Silvertips version ‘06 is a different animal

  • By John Sleeper / Herald columnist
  • Tuesday, April 11, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

EVERETT – It was early in Tuesday night’s WHL playoff game between Everett and Kelowna and the Silvertips had Rockets goalie Derek Yeomans scrambling back and forth in his goal crease.

Silvertips forwards Peter Mueller, Ondrej Fiala and Torrie Wheat exchanged a series of three passes directly in front of Yeomans that had him and Kelowna’s defenders flopping around like so many carp.

Only a desperation sprawl by Yeomans prevented Wheat from scoring the game’s first goal. It was a superb play by Yeomans, but it also illustrated the difference between this Everett team and the one that upset the Rockets in the 2004 Western Conference finals.

The 2006 Silvertips resemble their older brothers only in that they have the same uniforms. That’s it. Today’s Tips are infinitely more explosive. They’re faster. They skate better. They’re more imaginative on offense and have the physical tools to pull it off on the ice.

The temptation this week is to compare that series with this one. It’s completely understandable. Everett’s stunning victory in seven games two years ago, more than any series in its three-season history, was the one in which the franchise permanently endeared itself in the hearts of its fans.

Remember? Kelowna was heavily favored. Everett, a group of rejects from other teams, brought together – many against their wishes, to an expansion team. Yes, the Tips won the U.S. Division on a late-season rush, along with two playoff series, but next to no one expected them to beat the mighty Rockets.

That feeling was unavoidably enforced once Kelowna took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Maybe the Rockets themselves believed they were locks to advance to the WHL Finals. At that point, they weren’t alone. There must have been smoke in the Kelowna streets after Everett came back to win the series on three improbable goals in three games, all in overtime.

The series victory was even more improbable given Everett’s philosophy of play. They performed with unparalleled hustle and grit. They played defense designed to suck the life out of their foes. And they rode a hot goalie, Jeff Harvey, for all he was worth.

They played that way because they had to. The Silvertips weren’t about to dazzle anybody with their stick-handling, skating or offensive creativity. Much of the time, their goals came after an opponent’s mistake.

Which is what happened in 2004 against the Rockets. Three straight times.

The 2006 Tips bear little resemblance.

Everett set team records this season in goals and power-play goals. The 2004 team had no one who could score as John Lammers does. They had no one like rookie Peter Mueller, a big man with a soft stick and passing skills that suggest a radar in his cranium.

Even the remaining players from two seasons ago bear little resemblance. Captain Torrie Wheat seems to be on the ice for 60 minutes. Zach Hamill was a rookie in 2004 and has turned himself into a fearsome offensive threat. Shaun Heshka is one of the WHL’s elite defenseman and is dangerous on the point when the Tips are on the power play.

Perhaps most important as it concerns the playoffs: Everett’s bench is deep enough to put three threatening lines in the game. That gives the starters needed rest, while giving opponents little.

Example: The Silvertips added 2005 first-round draft choice Kyle Beach to the roster in the second game of this series. He already has two assists in two games.

If the Tips prevail against the Rockets this time, it would be nowhere close to the monumental upset of 2004. These are two evenly matched teams locked in a marvelously entertaining series.

To Kelowna’s credit, the Rockets are still the Rockets. Still great. Consistent. Dominating.

Ten players are left over from that 2004 team. They are defending Memorial Cup champions. Justin Keller and Blake Comeau are smart, tough and can score. Troy Bodie (how old is THIS guy? Seems like about 37), at 6-foot-5 and listed at 205 pounds, can physically dominate in front of the net and is having a marvelous series. Tysen Dowzak, 6-5, 226, is just plain frightening.

Chris Ray, Tyler Spurgeon, Kyle Cumiskey and Brent Howarth are the types of players Kelowna’s been producing for years: They combine speed and toughness rarely seen in the league.

The series is three games in, with the Silvertips holding a 2-1 lead. In its own way, this is a series as memorable as the teams staged two years ago.

The 2004 series is remembered for its historical significance and shock element. This one should be remembered for its great hockey.

To borrow from Ernie Banks, let’s play seven.

Just for old times’ sake.

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