Silvertips notebook: Portland presents welcome challenge for Everett

The Everett Silvertips are riding high after sweeping a quirky road trip, which forced them to travel to Kamloops, British Columbia, then down to Seattle and back up to Kamloops in a three-day span, and their high self-efficacy couldn’t come at a better time.

Up next are two of the most important games of their early-season slate.

Everett will host the Portland Winterhawks, the second place team in the U.S. Division, at Angel of the Winds Arena on Wednesday.

Of course, obsessively watching the standings 20 games into a 68-game season is unhealthy, but facing a team like the Winterhawks will present yet another barometer for the Silvertips to see how they stack up against a talented division foe.

“It will be another good challenge,” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said. “Like I told the guys, it gives us another chance to see where we’re at when we play a team like Portland, where our strengths are, where are weaknesses. … It’s going to be a good test for our group.”

The key matchup will be the Silvertips’ stout defense against Portland’s prolific offense. Everett, especially after the addition of overage defenseman Artyom Minulin, is bolstered with a deep and talented defensive unit as its foundation, while Portland’s top line of Joachim Blichfeld, Cody Glass and Reece Newkirk has accounted for 48 percent of its scoring and is the team’s heartbeat.

For Silvertips 20-year-old defenseman Sahvan Khaira, the Winterhawks are a welcome challenge.

“It’s a good test of your abilities going against Cody Glass and Blichfeld, but it’s something that I enjoy,” Khaira said. “It’s a good test and it’s a good gauge of where you’re at.”

Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m.

Secondary scoring heats up

Everett’s fourth line was as active as it has been all season during last weekend’s slate, with rookie forward Jackson Berezowski and Jalen Price potting a pair of goals, Gage Goncalves chipping in two assists and Mitchell recording his first WHL point with an assist.

It’s a breath of fresh air, not only for the quartet of rookies who sometimes struggle to find ice time, but for the Silvertips, who embrace the depth of scoring with open arms.

“I watched the game (from New Brunswick) and I could see the reaction on Jalen Price’s face when he scored his first goal, and it looked like a lot of release of pressure, really,” Williams said.

“I think a lot of guys come in their first year from midget and it doesn’t go as planned, and they’re griping it and cheating the game and getting put in a difficult position in terms of ice time. But in order to have success in this league you need to have all four lines, all 16 forwards rolling. Everyone has to contribute. You can’t just rely on Riley Sutter and Connor Dewar every night.”

Williams mentioned one play in particular impressed him — along with everyone else. In Sunday’s game, Mitchell stopped the puck from floating out of the zone and dished it down to Goncalves, who fed a wide open Price with a saucer pass over a sliding defender for a tap-in goal.

It was one of two plays to be named the WHL’s highlight of the night, sharing similarities to a goal the Winterhawks scored on the rush in their 3-0 win over Kelowna. The only difference is Portland’s highlight came from two veteran forwards in Glass and Newkirk, not three rookies.

“That’s a great play by that line,” Williams said. “If anything I hope that builds some confidence for them and the game slows down a little bit, and they can start to make more plays and make decisions and say, ‘Hey, I can play at this level.’

“They put in a lot of work and they’re great teammates, those guys. They’ve bought in completely to what we’re doing, and to see them get rewarded and their confidence rise, I hope that will only make us stronger as a group.”

Goalie wins in homecoming

In 18 games played for the Kamloops Blazers over two seasons, not once did Max Palaga win in his home building, the Sandman Centre. That changed Sunday, but as a member of the Silvertips. The backup goaltender stopped 26 of 28 shots and was named the game’s first star in Everett’s 5-2 win.

Palaga, who was acquired from Kamloops in October, relieved Dustin Wolf in the final period of Everett’s 6-1 rout of the Blazers on Friday for his first appearance as a Silvertip, saving seven of eight shots. He said he was surprised to be inserted into the game in that fashion and described the whole experience as surreal.

“Yeah, it was weird, just with how quickly it happened,” said Palaga, a Kamloops native. “I was back in Kamloops about a month ago, and to play back at home so soon was surreal. Some of my best friends play on that team, and I’ve played in that rink my whole life. It was pretty cool.”

Williams, Seeley return

Williams and rookie defenseman Ronan Seeley returned to Everett practice Tuesday after competing for Team Canada at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in New Brunswick.

“It’s always an honor to represent your country, whether you’re playing or coaching or an equipment manager,” Williams said.

“That’s what we try to do, get to the highest level and to have this opportunity is something I took very seriously and put a lot of time and effort into it.”

“We got treated like gold,” Seeley said. “We get treated really well here, too, but at the camp, all the trainers and all the work that they do, it’s really quite unbelievable. … It’s always been a dream of mine to wear the maple leaf and play for my country. It’s a dream come true and it was an amazing experience.”

The Williams-coached Team Canada Black topped Seeley’s Team Canada White 5-3 in the fifth-place game after both teams were bounced in the tournament quarterfinals.

Seeley did not record a point in five games played for the White, which finished seventh overall.

Russia topped Finland 2-1 to capture the gold medal.

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