Silvertips lose grip on home-ice advantage in playoffs

Everett drops a pair to Tri-City over the weekend in a matchup of teams vying for the fourth spot in the Western Conference.

Jackson Berezowski

Jackson Berezowski

Advantage Tri-City.

The Everett Silvertips and Tri-City Americans, the two teams best positioned to earn the last home-ice advantage playoff spot in the WHL’s Western Conference, squared off twice over the weekend. With Tri-City scoring a pair of one-goal victories, the Americans have taken control in the race for fourth.

Tri-City won the first game 2-1 in Kennewick, then prevailed 3-2 in the rematch Sunday at Angel of the Winds Arena (Everett’s 4-3 overtime victory at home against Swift Current was wedged in between). In both games Tri-City built a two-goal lead, Everett pulled within one in the third period, but the Tips weren’t able to find the tying goal.

As a result the Americans moved four points clear of the Tips in the race for fourth with a third of the season remaining, and Tri-City has two games in hand.

“I think all things being considered where we’re at, we played some good hockey,” Everett coach Dennis Williams said. “One thing I say is I can never be upset if the work ethic and compete are there, and they were there all three games. We battled right to end. Obviously we wanted different outcomes against Tri-City since were battling with them for fourth, fifth and sixth. But with where we’re at with injuries and sickness, I think the guys did a good job of staying in the game. It would have been easy when we were down 3-1 in the third on Sunday to just pack it in and feel sorry for ourselves, but we battled to the end and had some good looks to tie it. Tri-City is a good team, they have a lot of (19-year-olds).”

Not only do the Americans have a veteran team, they also have a lot of size, particularly up front. Everett wasn’t a big team to begin with, then dealt away one of it’s biggest presences in center Ryan Hofer at the trade deadline. That makes Tri-City a challenging matchup for the Tips.

“They’re a good club,” Williams said, adding that it was the small details that provided the margins in the games over the weekend. “They have one of the best goalies in the league (Tomas Suchanek), they play hard and heavy in front of the net, and they haven’t lost (in regulation) in 11 games. I think sometimes people look at Kamloops, Portland and Seattle (as the top three teams in the Western Conference) and forget to give respect to Tri-City as well.”

Everett, which is 4-4 against the Americans this season, only has one more chance to get some of those points back against Tri-City, when the teams face one another on Feb. 22 in Kennewick. The Tips still holds a margin over Prince George and Vancouver for fifth, with Everett (23-22-1-0) holding a five-point advantage over both.

Three stars of the week

Third star: Tyler Palmer. The 19-year-old goaltender saw a lot of rubber over the weekend as he started all three games and faced 112 shots, saving 104 of them for a .929 save percentage. His heroics kept Everett in it during Friday’s loss to Tri-City.

Second star: Ben Hemmerling. The 18-year-old winger finished with two goals and two assists over the three games. He scored the goal in overtime Saturday against Swift Current, which astoundingly was his third overtime winner in January.

First star: Jackson Berezowski. The 20-year-old winger and Everett’s captain had two goals, one assist and one franchise milestone. His goal in Sunday’s loss to Tri-City was the 112th of his career, equalling Patrick Bajkov’s franchise record for career goals.

The week ahead

The Tips have a tough week ahead. Not only do they have their second straight three-in-three weekend, their opponents present a high degree of difficulty.

First off is a home-and-home against Seattle, with Friday’s game in Kent and Saturday’s in Everett. The Thunderbirds (33-8-1-1) are still settling in following a flurry of trade-deadline activity and have ceded first place in the Western Conference to Portland. The Tips have had no luck against the T-birds this season, losing all six of the matchups and getting outscored 31-10. Seattle is dealing with some injuries at forward, but still has plenty of firepower in the likes of 20-year-olds Jared Davidson (25 goals, 34 assists) and Kyle Crnkovic (23 goals, 28 assists).

Then on Sunday the Tips welcome Red Deer to town. The Rebels (32-10-1-3) are the runaway leaders in the Central Division. They’ll be playing the second game of their five-game swing through the U.S. Division. Red Deer is led in scoring by 19-year-old forward Kai Uchacz (38 goals, 25 assists), while 20-year-old forward Ben King (seven goals, eight assists in 10 games) has given the team a boost since returning from long-term injury.

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