Silvertips: Everett’s center problem forces creativity, sacrifice

With a dearth of centers on the roster, HC Dennis Williams is improvising with what he has

The Silvertips have a center problem.

The Silvertips’ roster contains just two centers — 19-year-old Riley Sutter and 17-year-old Reece Vitelli, leaving a significant hole up the middle of the ice for Everett’s forward group. Therefore, several wingers — mainly Connor Dewar, Luke Ormsby and Gage Goncalves — have helped out up the middle to fill out Everett’s forward lines.

“Those kids have done a good job. That isn’t easy, when you’ve been a winger your whole life to go up against (Portland center) Cody Glass out there,” Williams said. “So I give the guys a lot of credit. They don’t complain about it. We’ve been trying a lot of guys out there so we have different options.

“If you watch our game, we have to maneuver around that a little bit,” Williams said. “You don’t see continuity. We want to get to that, where three guys play together and read off each other and get a working relationship, but right now we’re trying to match a little bit against lines and where the pucks are dropping and who we can get out there.”

The Silvertips have attempted a collective 349 faceoffs this season and Sutter accounts for 185, a 53-percent clip. It’s not unusual for a team’s No. 1 center to handle the bulk of the faceoffs, but Sutter’s workload this season has been high. In 2017-2018, Matt Fonteyne led the team by taking 38.4 percent of faceoffs (1614 out of 4,200). Sutter was second at 32.4 percent.

The increase in percentage of faceoffs this season hasn’t bothered Sutter, though.

“I don’t think it’s the fact I’m taking too many, I think you just get kind of frustrated when you use a few,” Sutter said. “You just kind of got to stay into it and get ready for the next one. I’ve noticed this year with (Williams) that I’m taking a lot more faceoffs on power play, (penalty kill) and at big stages of the game, so you just have to be ready for that moment.”

Dewar, who normally plays left wing, has taken 14.9 percent of Everett’s drops, with Vitelli (10.6 percent), Goncalves (6.6 percent) and Ormsby (6.0 percent) behind.

The high workload with faceoffs hasn’t impacted Sutter, as he’s winning 53.5 percent of his matchups. Dewar has held his own with a 46.2 percent success rate. Vitelli (45.9 percent), Goncalves (39.1 percent) and Ormsby (38.1 percent) follow.

The responsibilities of playing center extend beyond just winning faceoffs. The position also contains more two-way responsibilities than playing on the wing.

“You’re kind of the quarterback every time the puck is dropped,” Williams said. “There are a lot of responsibilities, not just from the skating aspect and the work aspect, but the mental part of it, making sure guys are set up right on faceoffs. It’s a lot.”

For players like Dewar and Ormsby, with years of adjusting to the speed and pace of the game of the WHL under their belts, switching to center isn’t as daunting for it is for someone like Goncalves, a rookie. But picking up the slack at center has been a nice learning experience for Goncalves, he says.

“Obviously we don’t have a lot of pure centerman on the roster, but if you add it to your game it’s just another part of sticking in the lineup,” Goncalves said. “If it helps me stick in the lineup, I’m all for it.”

There are two primary solutions to this predicament: the Silvertips could scour the trade market for a center or convert one of the aforementioned players to center full-time. The former scenario is more likely, especially with Everett only occupying two of its three overage spots.

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