Everett Silvertips head coach and GM Dennis Williams stands behind the bench during his team’s playoff opener against the Vancouver Giants on Friday, March 29, 2024, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everrett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Everett Silvertips head coach and GM Dennis Williams stands behind the bench during his team’s playoff opener against the Vancouver Giants on Friday, March 29, 2024, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everrett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Patterson: Silvertips’ “Last Dance” off to a slow start

With coach Dennis Williams departing after the playoffs, Everett drops Game 1 versus Vancouver.

EVERETT — If the Everett Silvertips are going to make this their “Last Dance,” then they have some work to do.

Everett general manager and head coach Dennis Williams’ swan song began in earnest Friday night as the Tips opened the playoffs, and the Tips marked the occasion with a 6-4 loss to the Vancouver Giants in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round series at Angel of the Winds Arena.

It was a stark reminder of the odd predicament Everett finds itself in.

Just two days before the start of the playoffs it was announced that Williams had been hired to be the head coach of the Bowling Green State University men’s team. The day before Game 1 Williams was in Bowling Green, Ohio, conducting an introductory press conference while the Tips were conducting their final practice before the postseason began.

Certainly unusual circumstances to begin a playoff run.

Williams declined to comment about the Bowling Green situation following Friday’s game, but one has to wonder what affect the timing of the announcement had on Everett’s preparations.

“I was pretty shocked,” said Tips winger Ben Hemmerling, who found out about Williams taking the Bowling Green job on Twitter. “He called us in for a meeting and kind of addressed it, just wanted to validate us, that he was still 110% invested in us.

“I don’t think our preparations were affected,” Hemmerling added. “We prepare the same way for every game, and obviously Willie’s presence, you know when he’s out there. It was hard to miss him for a day there, but we prepare the same way.”

Everett Silvertips head coach and GM Dennis Williams stands on the bench while directing his team during the 2024 playoff opener against the Vancouver Giants on Friday, March 29, 2024, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everrett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Everett Silvertips head coach and GM Dennis Williams stands on the bench while directing his team during the 2024 playoff opener against the Vancouver Giants on Friday, March 29, 2024, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everrett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Perhaps there should be a tweak to those preparations. Do you remember that ESPN documentary series about the Chicago Bulls that came out in 2020? Every sports fan seemed to watch it, given it was about the only new sports programming available in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

The series chronicled Chicago’s 1997-98 season, when the Michael Jordan-led Bulls won their sixth NBA title in eight seasons. Chicago management announced before the season that coach Phil Jackson would not have his contract renewed, and it was clear the five-time champions were going to be broken up — Jordan ended up retiring for the second time following the season. Therefore, Jackson called it “The Last Dance,” using the knowledge that this was the last go-around for that team as motivation to push for one last title.

Everett finds itself in a similar situation. Williams departs for Bowling Green as soon as the playoff run is over. Stalwart four-year Silvertips Hemmerling and Austin Roest are 19-year-olds who have signed NHL contracts, meaning that barring unforeseen circumstances they’re gone after this season, too.

Can the Tips waltz their way to their own “Last Dance?”

The early returns weren’t promising. The third-seeded Tips are favored over the sixth-seeded Giants. But Vancouver hit Everett with a sucker punch just 43 seconds into Friday night’s Game 1, as Cameron Schmidt split the defenders to receive a stretch pass for a clean breakaway, then beat Tips goaltender Tyler Palmer high to the glove side to put Everett in an immediate 1-0 hole. Then the Giants exploited the Tips’ biggest weakness, the penalty kill, converting on all three of their first-period power play to take a 4-2 lead into the first intermission.

The Silvertips and Giants go at it after the final horn of the 2024 playoff opener on Friday, March 29, 2024, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everrett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Silvertips and Giants go at it after the final horn of the 2024 playoff opener on Friday, March 29, 2024, at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everrett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Everett pulled within one early in the second period, but even though the Tips outshot the Giants 42-23, they didn’t create many clear chances, and Vancouver put it away with a pair of empty-net goals before Everett got a last-second consolation.

This didn’t look like an Everett team inspired to win one for its departing coach.

Or maybe it did, just the inexperienced teenager version instead of the grown-man multi-champion version. Everett’s players didn’t look like they’d checked out, they looked like they were trying to do too much. Trying to make one move too many. Staying on the ice for their shift one beat too long.

“I respect his decision and wish him all the best going forward,” Everett defenseman Kaden Hammell said about Williams. “He’s fully bought in with the group we have now, though, so I feel we’ll get it going into the next couple games here.

“I feel like everybody’s pretty bought in still. I don’t think it affected much.”

Maybe not. But after the Game 1 loss the Tips will have to turn things around to prevent this “Last Dance” from being a short one.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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