As of Monday afternoon, the Everett Silvertips’ most grueling road trip of the season still wasn’t quite over.
Everett completed the competition portion of its six-game swing through the WHL’s East Division on Saturday night with its 4-2 victory against the Prince Albert Raiders. But a snowstorm delayed the team’s 19-hour bus ride home, and by midday Monday the team was still waiting things out in Kamloops, B.C., for the Coquihalla Pass to clear up.
Yet as tired, beat up and ready to return home the Tips may be, they’re satisfied with how the trip transpired.
The Tips finished off the trip by going 3-1 in their four games last week. In total Everett went 4-2 against opposition from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Even last week’s lone loss, Tuesday’s 5-4 defeat against the Winnipeg Ice, had plenty of positives as the Tips stood toe-to-toe with a team many consider the favorite for the WHL championship.
“I thought it went pretty well, going 4-2 against a lot of good hockey clubs,” said Everett coach Dennis Williams, who flew back to town solo so he could head to the U-17 World Hockey Challenge taking place in Langley and Delta, B.C. (featuring Everett defenseman Tarin Smith on Canada Red). “We had to get through it with our fair share of injuries, unfortunately. We were pretty low on players throughout. But a lot of guys had really good efforts. We had a lot guys who had to play different roles. I’m real proud of the effort.”
The eastern swing was Everett’s first since the 2019-20 season, as the coronavirus pandemic caused the league to eliminate games between the Western and Eastern conferences the previous two seasons. Therefore, this was the first time embarking on a trip like this for almost all of Everett’s players.
”I think (the players) did a great job of handling it,” Williams said. “I definitely think the guys who will be back doing that trip to the Central Division next year will have a much better understanding about getting rest when they can, getting sleep when they can, eating properly. It was good.
“You know it was a long trip when after we won in (Prince Albert) I asked Blake (Draughon), our trainer, how the guys were doing after the game. He said they just look tired, they weren’t doing their usual jumping around and celebrating after a win. Guys were dealing with the physical and mental drain from that long trip, when it finally hits you at the end. But they did a really good job, led by the leadership group of captains and older players.”
The six-games-in-nine-days schedule indeed took a physical toll. Forwards Beau Courtney and Dominik Rymon were sent home early with lower- and upper-body injuries, respectively. Winger Jackson Berezowski (lower body) and defenseman Jacob Hoffrogge (upper body) both missed games during the trip. When defenseman Dexter Whittle (upper body) left the Prince Albert game, it meant Everett was down to 19 available players.
Williams said he was hoping most of the injured players would be available for this weekend’s games, but that the injuries wouldn’t be able to be evaluated until the players returned to Everett.
The 3-1 week means Everett is now 11-5-0-0 and in second place in the U.S. Division, two points behind Portland, which has played two fewer games.
Three stars of the week
Third star: Ty Gibson. The 19-year-old defenseman who’s not known for his offensive output registered two goals and an assist in last week’s four games. He also logged big minutes because of injuries to Everett’s other defensemen.
Second star: Caden Zaplitny. Another player who hasn’t been a big offensive producer, the 18-year-old winger who’s known more for his physical play racked up three goals and an assist, including a goal in his hometown when he scored against Winnipeg.
First star: Ryan Hofer. The 20-year-old center was a force at both ends of the ice as he produced four goals and two assists. Three of those goals came in front of a large contingent of family and friends as the Manitoba native scored a hat trick in Everett’s 6-3 victory at Brandon on Wednesday.
The week ahead
Everett has a much-needed quieter week. The Tips play their eighth straight road game Friday when they travel to Kennewick to take on the Tri-City Americans, then play their first game at Angel of the Winds Arena in 28 days when they host the Calgary Hitmen on Sunday.
Everett and Tri-City (7-9-0-0) split their previous two meetings this season. Tri-City is also coming off its trip through the East Division, where the Americans went 1-4-1-0. The Americans, who are scoring goals in bunches this season, are led by 17-year-old defenseman Lukas Dragicevic (five goals, 16 assists).
Calgary (8-4-1-1) is off to a good start after missing the playoffs last season, and the Hitmen are riding a five-game winning streak. This is the second game of Calgary’s five-game swing through the U.S. Division. The Hitmen are led by 20-year-old forward Riley Fiddler-Schultz (10 goals, seven assists).