It was one of the most remarkable victories in the Everett Silvertips’ 19-season history.
Playing severely short-handed in a way the team never experienced before, the Silvertips somehow overcame one of the hottest teams in the WHL when they defeated the Seattle Thunderbirds 4-1 Saturday night at Angel of the Winds Arena.
Everett limped into Saturday night’s game like a hockey player trying to get back to the bench with the blade snapped off one of his skates. The Tips entered the game with nine players unavailable either because of injury or because they’re prepping for the World Junior Hockey Championships, including six of the team’s top seven scorers. Everett was so depleted that it was forced to dress just 14 skaters — four fewer than normal — including two call-ups and two players who would be healthy scratches if the team was at full health.
With Everett hosting Seattle, a team that hadn’t lost in regulation in nine straight and beat the Tips 5-2 the night before in Kent, it seemed a near certainty the Tips’ losing streak (including a 4-3 overtime loss at Portland on Tuesday) would stretch to five.
But a Herculean effort by those who were available, including a pair of goals from winger Niko Huuhtanen, a 49-save performance from goaltender Braden Holt, and major contributions from depth players like Beau Courtney and Vince Lamanna, gave Everett the unlikeliest of victories.
And the Tips did themselves one better Sunday night at home against Spokane. Everett at least had two more bodies as 16-year-old defenseman Logan Greenough and 15-year-old winger Jesse Heslop were hastily summoned to make their WHL debuts. But still skating two players short, the Tips topped the Chiefs 7-2 to close out the first half of the season on a high. Heslop, who was only selected by the Tips in the third round of the WHL prospects draft 10 days earlier and who signed a standard player agreement just hours before puck drop, became the first player from his draft class to score a WHL goal. Call-up Caden Zaplitny also scored his first career WHL goal in the game, while Greenough was a plus-3.
“This weekend was, I think, a culmination of a week with gradually increasing workloads and opportunities for many players in our group who had played in different roles when we were at full strength,” said Everett associate coach Louis Mass, who continues to run the bench while head coach Dennis Williams is with Canada’s team for World Juniors. “Our leaders did a great job of maintaining a positive environment in the face of adversity, and many of the younger players were able to raise the level of their play beyond what they previously had.”
Three stars of the week
Third star: Lamanna. The 18-year-old winger had three primary assists between Everett’s two victories. That was one more point than Lamanna, normally a fourth-liner, had in his previous 20 games combined.
Second star: Holt. The 18-year-old netminder started three of Everett’s games during the week and the Tips came away with five of a possible six points in those games. He compiled a 2.33 goals against average and .942 save percentage in the three games.
First star: Huuhtanen. With Everett in desperate need of someone to step up production-wise, given the absence of so many top scorers, the 18-year-old Finnish winger came through in a big way, tallying three goals and six assists across the four games. That included two goals in the victory against Seattle and four assists in the win against Spokane.
The week ahead
Everett receives a much-needed break as the team is off for eight days for the holidays, which will hopefully give the players a chance to heal up. The Tips resume their season on Dec. 28 when they play the first of two games on back-to-back nights at Prince George.
As for Everett’s spate of injuries, which now include Everett’s leading scorer and co-captain Jackson Berezowski, Mass did not provide any details about their severity. However, he did say, “As far as injuries go, of course we’re concerned, but this is a resilient group and we will approach it with a ‘next man up’ mindset until we’re all back together.”