The holiday break came at a welcome time for the Everett Silvertips.
The WHL is on an eight-day pause as the players head home to recharge during the holidays. For the Tips that means not only putting the brakes on a tough stretch, it also gives them a chance to heal.
Everett finished the first half of the season by going 1-2 in its three games last week, winning 5-3 at Angel of the Winds Arena against the Tri-City Americans on Wednesday, before dropping both games of a home-and-home set against Seattle, falling 4-1 in Kent on Friday and 5-1 at home on Saturday.
At the break Everett is 16-14-1-0 for 33 points, which puts the Tips in third place in the U.S. Division and fourth place in the Western Conference.
“Overall I think the first half went really well” Everett associate coach David Struch said. “The start we got off to was where we felt we were going to be. Coming to the end of our eastern swing (in early November) we started to get some injuries, and obviously the last six weeks have been the difficult part.”
The injuries have been relentless. Beginning the week of Nov. 8 the Tips had the most players listed as injured on the WHL’s weekly report on every occasion. In four of the six weeks Everett had an astonishing eight players listed as injured, and twice the Tips had double the number of injuries as the next-afflicted team.
The effect has been stark. In its first 17 games Everett went 12-5-0-0, but since Nov. 11 the Tips are 4-9-1-0. Part of the issue has been an increased strength of schedule, as Everett played Seattle and Portland just once in the first 17 games, but faced the conference-leading duo eight times since, going 1-6-1-0. But having so many players out injured, then losing star defenseman Olen Zellweger to Team Canada for the World Junior Hockey Championships in early December, can’t be dismissed.
“If you look at the positive side of it, the injured players are higher-minutes players,” Struch said. “While that hurts your record, the young guys were given more opportunities to play, and they get to develop more because of the experience. They were put into situations where they can make mistakes and fail, learn from those failures, and grow as players so they make fewer mistakes moving forward.”
While the results haven’t been there the past six weeks, Struch saw no corresponding drop in the Tips’ effort level. Indeed, he described the team’s work ethic as “elite.”
“I think the best part of our game is work ethic,” Struch said. “I’ve been in the league for 17 years and this group of leaders never quits. Our defensive game began to falter a little bit when we ran into injuries, because young guys were put into situations they weren’t familiar with in playing against other teams’ first and second lines. We had a really good start scoring, and that faltered a little bit at the end because of injuries as our high-minute guys had to play a lot more and their energy drained, meaning the finish wasn’t always there. But overall I liked our game, we got better at it all. In the second half when we get back healthy, which we expect to happen in the middle or toward the end of January, I expect us to get back to the same caliber of scoring and play as we had at the start.”
Three stars of the week
Third star: Eric Jamieson. The 17-year-old defenseman had a goal and an assist against Tri-City. The rookie, who was expected to be a support player this season, has had to absorb big minutes because of Everett’s absences on defense.
Second star: Austin Roest. The 18-year-old center had three assists against the Americans. He finished the first half as Everett’s leading scorer and tied for 10th in the league in scoring with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 31 games.
First star: Jackson Berezowski. The 20-year-old winger scored three goals across the three games. That included a landmark moment Saturday when he potted his 100th goal as a Silvertip. Berezowski, Everett’s captain, became just the sixth player in franchise history to reach triple figures in goals for the team.
The week ahead
Everett is off this week before beginning the second half of the season next Tuesday when the Tips travel to Kennewick to take on Tri-City.