By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — One team barely scraped into the playoffs last season, finishing eighth in the WHL’s 10-team Western Conference for the third straight season. Yet it finished 7-0 in this preseason.
The other missed the playoffs last season, the fourth time in the past six seasons the team watched the postseason from afar. Yet it finished 5-0 in this preseason.
Tonight affords both teams the chance to prove their impressive preseasons were for real.
The Everett Silvertips open their 2013-14 season tonight when they entertain the Prince George Cougars at Comcast Arena, and both teams are hoping to carry the momentum built during the preseason into the regular season.
“We haven’t been top teams the last few years, and we’re showing in preseason we can play,” Tips center Manraj Hayer said about the matchup. “So I think we have a little bit to show, to prove to the fans and around the league that the preseason wasn’t a fluke and that we’re ready for the season.”
Everett believes this is the season the Tips climb out of their rut. After finishing eighth in the conference the past three seasons, Everett has its sights aimed higher this season. The front office was so confident there would be improvement that it issued a guarantee to season ticket holders that the Tips would finish no worse than sixth this season.
Everett’s preseason performance reinforced the notion. The team won all seven of its exhibition games. Perhaps more surprising was how the Tips accomplished it — scoring a league-best 36 preseason goals. This was the same Everett team that scored the fewest goals in the league last season.
Meanwhile, Prince George is trying to end six years of futility. The Cougars finished ninth in the Western Conference last season, missing the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons. The two times Prince George did make the playoffs, the Cougars finished with a losing record and were swept in the first round.
But Prince George’s preseason performance may have been even more impressive than Everett’s. The Cougars not only finished a perfect 5-0, they also compiled a dominating 25-8 goal differential, outshooting their opponents by wide margins in all five of their games.
Therefore, tonight’s game features two teams looking to validate their preseason upticks.
“Us two were kind of bottom feeders last year in our conference,” Everett center Kohl Bauml said. “So we both have something to prove this year, that we’re not just going to accept being eighth-to-tenth.”
The Tips, however, are being careful about reading too much into the preseason results, particularly their own.
“You have to first say you didn’t play the exact teams you’re going to play in the regular season,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine cautioned. “Portland is the easy example. The night we played them in our building (a 6-4 Everett win on Sept. 1) they had 10 players, probably their 10 best players, who didn’t play. That’s not even close to the team we’ll play when they get guys back from NHL camps, and that was the case with all the teams.
“At the same time, I don’t think it was completely insignificant,” Constantine continued. “It did allow the players to understand a little bit of maybe what their potential is, or some of the things they’re capable of doing when they do things right. I think all that information is valuable, even if the record doesn’t count for points in the regular season.”
The other factor that affects tonight’s matchup is that it’s not Prince George’s first game. The Cougars opened the season Friday night at Portland, where they faced the defending league-champion Winterhawks. That changes the tenor of tonight’s game a bit.
“If we played each other and it was the first game for both of us, then it would be very interesting to see whose preseason was significant,” Constantine said. “The only thing I’ll tell you is being in the business 25 years, your opening night game is not a good indication of anything.
“The other thing is it will be their second game, which could work for or against them. They could be a bit tired, or they could get the rust off their game or get the first-game jitters out of the way. There’s so many other variables that are probably more significant than just two teams that didn’t lose in exhibition playing each other.”
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see which team is able to replicate what it accomplished during the preseason.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.