Hit the road Tips: Season’s longest trip begins

EVERETT — So far this season, the Everett Silvertips already have faced adversity and overcome it. They lost their first four games and rebounded by winning eight of their past 10 to pull themselves back above .500.

For the most part, however, the Tips accomplished that turnaround through the luxury of playing within the friendly confines of Comcast Arena.

That all changes tonight.

Everett gets a heavy dose of life on the road with a swing through the Western Hockey League’s Central Division that begins tonight at Edmonton and continues against the division’s other five teams before wrapping up with a game in Spokane on the way back. It’s a seven-games-in-10-days jaunt and longest road trip of the season for the Silvertips.

By contrast, Everett played nine of its first 14 games at home, and only one of those first five road games required an overnight stay.

“We’ve played a lot of home games this year and obviously it’s an advantage to play at home because you’re used to the surroundings,” Everett center Zach Hamill said. “But I think we have enough guys who have played on the road before who can lead our team through this.”

Because Everett’s had a travel-friendly schedule so far, this year’s trip east serves as more of a test than in previous seasons. However, the Tips appear undaunted by the challenge.

“You know, I don’t fully understand the home and the road thing,” goaltender Leland Irving said. “Yeah, it’s your building, but I think you just go out and play each game as if it’s a brand new game and you’re going to give it all you’ve got. We haven’t seen these teams before and they haven’t seen us, so it’s kind of a clean slate. We’ll just go in and battle hard for 60 minutes and the chances are the team that works hardest will come through in the end.”

Most teams head into their long road trip hoping to emerge with a .500 record. However, Everett takes a different approach, one that helped the Tips sweep all six games when they traveled through the East Division last season.

“We like the road trip,” Everett coach John Becanic said. “We’ve always had pretty good success on eastern road trips because we go out and try to win every game, we don’t go out and say we’re trying to go .500. We start out trying to win every game, the same as we would here.”

Although the road trip presents the players with several challenges — unfamiliar surroundings, hostile crowds, bus legs — it also has its benefits. Two weeks together serves as a bonding experience for the players, and the coaches are able to monitor the team a little closer.

“The thing is you control the environment,” Becanic said. “You control the players’ sleep, you control what they eat, the high school guys aren’t getting up at 6 in the morning to go to school. So the environment is the same for everybody and it gives you some continuity through your lineup.”

The road trip also gives many of the players a chance to play before family. Everett has five players — Irving, defensemen Graham Potuer and Matt Strong, and forwards Tyler Skauge and Tyler Eskesen — who hail from Alberta. Irving said it’s possible he’ll have relatives at every game in Alberta.

“It’s always fun to be able to play in front of family and friends,” Irving said. “When we swing through Calgary I imagine I’ll see a few of the Flames guys there (Irving was a first-round pick by the Calgary Flames in the 2006 NHL draft). It’s an exciting time and you want to be playing your best and put on a show for them.”

Fortunately for Everett the Tips are at full strength heading into the trip, with the exception of suspended defenseman Eddie Friesen who was sent home for disciplinary reasons. Everett’s only injury issue was captain Jonathan Harty’s hip pointer, and Harty is expected to return to the lineup tonight after sitting out the previous four games.

So the Tips feel confident heading into their road trip. Now all that remains to be seen whether the Tips can carry the momentum generated at home with them on the road.

Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog

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