EVERETT — Matt Fonteyne had an inkling.
All game long whispers and murmurs came from the bench and, as a three-goal Everett Silvertips lead swelled to five after two periods, those whispers and murmurs grew louder.
But it wasn’t until the final horn sounded, signaling Everett’s 5-2 win over the Victoria Royals that the whispers and murmurs became full-throated yells. As the Tips poured onto the Xfinity Arena ice, the announcement came over the public address system that the Portland Winterhawks had defeated the Seattle Thunderbirds 4-1 in Kent, giving Everett a coveted U.S. Division title before 7,989 fans.
“It’s just a great feeling – you don’t really know how to put it into words,” Fonteyne said. “We were kind of getting updates from the bench. We were trying to keep our minds off it, but yeah, it’s a little tough when it’s in the back of your mind. We had to focus on the game, but it’s just a great feeling right now.”
It was the fifth division title for the Tips (44-16-8-3, 99 points) in their 14-year history and assured them the top seed in the Western Conference when the playoffs begin next Friday at Xfinity Arena.
Everett’s opponent? These same Victoria Royals (37-29-5-1, 80 points).
First the Tips have one more regular-season game when they travel to Kennewick to take on the Tri-City Americans at 5:05 today. That leaves scant time to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but even head coach Kevin Constantine acknowledged the need for his charges to recognize what they achieved.
“I wouldn’t want to take away their opportunity to enjoy it a little bit because they worked so hard for it,” Constantine said. “You gotta give them at least a day or two to enjoy what they accomplished and then we’ll get to work as quickly as possible.”
Perhaps it wasn’t the most improbable of Everett’s five division titles, yet few expected this when training camp opened in August. The Tips lost four of their top six forwards from last season, and had an extremely young defensive corps that was called on to log meaningful minutes this season.
When the regular season began the Tips jumped out to a torrid start, built a double-digit lead in the division, weathered a seven-game winless streak and played leap-frog with the T-Birds for the division lead over the past month before ultimately prevailing.
“We’re lighter, smaller and younger than most of the teams in the league, but that shows you the compete level, because it’s a game of the heart as far as how big you are, and our guys competed and cared,” Constantine said. “I’m just so excited they had an opportunity to hang a banner. Hopefully we’ll do well in the playoffs, but when they come back in this building there will always be a banner up there that will represent what they were able to get done.”
Everett entered the final week of the season still in control of its own destiny despite a devastating loss last Sunday at Portland. Saturday culminated with a third consecutive must-win victory and the Tips can thank the Winterhawks for helping them clinch in the penultimate game.
Kevin Davis had three assists, Aaron Irving and Dominic Zwerger each added two, and five different players found the net as the Tips never trailed Saturday.
Two late goals by Victoria sullied what would have been another shutout for Carter Hart, but he still finished with 25 saves for his 32nd win of the season.
The Tips took a 3-0 lead into the second period and continued to pull away. Riley Sutter poked a loose puck past Dylan Myskiw for Everett’s third power-play goal of the game and a 4-0 lead at 11:03, and Fonteyne tipped in Irving’s point shot at 19:46.
That pushed Everett’s advantage to 5-0, and frustrations boiled over after the horn sounded to signal the end of the second. Two different fights broke out and Everett’s Brian King and former Silvertip Spencer Gerth were each given game misconducts and ejected from the contest.
Vladimir Bobylev ruined the shutout when he poked a puck past Hart at 15:01 to put the Royals on the board and Ethan Price added another at 18:15.
By then it was all academic and the Tips celebrated accordingly.
“Looking back – I don’t look too far ahead – I just try to live in the moment, but it’s been a special journey so far,” Davis said. “We’ll enjoy it tonight, but we have another game (today).”
Following a tepid first 10 minutes the Tips erupted for three goals in a span of three minutes, 34 seconds to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
The first came at 9:45 when Jake Christiansen’s slap shot bounced off Myskiw to a crashing Brandson Hein who stashed it into the wide-open net for the 1-0 lead.
Then Fonteyne won the faceoff at the left circle and worked the puck over to Patrick Bajkov at the right circle who walked in and roofed a wrister over Myskiw’s shoulder for a 2-0 lead on the power play at 11:30.
Victoria took another penalty almost immediately and the Tips capitalized at 13:19 when Noah Juulsen’s shot from the right circle bounced off Myskiw into the slot where the crashing Cal Babych buried it past Myskiw’s right blocker for a 3-0 advantage.
“I thought (Victoria’s) competitiveness and speed controlled the game for the first five minutes,” Constantine said. “I thought that first goal was important for us. We got untracked a little bit in the first period, but I would give the first 10 minutes to them tonight.”
The Royals earned a power play of their own three minutes later, but an apparent Dante Hannoun goal was waved off due to high sticking and Everett took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Tips announced their team awards following the game. The Tips had three “Iron Man” winners for those who played in every game. This year’s honorees were Bajkov, Davis and Christiansen. King was named the Scholastic Player of the Year while Fonteyne earned the Community Relations award. Davis was named the Most Improved Player and Juulsen was named the Most Dedicated Player. King also claimed the Unsung Hero award. Eetu Tuulola was the Rookie of the Year, Bajkov was the Leading Scorer and Hart earned his second consecutive Team MVP honors. Connor Dewar won the Fierce Predator Award.
Silvertips 5, Royals 2
Victoria 0 0 2 — 2
Everett 3 2 0 — 5
1st Period—1, Everett, Hein 4 (Christiansen, Davis), 9:45. 2, Everett, Bajkov 29 (Davis, Zwerger), 11:30 (PP). 3, Everett, Babych 2 (Juulsen, Irving), 13:19 (PP). Penalties—Bobylev Vic (tripping), 11:25; Walker Vic (cross checking), 11:42; Anderson Evt (interference), 16:14; Gagnon Vic (cross checking), 19:12.
2nd Period—4, Everett, Sutter 19 (Zwerger, Davis), 11:03 (PP). 5, Everett, Fonteyne 20 (Irving), 19:46. Penalties—Folk Vic (tripping), 10:06; Wylie Evt (tripping), 11:28; Hart Evt (delay of game), 16:01; Bargar Vic (roughing), 20:00; Gerth Vic (roughing, major-fighting, game misconduct), 20:00; Ibragimov Vic (major-fighting), 20:00; Irving Evt (major-fighting), 20:00; King Evt (major-fighting), 20:00; Wylie Evt (roughing), 20:00.
3rd Period—6, Victoria, Bobylev 9 (Dmytriw), 15:01. 7, Victoria, Price 8 (Hannoun), 18:15. Penalties—Gagnon Vic (major-fighting), 9:35; Anderson Evt (roughing, major-fighting), 9:35; Hannoun Vic (slashing), 11:38; Babych Evt (high sticking), 18:55.
Shots on Goal—Victoria 9-5-13-27. Everett 12-13-8-33.
Power Play Opportunities‚—Victoria 0 / 5; Everett 3 / 6.
Goalies—Victoria, Myskiw 3-5-2-0 (33 shots-28 saves). Everett, Hart 32-11-6-2 (27 shots-25 saves).
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