EVERETT — Season-ticket holders of the Everett Silvertips were greeted with a new sight last weekend when they entered the main entrance at Xfinity Arena: both Carter Hart and Dustin Wolf were standing there in their sweaters and dress slacks to greet them.
“I do (enjoy it), yeah,” Hart said. “I know people look up to us and so you have to go up there and it’s a responsibility, really. You have a responsibility being an Everett Silvertip that people look up to you, so you have to give back to the community.”
It’s a new trend this season for the scratches to meet with the fans prior to game time. It wasn’t the brainchild of first-year head coach Dennis Williams, but Williams is in favor of it.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Williams said. “If you’re not playing you can always come back and be involved up top, and again at the end of the day those are two really good players up there that fans can say hi to or interact with.”
Hart, the Philadelphia-signed, two-time reigning WHL Goaltender of the Year, is perhaps Everett’s most recognizable player. Wolf is a highly regarded California-born netminder looking to create his own legacy in the coming seasons.
But last weekend was likely your last chance to see them at the door. Wolf, who spent seven months recovering from offseason hip surgery, returned to practice last week, while Hart returned to practice Monday after a bout with mononucleosis.
The return of both goaltenders creates a logjam between the pipes heading into this weekend’s games at Kamloops on Friday and Portland on Sunday.
Blake Lyda, the 15-year-old taken by the Tips in the fourth round of this year’s bantam draft, made his WHL debut last Wednesday in a 3-2 overtime loss to Tri-City and has appeared in three games.
Lyda was returned to his midget team Thursday.
That leaves Dorrin Luding, Hart and Wolf remaining with the team and all three were scheduled to accompany the team to Kamloops.
While Wolf is scheduled to dress, the decision between Hart and Luding could be a day-of decision.
“It’s a matter of how Carter feels, but definitely Wolfie will dress this weekend for sure,” Williams said.
Regaining weight and strength is paramount to recovering from mono. Hart lost 17 pounds during his illness and is working to gain that back.
“It felt good to get back out there, but at the same time you can sorta feel like there’s still that fatigue factor,” Hart said Tuesday. “Even today I still have that fatigue factor, but it’s coming around, and I’m feeling better every day and working hard on it off the ice to get back and get myself back into shape, and working to get back as soon as I can.”
Five different goaltenders have already seen time in the crease for Everett this season including Kyle Dumba (released) and Danton Belluk (returned to midget). Hart has appeared in just two games and is 1-1 with a 3.70 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
Luding has seen the bulk of the action with a 3-6 record, a 3.64 GAA and an .891 save percentage. Wolf has yet to make his WHL debut, but he had a 1.63 GAA and a .941 save percentage in 18 regular-season games for the Los Angeles Junior Kings of the T1EHL U-16 league. He also had a 2.38 GAA and a .936 save percentage in three playoff games.
None of this figures to settle down until the second half of the season. In all likelihood Hart will be the goaltender for Team Canada at World Juniors once again during the holidays. That would cause him to miss most of December and two weeks in January, which means the goaltending duties will once again fall to Wolf and Luding.
But first the focus is on a Kamloops squad that is off to its own difficult start at 3-10. The Blazers lost their first nine games and are the only team trailing Everett in the Western Conference standings.
“It’s a little bit of the battle of the unknowns,” Williams said. “If you look at standings and that’s what you compare the game to, you’re going to be in for a rough night. You always have to respect your opponent and obviously they have a great coach over there and it’s a matter of time before they turn the corner as well. We want to make sure it’s not against us.”
Nick Chyzowski has three goals and nine assists to lead the Blazers with a dozen points. Garrett Pilon has five goals and six assists, and Joe Gatenby has four goals and six assists.
Dylan Ferguson is 3-8 in net with an .875 save percentage and a 4.35 GAA in 22 games. Max Palaga is 0-2 with an .853 percentage and 3.89 GAA in four games.
Everett plays at Portland at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
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