By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Silvertips found themselves in all too familiar territory during their 2012-13 WHL campaign, but despite another season of struggles, Everett believes it has taken the first step in breaking its cycle of mediocrity.
For the third consecutive season, Everett had to try to find its balance while navigating through rough waters. A youthful Everett team experienced its share of growing pains, but progress made by rookies, combined with a stronger-than-expected showing in the playoffs, created some optimism despite the regular-season record and first-round postseason exit.
“It was crazy, lots of ups and downs for everyone,” Everett winger Ryan Harrison said. “But I think it showed how hard we really worked. We were really young, and beating Portland twice (in the first round of the playoffs) when everyone counted us out, it was special for the guys.”
Everett’s 10th anniversary season was a transitional one. It was Everett’s first full season under general manager Garry Davidson and the Tips went all-in with the youth movement, ending the season with the youngest roster in the Western Conference. Everett also went through a coaching change when head coach Mark Ferner and assistant coach Chris Hartsburg were fired in January. Davidson took over behind the bench for the remainder of the season on an interim basis.
Despite all the changes, Everett finished with eerily similar mediocre results for the third straight season. The Tips went 25-40-3-4 and placed eighth in the Western Conference.
Everett won 22 games the previous season and 28 the season before that, and the Tips finished eighth all three years. Everett didn’t secure a playoff berth until the final weekend of the regular season all three seasons, and the Tips were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive year. All three years, Everett was among the three lowest-scoring teams in the league.
But Everett, going through a complete rebuild, knew it would be a challenging campaign. It was made all the more challenging by a series of injuries that saw just three players reach the 70-game mark. The Tips then finished off the season by extending their first-round playoff series against the Portland Winterhawks to six games when most predicted a four-game sweep.
“It was an up and down year,” center Kohl Bauml said. “We had our struggles, but we had our good times throughout the year. A lot of stuff happened, going through a new coach and everything. But I think we handled it really well and actually pulled together for a pretty successful little playoff run. Not a lot of people were giving us a chance to win one game. I think we proved to ourselves that we can compete with those top teams, and we’re going to compete with those teams the next year or two.”
There were a number of positive developments for the Tips.
Joshua Winquist became a dependable source of offense, leading the team in goals (24) and assists (27) despite missing 21 games because of injuries and illness. Landon Oslanski was a valuable offseason waiver-wire acquisition, adding 17 goals and 31 assists while playing both defense and forward.
Mirco Mueller proved capable of handling the role as the team’s top defenseman at the tender age of 17. Tyler Sandhu was one of the most productive 16-year-olds in the league, finishing with 19 goals and 14 assists. And Austin Lotz, in his first season as the No. 1 goaltender, turned in some spectacular performances, particularly during the playoffs.
“We made a decision to go young, and we did and they played,” Davidson said. “They weren’t just here, they were playing, killing penalties or on the power play. I think it will be good for that group of rookies.
“There were some guys who steadily got better,” Davidson added about the players’ development during the season. “There are some guys who made some small steps and kind of flatlined. But in the end I though there was good progress made by the majority of our players. It was a very good development and growing year for our whole group.”
Part of that development was changing the players’ mindset. Davidson’s primary motivation for making a coaching change was shifting the team’s focus more toward offense. He spent his time behind the bench trying to begin that process in advance of hiring a new coach during the offseason. It didn’t show up in the numbers as Everett still struggled to score goals after the change, but the thought process is slowly beginning to evolve.
“You could tell some guys weren’t so scared to try and make plays,” Bauml said. “We didn’t score a lot of goals this year; we knew we weren’t a goal-scoring team. But in the second half, we were definitely being a little more creative and you could see the offensive instincts of some of the players were coming out a little more.”
So, the Tips believe they’re on the right track. Only time will tell whether the today’s development turns into tomorrow’s victories.
Everett’s season may be done, but two Silvertips will continue playing. Winger Reid Petryk departed Tuesday morning to sign a tryout contract with the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters and will finish out the season in the professional ranks. Defenseman Mirco Mueller will join Switzerland’s training camp for the U-18 World Championships, which take place April 18-28 in Sochi, Russia. Mueller is expected to make that team. … Everett will not have the services of highly-touted forward Auston Matthews next season. Matthews, a third-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft who is entering his 16-year-old season, has committed to playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program the next two seasons. The Tips are hoping Matthews will come to Everett once he’s completed his stint with the national team.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.