EVERETT — The busy weekends full of games have kept Garrett Pilon very busy, and he’s fine with that.
The home-and-home with the Seattle Thunderbirds that begins Friday in Kent helps keep the focus off a Sunday matinee that will have significant meaning for Pilon when the Kamloops Blazers visit Angel of the Winds Arena for the final time this season.
“Things have almost moved so quickly over here that we’ve just really been going hard these last couple of weeks, and with these three-in-threes you’re so focused on your hockey that it’s hard to stop and think about that,” Pilon said. “But it will be special. It was the team I got drafted by and to be able to play against them will be pretty neat.”
Pilon and defenseman Ondrej Vala have become integral parts of the Silvertips’ second-half push in recent weeks. But both of the 1998-born skaters had spent the previous two-plus seasons with the Blazers before the Tips acquired them in an early January blockbuster trade.
“It will be special for me, that’s for sure,” Vala said. “It will be a little bit weird for me to play against my friends, but when the puck drops we’re just against each other.”
The acquisition of Pilon and Vala is one of the biggest moves the Tips have made in recent years. Pilon has eight goals and 10 assists in 15 games while skating on a line with Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter. Vala has five assists in 15 games while paired with Wyatte Wylie on defense.
The trade also sent popular second-year players Orrin Centazzo and Montana Onyebuchi to Kamloops along with two unsigned prospects from the 2017 bantam draft and a pair of draft picks.
Onyebuchi, the bruising, Manitoba-born defenseman has five assists in 16 games with the Blazers. The Alberta-born Centazzo has six goals and nine assists in 17 games for Kamloops.
“After the game I’m sure Orrin and Montana will be over hanging out with our guys down here, and Vala and Pilon will be saying ‘hi’ to their old buddies,” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said. “It’s one of those things that it’s part of the business, but I think when the puck drops you’re playing for a different colored jersey now and everybody wants those two points.”
But first Pilon, Vala and the Silvertips must contend with a pair of games against archrival Seattle, the first of which begins at 7:35 p.m. at ShoWare Center in Kent.
Everett (36-17-2-2, 76 points) remains atop the U.S. Division with a two-point lead over Portland and a game in hand. The Tips have won two straight, four of five and have lost only once in regulation in their past 16 contests.
Seattle (27-20-6-2, 62 points) is trying to fend off Kamloops in the final wild card spot. The T-birds have dropped three straight and five of six, though they picked up loser points in two of those games.
Nevertheless, the T-birds continue to give Everett fits at the ShoWare Center where the Tips haven’t won since a 3-0 shutout in Game 1 of the 2016 Western Conference semifinals — a streak of 11 straight regular and postseason games.
“They’re big, they’re strong and they’re scoring by committee,” Williams said. “They’ve got their goalie (Liam Hughes) back there and their (defensemen) don’t make it too inviting for our guys to get net-front, so we’re going to have to play a really strong game inside the dots. We’re going to want to have to pay the price if we’re going to score goals.”
That’s something the Tips didn’t do in their last appearance in Kent three weeks ago when they fell 3-2 in a shootout. Williams was critical of his team’s lack of net-front presence and seeming hesitance to “win the battles” against T-birds players.
“I think it was a pretty physical matchup,” said Pilon, who experienced his first taste of the Everett-Seattle rivalry three weekends ago.
“I think both teams really grinded hard and whoever had the most will (wins),” Pilon continued. “It wasn’t too much of a skill game, it was who is going to win the battles and who is willing to do a little bit extra.”
Seattle defenseman Reece Harsch (nine goals, 12 assists) is listed out for 1-to-3 weeks. Forwards Nolan Volcan (25 goals, 31 assists) and Sami Moilanen (19 goals, 18 assists) are each day-to-day with upper-body injuries.
Everett is expected to remain without forward Bronson Sharp and defenseman Gianni Fairbrother this weekend.
Saturday’s puck drops at 7:05 p.m. at Angel of the Winds Arena. When that game concludes Pilon and Vala will finally allow themselves to think about their impending reunion with their former teammates at 4:05 p.m. Sunday.
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