Everett’s Ondrej Vala passes the puck during a Jan. 10 game at Angels of the Winds Arena. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Everett’s Ondrej Vala passes the puck during a Jan. 10 game at Angels of the Winds Arena. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

New Silvertips Pilon, Vala finally experiencing long playoff run

It’s impossible to overstate what the additions of Garrett Pilon and Ondrej Vala have meant to the Everett Silvertips.

The pair acquired from the Kamloops Blazers just before the January trade deadline has been instrumental in Everett’s run to the Western Conference championship series. Those two fit the Tips’ needs better than an expensively-tailored Armani suit. Pilon gave Everett the additional scorer it required to prevent it from being reduced to a one-line team offensively, while Vala provided a much-needed bigger body and experienced presence on defense.

Just look at the results. Since Pilon and Vala made their debuts for Everett on Jan. 10 the Tips are 34-10, including 11-3 in the playoffs. Pilon is the team’s leading scorer in the postseason with 21 points in 14 games, while Vala sports a healthy plus-15 rating. Their contributions have played a big role in Everett being one win away from claiming just the second WHL Western Conference championship in franchise history, a feat the Tips can accomplish with a victory in Saturday night’s Game 5 at Angel of the Winds Arena.

But while much has been made about what Pilon and Vala have meant to Everett, the Tips have meant nearly as much to them.

By coming to Everett, Pilon and Vala are getting their first taste of a deep WHL playoff run, and for the three-year veterans it’s something they’ve waited their entire careers to experience.

“Yeah, I wanted this,” Vala said. “I never played long in the playoffs, so I’m happy I’m getting a chance and I’m enjoying every moment.”

Pilon and Vala had nothing but gushing praise for their two-and-a-half seasons in Kamloops. Pilon talked about how he felt like in some ways he was raised by the Blazers, and Vala expressed deep appreciation for the way the organization made a kid venturing far away from his native Czech Republic feel at home. Vala admitted he even cried a little bit when informed he had been traded to Everett.

But the hole in their resume from their time in Kamloops was a long playoff run. The Blazers made the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, but both years were eliminated in the first round by the Kelowna Rockets. This year was expected to be a rebuilding year in Kamloops, and that notion was quickly reinforced when the Blazers began the season with a nine-game losing streak.

Pilon and Vala are 19-year-olds who have signed NHL contracts — Pilon with the Washington Capitals, who selected him in the third round of the 2016 NHL draft, Vala with the Dallas Stars as an undrafted free agent in 2016 — meaning this is probably their last go-around in the WHL.

The trade to Everett gave Pilon and Vala an opportunity to finally be a part of a lengthy playoff run, and they are making the most of it.

“It’s been very fun. It’s been exciting,” Pilon said. “It’s the playoffs, anything can happen. It’s crazy how fast the game can change; you saw that in Game 4 against Portland (in the second round, when Pilon’s goal helped Everett turn defeat into victory in the final two minutes of the game).

“That was something that was really exciting when I was traded here to Everett, the chance to really take grasp of that.”

Not that Everett was a slam dunk for a long playoff run. The Tips had a slow start of their own, winning just four of their first 14 games — it was actually a 3-1 victory at Kamloops on Oct. 27 that turned Everett’s season around. By the time January rolled around the Tips had surged to the top of the U.S. Division, but all the championship hype centered around the arms race taking place in the East Division between Swift Current, Moose Jaw and Regina.

But so far the pieces have fallen into place for Everett. The Tips earned the conference’s top playoff seed, then eliminated Seattle and Portland in five games. A win Saturday would mark a third straight convincing series win.

Thanks in no small measure to the contributions by Pilon and Vala.

“The whole chance to win a championship, and have that be the goal of the organization this year and to really go for it, that’s a big thing,” Pilon said. “That they would go and grab me and Ondrej, for us to be the guys they wanted to pursue to help them achieve that, was a big confidence boost for both of us. We wanted to come in here and play well for them.”

While Pilon and Vala may be enjoying their first long playoff run, there was no talk about just how long that run might last.

“We don’t think about that,” Vala said. “We go game by game. I just hope we can win the next game and move on to the finals.”

And Pilon and Vala are grateful Everett gave them the chance to utter a statement like that.

No update on Fasko-Rudas

Everett coach Dennis Williams had no update on injured Tips forward Martin Fasko-Rudas. Fasko-Rudas left Thursday’s 3-1 victory in Game 4 in Kennewick with an undisclosed injury after taking a hit and did not return. “Right now there isn’t (an update),” Williams said Friday. “We left home today (when the Tips gathered at the rink but did not practice) and just told him to rest and we’ll revisit him tomorrow at the doc when he comes in.” Spencer Gerth filled in at Fasko-Rudas’ spot on Everett’s third line.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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