By Nick Patterson Herald writer
EVERETT — Last week saw the Everett Silvertips receive their first true road test. Based on the results, the Tips passed with flying colors.
Everett returned home in good spirits after earning seven of a possible eight points from its first long road trip of the season.
“I think it was good for our team building and showing the rest of the league we’re a serious contender this year,” said Everett goaltender Austin Lotz, who won three games during the trip.
Everett went 3-0-1-0 during its four-games-in-five-nights trek through Alberta and northern British Columbia. The Tips opened the trip by beating Red Deer 2-1 and Edmonton 4-2. then after a travel day Everett split games at Prince George over the weekend, winning the first 3-2 in a shootout before falling the second 4-3 in overtime.
The Tips may have dropped a point in the finale, preventing Everett from compiling a perfect trip. Nevertheless, the Tips were happy with the results.
“It was good,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said about the trip. “Seven of eight points is good. I don’t think it’s an easy trip, it’s a lot of miles on the bus and that’s challenging on the legs. Four in five nights is hard, it wears you down. So the fact they got some points out of it is really good.”
Everett was led on the trip by defenseman Matt Pufahl, who tallied four goals and two assists to earn WHL Player of the Week honors.
“It’s obviously a good accomplishment,” Pufahl said about being named Player of the Week. “It’s good to get recognized for your work. But I’m just happy we got seven out of eight points on the road trip.
“We didn’t play some of our best games, but we found a way to win and that’s what good teams do,” Pufahl added. “That’s what we had to do against P.G. We played really good in Red Deer, then we eased off a little in Edmonton and still found a way to win, which is good.”
It was imperative the Tips found ways to win as all four were essentially one-goal games. The game against Edmonton was 2-1 until a crazy finish saw three goals scored in the final 30 seconds.
“I thought we were good enough to win,” Constantine said. “We were good enough to get seven out of eight points. I didn’t think we played our very best hockey, but we found ways to win. We got pretty good goaltending throughout the trip and enough offense along the way. Each game there were parts we didn’t do well, but there were game situations we solved. The first game in P.G. our first 10 minutes was terrible, but we survived it and figured out a way to fix it in the middle of the game and got better as the game went on. A team that’s going to win has to find ways to win if not all parts of its games are perfect, and we did that a little bit on the trip.”
The trip also continued Everett’s trend of grinding out low-scoring games. The Tips were the WHL’s highest-scoring team during the preseason, and Everett opened the season scoring goals. The offense has been harder to come by recently, and during the trip the Tips found the net just 11 times in the four contests.
But Everett also has tightened up defensively, and the Tips allowed just nine goals during the road trip. Lotz started the first three games of the trip and gave up just five goals. He now leads the league in both goals against average (1.76) and save percentage (.934).
“We were blocking shots, communicating,” Lotz said. “We’ve just been trying to do everything (Constantine) has been telling us to do. Obviously it’s working. We just have to keep working hard and listening to him and I think everything will fall into place.”
The trip took the Tips to the nine-game mark in the season. Everett has seen success, going 6-1-2-0 for the fourth-best winning percentage in the league. But Constantine, who returned this season for his second stint in charge of the team, is still trying to get a complete feel for his team.
“You can win a lot of different ways as a team,” Constantine said. “In preseason we won because we scored a lot, we didn’t necessarily stop teams. Over the last little stretch we won because we scored enough and didn’t give up much. I’m sure over the season that will fluctuate based on your health, fatigue factor, the type of team you’re playing. I still can’t really tell you exactly what our identity will be like, other than so far the guys have figured out ways to win hockey games.”
Everett’s second-and-final long trip east takes place in late November, another four-game trip that finishes off Everett’s games against the Central Division. The Tips can only hope that one goes as well as the last.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.