is skating in practices again, though he’s not quite ready to return yet. And Yadlowski’s suspension ends following Sunday’s home game against Kamloops.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.