EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips entered last week’s annual WHL holiday break as the hottest team in the U.S. Division.
The Tips won 10 of 11 to enter the break. Everett (21-13-1-1, 44 points) finds itself atop both the U.S. Division and Western Conference standings as the second half begins tonight.
So will the midseason siesta be a hindrance to Everett’s victorious momentum or a much-needed respite — or both?
“I think it’s great,” head coach Dennis Williams said after Everett wrapped up the first half with an emphatic 8-3 win over the Portland Winterhawks on Dec. 17.
“I think these guys have worked tremendously hard the first half and deserve to go home and relax for six or seven days and relax and mentally check out and enjoy time with family and friends, and the same is important for our staff,” Williams continued. “We gotta get mentally checked out so that when we come back on the 26th we’re sharp and ready to go.”
Everett has already completed its longest road trip as the Tips knocked out their biennial visit to the Central Division in early October. The Tips are also one of just three WHL teams to have already played 36 games. That could come in handy as the season enters the February “dog days” of the league schedule.
Goaltending is Everett’s strength and that’s a profound understatement. Carter Hart remains away with Team Canada as the World Junior Championship continues in Buffalo, New York, so it’s up to Dustin Wolf (5-2-0, 2.00 goals-against average, .942 save percentage) to hold down the net in Hart’s absence.
Wolf is 2-1 since Hart left for Team Canada training camp. That includes his first career shutout in a 4-0 win over Prince George and the aforementioned 8-3 win over Portland.
Those two victories utilized secondary scoring that is of paramount importance if the Tips are going to capitalize on their astonishing first-half success by making a deep playoff run.
“I think the big thing is we didn’t let off the gas,” forward Luke Ormsby said, after tallying a goal and an assist in the win against Portland.
“That’s part of who we are,” Ormsby continued. We’re relentless, second period, third period, we’re just going to keep getting on you and I think for a lot of teams that’s going to be frustrating… I think it builds a lot of confidence in the guys in the room, too.”
The Tips may have entered the break hot, but tonight they take on Vancouver Giants team that entered its break on nearly an equal tear.
Vancouver (18-13-2-2, 40 points) won six straight to end the first half and is third in the B.C. Division. The teams square off Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. at Langley Events Centre.
This season’s success belies years of struggle as the Giants have missed the playoffs three straight seasons and four of the last five.
Vancouver is led on offense by Ty Ronning (31 goals, 15 assists) who is tied for third in goals and 15th in points league-wide. James Malm (13 goals, 22 assists), Brad Morrison (10 goals, 23 assists) and Tyler Benson (13 goals, 19 assists) add ample backup. Milos Roman (eight goals, 21 assists) and blueliner Dylan Plouffe (six goals, 22 assists) are also key contributors.
David Tendeck has emerged recently as Vancouver’s top option in net. Tendeck has a 12-6-0-1 record with two shutouts, a 2.90 GAA and a .913 save percentage. He’s won six straight decisions.
The two teams square off again Friday at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. Puck drops at 7:35 p.m.
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