EVERETT – It was an encouraging sight at the Everett Events Center on Tuesday afternoon, at least from an Everett Silvertips perspective.
There was Peter Mueller, flying down the ice during drills and finishing with his customary aplomb.
It was a sight not seen in weeks, and it’s the best piece of news the Silvertips could have received as they head into the playoffs.
“I’m feeling great,” Mueller said. “I’m just getting back in the mix of things, but I’m feeling great and practicing at full speed now.”
The Tips were missing Mueller, one of the league’s premier playmakers, for their final five games of the regular season. Mueller was given those two weeks off to rest up for the playoffs and fight off illness. With Mueller out of the lineup, along with several others, Everett lost three of those final five games.
But Mueller is slated to be back in the lineup when Everett’s first-round series against Spokane begins Friday in Everett.
” (Mueller) should be ready to go,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine confirmed. “I think he’ll be at 100 percent.”
Mueller isn’t the only player Everett will be getting back for the start of the playoffs. Leading goal scorer Moises Gutierrez, who made just one brief appearance since suffering a concussion at Prince George on Feb. 27, is also back to full speed. And left wing Brennan Sonne, out since Feb. 20 with a spleen injury, has been cleared to play and should be available come Friday.
The only players who won’t be ready for the start of the series are defensemen Taylor Ellington and Mike Alexander. Ellington is doubtful for this weekend, but may be ready to return from his neck injury sometime during the first round. Alexander, who also has a neck injury, is still undergoing tests and is out indefinitely.
Therefore, it appears Everett’s decision to rest key players after clinching the league’s best record has paid off.
“The guys really wanted to win the regular season championship, and I think that was a good decision because it kept them pushing, kept them sharp,” Constantine said. “At the same time, we wanted to go into the playoffs with a reasonable degree of health, and I think we are. This is the most healthy we’ve been in a couple months.”
No one will be welcomed back more than Mueller. The 18-year-old from Bloomington, Minn., fills so many important roles for the Tips, most notably manning the point on the power play. Teammate Zach Hamill may have won the league scoring title, but with 78 points in 51 games, Mueller actually scored at a greater rate than Hamill.
Mueller appreciated the extra time off.
“I was sick and couldn’t play,” Mueller said. “So I think it was the best move.”
The key now for Mueller is rounding his game back into top form.
“I’ve just got to put a couple more pounds on, get my weight back up,” Mueller said.
“I don’t think rust will be a problem,” Mueller added. “I’ve just been going out there and doing the little things I used to. I think I’ll be 100 percent.”
The returns of Mueller and Gutierrez, who scored a team-high 35 goals, will give Everett a much-needed offensive boost. In the final five games Everett scored just 10 goals, good for two a game. The Tips had 219 in the previous 67 (3.3 per game).
And like Mueller, Gutierrez should be back at full strength.
“I feel real good,” Gutierrez said. “It’s been kind of too long an absence from the ice. But it felt good. I feel refreshed and my energy’s up. I’ve been working hard the last week to get back in the lineup and be 100 percent for the playoffs.”
And while the Tips may not be back to 100 percent as a whole, they’re happy to know they’re about as close as they could have hoped.
Slap shots: Defenseman Jeff Regier has rejoined the team for good. The 1991-born Regier, Everett’s second-round pick in the 2006 bantam draft, is eligible to join the team because his midget team from Fraser Valley, B.C., was eliminated from the playoffs. Regier’s midget teammate Kellan Tochkin, a right wing who was Everett’s first-round pick in the same draft, has not been added to the roster. … Also joining the team for good is 1990-born right wing Matt Ius, who was called up last week to fill in for players being rested. During that time his junior B team in Richmond, B.C., was eliminated from its playoffs. … Several Tips are sporting, shall we say, interesting haircuts for the playoffs. Among the most flamboyant are those of defenseman Jonathan Harty and left wing Kyle Beach.