By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips are about to get a large dose of home cooking.
But this won’t be a case of simply strolling up to the dining room table and being served a feast. The Tips are going to have to don their aprons, roll up their sleeves and get to work in the kitchen for this meal.
Everett begins a stretch where eight of its next nine games are at Comcast Arena, starting tonight against the Brandon Wheat Kings. This, however, is not your typical stretch where a team expects to get fat at home.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Everett captain Matt Pufahl said about the upcoming home games. “We’ve had a couple road games, so it’s always good to get back home. But we’ve had six days off and practices have been tough. We’re just trying to get our legs back under us and get ready for (tonight).”
Everett’s first 14 games included six at home and eight on the road. Seven of the Tips’ past nine games came away from home. That changes dramatically beginning tonight whne Everett plays four consecutive games at home. Then after a quick detour through Kennewick to play Tri-City, the Tips return home for another four-game home stretch.
“It’s a good feeling knowing you don’t have to leave,” Everett leading scorer Joshua Winquist said. “No one really likes road trips. You like playing on the road, you just don’t like the travel. It’s nice to be able to settle at home for a while.”
It’s not as simple as that, however. Though there are no issues with travel, the nine games come fast and furious in a 16-day stretch that includes a rare instance when the Silvertips play four home games in one week, from Nov. 11-16. Everett also has a Monday afternoon game when the Tips welcome the Vancouver Giants for a Veterans Day matinee.
Still, Everett coach Kevin Constantine isn’t dwelling on the upcoming home-heavy schedule.
“I haven’t thought about it because it would be a waste of my energy,” Constantine said. “For sure, it’s important. But man, if you get ahead of yourself one game in this business, things can change quick. It’s the oldest cliche in the business, I understand, but we’ve got to play one game at a time and figure out each game as it comes along, and not get too far ahead of ourselves.”
The stretch also sees the level of competition escalate.
Everett (10-2-2-0) enters this weekend with the best winning percentage in the Western Hockey League. But four of the league’s top seven winning percentages are held by teams located in the U.S. Division, and the Tips played just three of their first 14 games against fellow U.S. Division foes.
Those U.S. Division games begin trickling in during this nine-game stretch with four coming against divisional foes. Most notably, Everett plays its first games of the season against Seattle (Saturday) and Portland (Nov. 15). The defending league champion Winterhawks have won nine straight and lead the league in points with 25. Seattle, which may be the league’s most-improved team, is just one point behind Portland in the standings. Therefore, this stretch will provide the first true glimpse of where Everett stands in the U.S. Division hierarchy.
“Rivalries are fun,” Constantine said. “Certainly Seattle and Portland over the years have been among the biggest. Playing those games is more fun. It should be greater intensity and it will be another test of where we’re really at because it’s still pretty confusing, with how strong the division is, where we’re at in the division. So that will be fun, but we’ll figure that out when we come to those games.”
Said Pufahl: “I’m really excited. Portland and Seattle have both been really hot lately. We’re just really looking forward to it. Divisional games are always really rowdy and really intense with the fans. We’re just really looking forward to it and want to seize the opportunity.”
It’s also important for the Tips to get results during this stretch at home. Everett may have the league’s top winning percentage, yet the Tips’ 22 points are only good enough for a third-place tie with Spokane in the division. Therefore, to keep up with the Joneses, Everett needs to make some hay from these home contests.
“It’s huge,” Pufahl said. “So far we’ve played pretty well at home. We’ve struggled on the road, not necessarily with our win-loss record but with the way we’re playing. We just really want to get back to our game, and it’s pretty lucky we have a home stretch to do that.”
With No. 1 goaltender Austin Lotz sidelined with an ankle injury, Daniel Cotton gets the call between the pipes tonight. Cotton hasn’t appeared in a game since Oct. 12 as Lotz started Everett’s previous 11 games. … Tonight’s visit by Brandon sees the return to Comcast Arena of former Everett defenseman Nick Walters. Walters, a first-round pick in the 2009 bantam draft by Everett, spent two-and-a-half seasons with the Tips before being traded to the Wheat Kings at last season’s trade deadline.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.