By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips will be heavy underdogs when their first-round playoff series against the Portland Winterhawks begins Friday.
But however the best-of-seven series between the eighth-seeded Tips and top-seeded Winterhawks unfolds, the experience should prove valuable for a young Everett team as it builds toward the future.
“If you look at the two teams going head-to-head, they have 450-460 man games played in the playoffs; we’ve got 82, 40 of which come from Reid Petryk and Connor Cox,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “So our young group, whether we play four, eight or 14 games, they’re going to carry that forward in the future. I think that will be valuable, valuable experience.”
Everett has 12 rookies among its full-time roster players, along with two veterans who have never appeared in a playoff game. Everett’s other 10 players have combined to play in just 82 career playoff games. Subtract the games Cox played for Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, Petryk played for Medicine Hat, and Ayrton Nikkel played for Brandon, and the entire team has just 37 games of playoff experience with Everett.
Everett’s front office already announced its thoughts about the future, issuing its guarantee to season ticket holders that the Tips will finish at least sixth in the Western Conference next season and fourth in 2014-15. Now they’re hoping the playoff experience helps the players achieve those goals.
“It’s huge,” defenseman Ben Betker, one of those rookies who’s getting his first taste of the playoffs, said about getting the playoff experience. “I’ve talked to Austin Lotz and Austin Adam about it, and they both feel like they’re more experienced, even the way things ended up last year (when Everett was swept in the first round by Tri-City). It’s huge for us being as young as we are.”
So what are the players going to get out of the playoff experience that they didn’t get during the regular season?
“They’re going to notice the intensity is going to pick up every game,” Davidson said. “You’re playing the same opponent potentially seven games in a row, so there’s dealing with that. I also think we’re looking to establish a playoff mentality. It doesn’t matter how many points they finished ahead of us, today’s it’s 0-0.
“I think the preparation for a playoff series is considerably more than you have a chance to do in a weekend when you’re playing three different opponents on three different nights,” Davidson added. “We started today with lots of video, we there will be more tomorrow, there will be more Thursday. It’s just a whole different approach.”
And the Tips are hoping that experiencing that approach will pay dividends in the future.
When the series begins Friday in Portland, the Tips will likely be without one of their heart-and-soul performers.
Overage winger Ryan Harrison is doubtful for the start of the series because of an upper-body injury. Harrison suffered the injury March 8 at Spokane and missed Everett’s final four games.
Harrison’s absence will be felt by the Tips. Despite a season that’s been torn apart by injuries and illness, Harrison still finished seventh on the team in scoring with 32 points in 51 games. His energy and combative attitude would be welcome in a playoff setting.
Everett will also likely be without winger Logan Aasman, who’s also been out since March 8 because of an upper-body injury.
Defenseman Austin Adam, who sat out Everett’s final two games because of an undisclosed injury, practiced Tuesday and should be available for the start of the series. His return gives the Tips the flexibility to use Landon Oslanski as either a defenseman or a forward. Winger Lucas Grayson, who hasn’t played since Dec. 30 because of a lower-body injury, also practiced and could be available Friday.
Everett was able to give a trio of 15-year-old prospects some game action during the final weekend of the regular season, and the trio impressed.
Defenseman Kevin Davis, the team’s first-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft, appeared in five games earlier this season and therefore had already gotten his feet wet. But forward Matt Fonteyne (third round) and defenseman Noah Juulsen (fourth round) both made their WHL debuts, and both showed no signs of being overwhelmed by the moment. Fonteyne appeared in two games, registering his first career assist and finishing a plus-3. Juulsen played one game and took a regular shift, including dishing out a big hit on Tri-City’s Malte Stromwall on Sunday.
“I was really happy with them,” Davidson said. “I thought all three demonstrated to me they’ll be ready to play in our lineup next year. They all skate, think and move the puck. I think they’re going to be great additions to our lineup as we go forward over the next few years.”
Fonteyne returned home Monday, but Davis and Juulsen remain with the team and could be called into action in the playoffs.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.