EVERETT — Growing pains are sometimes just a part of the early stages of the WHL season.
And while that certainly applied to Everett against Tri-City during both team’s Western Hockey League regular-season opener on Friday, where Everett dressed six rookies, Tri-City’s top players simply outperformed the Silvertips’ in the key moments of the game, and the Americans toppled the Silvertips, 4-2, at Angel of the Winds Arena.
Nikita Krivokrasov potted a pair of goals and Colorado Avalanche draft pick Sasha Mutala amassed four points (one goal, three assists) for the Americans (1-0-0), who scored three goals in the final period to sink the Silvertips (0-1-0).
“I think what you saw was they were a bigger, heavier, faster team,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said. “I thought they had heavier sticks than we did. I thought they won a lot of the board battles. I thought we were a little more timid and shy along the walls. That’s a little bit of a different game we’ve seen throughout preseason and I thought they did a really good job of executing their game plan and capitalizing on their opportunities.”
Tri-City is well-known for having a big and physical team, and their 2019-2020 version, while a bit younger, is no different. The Americans’ average height and weight for their lineup on Friday night was listed at 6-foot-2, 194 pounds. Everett’s was just 6-foot, 183 pounds.
The difference was even starker amongst defensemen. Everett’s average height and weight was 5-foot-11, 178 pounds amongst blueliners on Friday. Tri-City’s six-man group averaged out at a burly 6-foot-3, 202 pounds.
“We weren’t quite as fast against that team as I thought we would be,” Williams said. “We have to continue to find ways when we play big, heavy teams with strong sticks of playing to our strengths, today they played to theirs and they beat us.”
For several players in Everett’s lineup, like Olen Zellweger, Dylan Anderson and Aidan Sutter, all of which haven’t played above midget level hockey but are expected to play significant roles for the Silvertips, this loss may serve as a ‘Welcome to the WHL’ type moment.
There was no better team to usher them to that realization.
“It’s something new to them,” Williams said. “During the preseason, you’re playing against players that have been sent home to play youth hockey — midget and bantam. These are two points where puck management does count at the end of the game, the score does count. Like I always said to our guys, two points are two points in game No. 1, game No. 30, game No. 68, they’re all the same. We gave up two points at home and we have to have a better response because that’s not acceptable from our team.”
Samuel Huo put the game out of reach, snapping a shot over Everett goaltender Dustin Wolf’s shoulder on a sudden odd-man rush, providing Tri-City a 3-1 lead at 5:29 in the third period and subsequently sucking the air out of the building.
The Silvertips responded on Bryce Kindopp’s goal at 10:10, but Everett couldn’t pot the equalizer with the net empty, and Mutala wristed a shot into an empty net at 18:27.
With the game tied 1-1, Everett was gifted 3:55 of power-play time straddled between the first and second periods, but the Silvertips couldn’t notch the go-ahead goal with the man advantage.
Instead, it was Krivokrasov who tallied the decisive goal with his second of the game just after the American’s power-play expired at 1:52 in the third to put the Americans up 2-1.
Gut leaves early
Silvertips import pick Michal Gut left the game in the first period with an apparent injury. The Czech forward missed the Silvertips final two preseason games with an upper-body injury. Winger Gage Goncalves helped fill his role at the faceoff dot and did so admirably by winning 8-of-13 draws.
Kindopp on young players: “Obviously I think it’s going to get better as the games go on. I think they’ll start to realize how fast the games are. I don’t think they played bad, I thought they played good hockey. I just think everyone has a little bit to clean up for sure.”
Kindopp on what went wrong: “I couldn’t really tell you for sure. Just a lot of loose pucks we didn’t win, just some pucks off the glass, some simple turnovers we need to clean up. That will help our game a lot.”
Josh Horton covers the Silvertips for the Herald. Follow him on Twitter, @JoshHortonEDH