Silvertips’ test vs. division rivals next

EVERETT — The honeymoon period is over for the Everett Silvertips. Now the real work begins.

After a laid-back start, Everett’s season has kicked into gear as the games are coming fast and furious.

“It’s nice to look at the schedule and see two games coming up on the weekend, and then we’re off to Alberta,” Tips goaltender Austin Lotz said. “I think the boys are starting to feel like we’re actually into it now.”

Everett had an extremely light schedule to open the season, playing just once during each of the first two weeks. But Wednesday’s home game against the Kelowna Rockets began a stretch of three games in four days, which will be immediately followed by a lengthy four-game road trip.

So after being able to kick back and stretch their legs out the first two weeks, the Tips are now getting their boots dirty. But they’re ready for the action.

“It’s tough when you don’t play,” said Everett winger Joshua Winquist, who leads the team in scoring with seven points in three games. “We’ve only played three games so far, and most teams have played four or five. It’s good to finally get some games in.”

Everett coach Kevin Constantine said “it’s a nice rhythm when you’re kind of playing every other day. Eventually if you play too much you get tired, but if you don’t play enough you get rusty. I think it will be more fun now to get some games, get some people in. We’re looking forward to playing more than one game a week.”

The honeymoon also ended results-wise Wednesday when the Tips lost 6-3 to Kelowna. The defeat was Everett’s first since the team arrived for training camp. The Tips won all seven of their preseason games and their first two regular-season contests.

Kelowna is the defending B.C. Division champion and one of the league’s favorites this season, so Wednesday’s game was Everett’s first true test. The Tips fell behind 4-0 early in the second period and were unable to catch back up.

“It was the first time we really faced adversity all year, because we’ve been beating teams by a lot so far,” Winquist said. “It was a good test, and now we have to show that it was no fluke we were winning all those games.”

Wednesday’s game was a chance for the Tips to get a first-hand look at the standard required to be a contender. Although Everett lost, the Tips fared better against the Rockets than they did last season, when they were throttled in three of their four meetings. Everett actually outshot Kelowna 32-26 on Wednesday night.

“I think lots of us already knew (the standard),” Lotz said. “We do have a few young guys who maybe haven’t seen that kind of hockey yet. But we already knew what we had to do. I don’t think it was a matter of us not being ready. I think it was just a matter of us not playing our best game. We did win nine straight and that’s nice, but we have to try and play like we did for those nine games every game.”

This weekend sees the Tips take their first foray into the U.S. Division. Everett’s first three games were all against B.C. Division foes. But tonight’s game against the Tri-City Americans and Saturday’s against the Spokane Chiefs — both at Comcast Arena — give the Tips their first look at their divisional rivals.

“It’s going to be fun,” Lotz said. “You kind of miss playing the American teams. It’s nice to be on maybe a stronger team this year, and hopefully we’ll be able to take those guys a little further than we have in past years.”

In the past few seasons there’s been a strict hierarchy within the U.S. Division, with the Tips toward the bottom. However, early results suggest it could be a wild ride in the division this season as Tri-City, Spokane, Portland and Seattle spent the first two weeks of the season knocking one another off.

One night Portland, the defending league champion and preseason divisional favorite, lost 6-2 to a winless Tri-City. The next night, the Winterhawks scored nine straight goals in beating a then-undefeated Seattle 10-4. Spokane, predicted by some to finish last in the division, was dominating in winning its first four games.

“So far I’ve been looking (at the results) and it’s all over the map,” Winquist said. “No one’s really set themselves apart from anyone yet. Hopefully we’ll be the ones who are able to do that.”

Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.

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