Are the Seattle Thunderbirds the Everett Silvertips’ archrivals?
Maybe, maybe not.
Sure, Everett and Seattle are as close in proximity as any two teams in the WHL’s Western Conference. And yes, the franchises have had their heated moments over the years.
However, the T-birds have a much longer and much more acrimonious history with the Portland Winterhawks, and regardless of how the Tips may feel, Seattle certainly considers Portland its archrival ahead of Everett. It’s difficult to be archrivals when both parties don’t agree on the “arch” portion.
But are the T-birds the Tips’ arch nemeses?
From a Tips perspective, the T-birds are the cartoon Road Runner to their Wile E. Coyote. Over the previous three seasons, no other franchise has done more to thwart Everett’s hopes and dreams than the T-birds.
Everett and Seattle begin their second-round playoff series Friday night at Xfinity Arena. It is the third time in four seasons the I-5 rivals, which are located just 45 miles apart, have met in the postseason, and during the past four seasons the teams never finished more than 10 points apart in the standings. The fates of these franchises have become intertwined like ivy vines and garden fences.
But while the rivalry seems to be reaching a new apex, when it comes to honors and glory the teeter-totter has been heavily tilted in one direction. Once the postseason arrives it’s been all T-birds, and that’s a block the Silvertips will have to overcome if they want to advance.
“Us older guys, we’ve played against them quite a bit in the playoffs and the results haven’t gone our way,” said Everett center Matt Fonteyne, who is facing Seattle in the postseason for the third time.
“They’ve always had a really good team and I think they’re built pretty well for the playoffs,” Fonteyne added. “They’re a big, hard-hitting team and they have a lot of skilled guys who can make plays, and if you make a mistake they’ll burn you on it.”
The Tips have been the burn victims far too often in the playoffs.
Seattle wasn’t always Everett’s nemesis. When the Silvertips entered the league in 2003 it was thought, given the teams’ nearness, that Tips-versus-T-birds was going to develop into one of the WHL’s fiercest rivalries. But while there was heat in the series during the first 10 years of Everett’s existence, it didn’t quite reach the anticipated level. The teams never met in the playoffs, and they never engaged in a dash for the U.S. Divisional title against one another. When one team was up, the other was down. The only tight races between the franchises weren’t about winning anything, but rather about just getting into the playoffs. Without a divisional battle or postseason matchup, the rivalry was missing that signature moment to elevate it beyond the realm of local bragging rights.
But that changed in a big way beginning in the 2013-14 season, when the Tips and T-birds met in the playoffs for the first time. That season announced the return to prominence of both franchises, which had been long dormant in being relevant. Since then, the past three division champions have been either Everett or Seattle, with the teams finishing 1-2 each of the past two campaigns. The WHL changed its playoff format in 2014-15, with the divisional pods increasing the likelihood of the Tips and T-birds meeting in the postseason, and so we have the teams facing off for the second straight year and third time in four.
However, while Everett and Seattle tend to run neck-and-neck during the regular season, the playoffs have proven to be more akin to Bugs Bunny getting another one over on Elmer Fudd.
In 2014, Everett and Seattle finished tied in the standings with 88 points, the T-birds earning the higher seed via the tiebreaker. The teams split their season series 5-5, with six of the 10 contests decided by a single goal. Everyone hunkered down for a long series. But Seattle, using its superior size and physicality, won the first three games and ended up finishing off Everett in five.
Last season, Seattle raced past Everett in the season’s final six weeks to finish first in the division, eight points ahead of the Tips. Both teams swept their first-round series, again setting up an anticipated matchup. But again the T-birds had little trouble with Everett, outshooting the Tips 169-111 and again winning in five.
It’s like the Tips are Tom, forever futilely trying to catch the T-birds’ Jerry.
But maybe the tide is starting to turn. This season, Seattle again got hot in the second half of the season and appeared poised to pass the Tips on the final stretch to claim a second straight division title. But Everett held on, and for the first time the Tips will have home-ice advantage in a playoff series against the T-birds.
“Hopefully (it’s an indication the tide is turning),” said Everett defenseman Kevin Davis, who’s also played in all those postseason series against Seattle. “But they had some key guys hurt down the stretch. It was nice to win the division, but the playoffs are the playoffs.”
And the Tips are all too familiar with how big a task they face in overcoming their nemesis.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.