By Nick Patterson Herald writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips have gotten their season back on track.
But tonight the Tips face a completely different level of challenge.
Everett will have its hands full tonight in its attempt to continue its winning ways as the Kelowna Rockets, the top-ranked team in the entire Canadian Hockey League, pay a visit to Comcast Arena.
“It’s going to be challenging,” Everett center Manraj Hayer said. “They’re the top team in the whole CHL and we have to respect them for what they’ve done this year. But we’ve been getting results and playing pretty well. We just have to stick to our gameplan and hope things work out.”
Everett righted the ship the past two weeks. The Tips, who were at the top of the WHL standings at one point during the first half of the season, struggled during the first six weeks of the second half. Injuries plagued the team and Everett won just four of its first 19 games following the Christmas break.
But Everett bounced back as players began trickling back into the lineup. Everett has won three straight and five of its past six, with the lone defeat being a shootout loss at the hands of a Portland team in the midst of a 21-game winning streak. That stretch saw the Tips surge back into sixth place in the WHL’s Western Conference, five points ahead of seventh-place Vancouver and just three points behind fifth-place Spokane.
However, it will require something special for Everett to continue its winning streak. Though Everett has 11 points from its previous 12 games, the victories didn’t come against teams the caliber of Kelowna, which sits atop the WHL mountain at 52-9-0-4. Portland recently strung together 21 straight victories, yet it still left the Winterhawks nine points behind the Rockets in the conference standings.
“Personally, I just try to look at it as another game,” Tips netminder Austin Lotz said. “Obviously some would say it’s not, they’re the best team in the CHL. We’re going to have to bring our A game if we want any chance of beating them. They work hard every night and are a very skilled team. We’re just going to have to come up with our best effort and hopefully we’ll get the win.”
Everett hasn’t had much luck against Kelowna the past four seasons. The Tips were upset by the Rockets in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, when sixth-seeded Kelowna beat third-seeded Everett 2-1 in Game 7 at Comcast Arena. Since then Everett has beaten Kelowna just once, a 3-2 victory at Kelowna on Jan. 18, 2012. The Rockets won 13 of the other 14 meetings, including all three earlier this season. Everett has just three players on the current roster — Hayer, Joshua Winquist, Kohl Bauml — who have seen the ice in a Tips victory over the Rockets.
“I know a couple guys who were playing in Kelowna, especially last year and one or two this year,” Lotz said. “I love playing against them, I love the challenge, I love playing against the guys I know. Obviously it’s been tough, we haven’t had much luck at all against them, but at some point it has to turn around. Hopefully it turns around (tonight).”
Kelowna’s effectiveness stems from the fact the Rockets have no weaknesses. Kelowna is second in the league in goals and second in goals against, giving the Rockets the league’s best goal differential at plus-117. Kelowna’s six-player defensive unit, led by Damon Severson and Madison Bowey, is generally considered the league’s best. The Rockets are lacking offensive stars, but they go three deep in lines that are scoring threats. And in Jordon Cooke and Jackson Whistle they have a dynamite one-two punch in goal.
“They’re just an all-around good team,” Hayer said. “They have skill, their top guys hit and play physical, they have good puck-moving D back there. They’re just a complete team, one of the teams we’re trying to be like. They’ve got it all.”
Therefore, the Tips know they need to have a near-perfect performance tonight to extend their winning streak to four.
“We’ve had a couple good games here, so we just have to make sure we don’t get too ahead of ourselves, keep doing what we’re doing and don’t stray away from our gameplan,” Lotz said. “We have to try and play our game because I think we know if we try to play their game we’re probably not going to win. We have to stick to our defensive style, work hard and hopefully it pays off for us.”
Lotz was the WHL’s nominee for this week’s CHL Goaltender of the Week award. Lotz went 3-0 with a 1.33 goals against average and .944 save percentage last week. … Carter Cochrane rejoined the Tips on Monday. The 17-year-old defenseman’s season with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League came to an end Saturday, and he will remain with Everett until its season concludes. Cochrane finished with 16 goals and 31 assists in 55 games with the Chiefs, and he was named both the team’s Defenseman of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.