Shocked Tips missed workhorse Irving

  • By Nick Patterson / Herald Writer
  • Friday, April 28, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

EVERETT – The decisive blow in the WHL’S Western Conference championship series was probably dealt 24 hours before the first puck was dropped.

The Everett Silvertips may have been steamrolled by the Vancouver Giants, losing in four straight games. However, there’s no question that the loss of No. 1 goaltender Leland Irving on the eve of the series provided a shock the Tips never recovered from.

“We didn’t find out until the day of Game 1, so it shook the team up a little bit, I think,” Everett captain Torrie Wheat said. ” (Matt Esposito, Irving’s replacement) is a good goalie, but he didn’t really see much action during the season. The playoffs are a whole different thing and Irving had played unbelievable for us. So it definitely shook us up a bit.”

Irving, who was a workhorse during the regular season and stellar in the first two rounds of the playoffs, pulled a groin muscle in practice the day before Game 1 and did not dress for the first three games. Everett looked shellshocked the first two periods of Game 1, and the Tips never got back to full speed.

It’s possible Irving’s presence wouldn’t have affected the outcome – Irving did return for Game 4 and the results were no different, as Everett lost 5-0. However, by that point it seemed the life had been sucked from the Tips.

“Sixty percent of your team is your goaltending,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “Matt, as a 16 year old, barely played during the year. He’s still developing his hockey, his future’s ahead of him. I think you would have had to play the whole series with Leland in net and see where everything went. Then you’d be able to pass judgment on how the two teams compare to each other.

“But the bottom line is Vancouver was better than us during the regular season, and they’re better than us now.”

There was some sentiment among the players that they could have handled the situation better.

“We don’t want to put it on Irv,” center Peter Mueller said. “It’s hard, but we’ve got to fight through it. Espo’s a great goalie. He’s young, but he’s got a lot more years to come in this league. You can’t put it all on Irv, put some of it on me. I’ll take the blame for it.”

Not so special teams: The conventional wisdom going into the series was Everett wanted to turn it into a specialty teams battle. However, the Giants turned that around on the Tips, turning the special teams contest into a blowout.

In the four games Vancouver went 6-for-28 on the power play, a 21-percent success rate that was substantially better than the 13 percent the Tips allowed during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Giants shut out Everett’s power play. A 20-percent performer during the regular season, Everett went goalless on 24 chances.

“It was huge,” Mueller said of the special teams battle. “They’re unbelievable on special teams. We were perfect going into this series on the PK and power play, and they shut us down on both ends. Much credit to them.”

Added defenseman Shaun Heshka: “Our penalty kill against Kelowna, we gave up one goal the whole series. Here we’re giving up six goals in four games. It’s just not who we are and it’s sad to see we lost because of our penalty kill. Our power play wasn’t working either. It started clicking a little bit (Thursday), but we just couldn’t put the puck in the net, plain and simple.”

Undestined: Need more proof that beating Vancouver wasn’t in the cards for Everett? Even the Tips’ attempt at finding inspiration prior to Game 4 backfired.

“Before the game the coaches had a video being set up for us, trying to emphasize how the Red Sox came back against the Yankees (from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 American League Championship Series), trying to get us pumped up,” Wheat said. “For the first time all year they couldn’t get the video machine working. It’s just one of those series.”

Sheldon bids farewell: Thursday’s Game 4 was the final Silvertips broadcast for color commentator Dave Sheldon.

Sheldon, who provided his hockey insight on Everett’s radio broadcasts from the franchise’s beginning, is leaving to become the voice of the expansion Chilliwack Bruins next season.

The switch to Chilliwack is more convienent geographically for Sheldon, who lives in Vancouver, B.C. Sheldon commuted to Everett for the Silvertip games.

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