By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — It’s a trio WHL defensemen dread seeing hop over the the boards and onto the ice.
Brendan Shinnimin. Adam Hughesman. Patrick Holland. They make up the Tri-City Americans’ top line, and they’re the best the league has to offer offensively.
It’s this trio the Everett Silvertips have to figure out how to stop if they’re to pull off the first-round playoff upset.
The eighth-seeded Silvertips begin their best-of-seven playoff series against the top-seeded Americans tonight in Kennewick, and there’s no doubt about who’s at the top of Everett’s list of concerns.
“There’s a reason why they’re one of the most dynamic teams in the league,” said Everett coach Mark Ferner, who described Shinnimin, Hughesman and Holland as the best line the Tips faced this season. “We’re going to have our hands full, no question.”
Tri-City’s terrific trio has it all.
Shinnimin, a 20-year-old center, is the league’s scoring champion with 134 points (58 goals, 76 assists), finishing 11 points clear at the top. The four-year WHL veteran is a do-everything offensive force with 337 career points in 267 games.
Hughesman, a 20-year-old left wing, is one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers. With 116 points (50 goals, 66 assists) he finished fourth in the league in scoring, and he’s scored 140 goals during his five-season career.
Holland, a 19-year-old right wing, is one of the league’s best set-up men. A relative late bloomer compared to Shinnimin and Hughesman — he’s just in his third season — Holland finished sixth in scoring with 109 points, and his 84 assists topped the league.
“Those guys can really put the puck in the net, they move the puck extremely well,” said Tips captain Ryan Murray, who will be charged with the primary responsibility of trying to defend those three. “They always seem to find each other on the ice and they play extremely well together, they have great chemistry. We know how good they are, and we just have to do our best to try and defend them.”
Shinnimin, Hughesman and Holland plagued the Tips throughout the regular season. Shinnimin finished with 10 goals and 10 assists in the eight head-to-head matchups. That includes having a hand in 13 of the 16 goals the Americans scored against the Tips in the four times the teams met during the season’s final month. Hughesman and Holland were right behind with 16 and 15 points, respectively, during the season series.
The trio has plenty of playoff experience, too. Tri-City has been a regular visitor to the late rounds of the postseason in the three players’ time with the Americans, and they’ve combined for 132 playoff games. That’s 35 more playoff appearances than Everett’s entire roster.
So how do the Tips slow down this runaway train?
“Maybe they get sick?” Ferner quipped. “That would be the best way of slowing them down.
“We know they’re going to get their opportunities,” Ferner added. “They’re just too good. We can’t go in there thinking we can shut them down completely. Everyone on the ice is going to have to know who they’re playing against.”
No doubt the Tips will always be aware when the trio is on the ice.
“They’re quick, they move their feet, so we have to be on them, shadow them a bit,” said Tips winger Ryan Harrison, whose line, along with Kohl Bauml and Cody Fowlie, helped hold those three to one goal in Everett’s 4-1 home victory over Tri-City on March 3.
“They like to go up the wall and throw pucks to the net and get tips, so we have to make sure we’re on their sticks, and that we’re always looking behind us, too, not letting them sneak behind us.”
If those three have a weakness — and it’s debatable whether it even qualifies as a weakness — it’s that they’re not particularly big. None of the three are taller than 6-feet or weigh more than 185 pounds.
“We have to be hard on them, be physical on them,” Murray said. “They’re a little bit undersized, and if we can be physical on them then it might slow them down a bit.”
Containing Shinnimin, Hughesman and Holland may seem like an impossible task. But the Tips hope they can somehow produce the magic formula.
Said Murray: “We held them to one goal in the game in Everett, so we’re going to have to play like that if we want to win.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.