EVERETT – It’s the classic matchup of opposing styles, the best representatives of differing hockey philosophies colliding head on, the irresistable force versus the immovable object.
When the Everett Silvertips and the Vancouver Giants begin their second-round Western Hockey League playoff series tonight in Vancouver, the eternal question of what’s more important to winning championships – offense or defense – will begin playing itself out.
“I think it will definitely be interesting for people who come and watch,” Vancouver goalie Aaron Sorochan said. “I think both teams are going to stick to their game plan, so we’ll see who sticks to their’s better.”
Vancouver is the most explosive offensive team in the Western Conference. The Giants have a wealth of offensive talent and led the Western Conference in scoring during the regular season with 215 goals.
In contrast, Everett is one of the two strongest defensive squads in the Western Conference. The Silvertips surrendered just 153 goals this season, second only to top-seeded Kelowna.
So needless to say, the critical determining factor in the series is who wins the matchup between Vancouver’s offense and Everett’s defense.
“We’re two different types of teams,” Vancouver forward Darren Lynch said. “We have a lot of offensive power and with Everett, (goalie Jeff) Harvey is playing really well for them, they play a tight defensive game and try not to give up too much. But we feel we play solid defense as well, so it should be a good series.”
Vancouver has had as much success unlocking Everett’s defense as anyone this season. The Silvertips surrendered an average of two goals a game during the regular season, but Vancouver scored 17 goals in six games against Everett, nearly a goal a game more than average. The Giants won the season series 4-2, one of those victories coming in overtime.
And the Giants carried that offensive punch into the postseason. After losing the first-round opener against Kamloops, the Giants won four straight, scoring 16 goals in the four games. Vancouver’s No. 1 line of 20-year-old Lynch (22 goals, 37 assists during the regular season) and 19-year-olds Adam Courchaine (39 goals, 43 assists) and Ty Morris (17 goals, 15 assists in 44 games) was particularly effective, combining for 20 points in those four games.
But unlike first-round opponent Spokane, which was heavily dependent on one scoring line, Vancouver has much more offensive depth. The Giants’ No. 2 line of 18-year-old Mitch Bartley (31 goals, 28 assists and 16-year-old phenoms Gilbert Brule (25 goals, 35 assists) and J.D. Watt (one goal in three games) is almost as dangerous.
“It’s going to be a really good challenge,” Everett right wing Torrie Wheat said. “They have some unbelievable speed and they’ve got some players who are awesome one-on-one. So we’re going to have to bear down and minimize our mistakes as much as we can.”
Fortunatley for the Silvertips, they’re experts at doing just that. Everett was airtight defensively in its first-round sweep of Spokane, surrendering just five goals in the four games. Harvey in particular was surperb, finishing with a 1.24 goals against average and a .962 save percentage.
“Our patience level is going to be key,” Vancouver coach Dean Evason said. “They play the same type of hockey game that allowed them to be successful all year: very sound defense and a very solid team game. In order to have success we can’t be running and gunning all over the place trying to score goals. Their transition game is very good, they’re patient and they score goals because of it. So our first thought has to be defensive. We have to be good defensively, then see where we fit offensively.”
The x-factor for Vancouver may be Sorochan. The 19-year-old goalie often gets overlooked among Vancouver’s many offensive weapons. But he was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player after going 23-14-7 with a 2.37 goals against average and .919 save percentage during the regular season, and he was strong in the first round, going 4-1 with a 2.35 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. Sorochan’s ability in net is one of the reasons why Vancouver can afford to play such an offensive style.
Put it all together and Everett faces a difficult task in the second round.
“They bring a lot of speed and have great offensive talent in their first two lines,” Everett goalie Jeff Harvey said. “They’re very deep. Spokane was more concentrated in one line, but Vancouver has four lines it can play, two really great lines, and they have solid goaltending in Sorochan, so it’s going to be a great challenge.”