Leland Irving summed up how the Everett Silvertips were feeling following their toughest stretch of the season:
“I’m exhausted, mentally and physically,” Everett’s goaltender said following the Tips’ recently-completed stretch of eight games in 10 days.
Weary and worn down, battered and bruised, the Tips nonetheless survived the stretch and emerged that much closer to their second U.S. Division title in three seasons.
Everett went 4-3-0-1 in those eight games and finds itself in virtually the same spot as when it began its brutal stretch. Going in the Tips led Seattle by 11 points with a game in hand. Now Everett leads the T-birds by 14 points with Seattle having two games in hand, a virtual dead heat with the situation 10 days earlier.
The main difference is Everett, with just six games remaining in the regular season, is that much more secure in its position. Any combination of three points gained by Everett or three points not gained by Seattle clinches the division title for the Tips.
“I thought we made it through pretty good,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “I was hoping to get wins early in it because I knew it would get harder late, and we lost the first two games. But I think the team did a pretty good job.”
After a shaky start to the stretch, Everett finished up by winning three of four, with all three victories coming by three goals or more. The Tips capped it off with Sunday’s 4-1 home victory over defending WHL champion Kelowna.
“You know it’s been a long stretch when it’s the middle of warm-ups and you’re dog tired and sucking wind,” said Everett captain Torrie Wheat, who scored a hat trick against the Rockets. “It was an unbelievable effort by the guys on our team (Sunday).”
Everett didn’t escape completely unscathed. Everett began the stretch with its entire first-choice team healthy. But the Tips finished with four regulars – forwards Peter Mueller and Jesse Smyke and defensemen Cody Thoring and Jonathan Harty – watching from the stands because of injuries.
“That’s fairly typical when you play that many games in that many days,” Constantine said. “Getting banged up is going to be a part of it. Losing Harty, Thoring, Smyke and Mueller is significant, so hopefully we can recover from that.
“We’d like to go into the playoffs healthier than last year, but right now we’re kind of in the same boat as last year.”
The good news for Everett is that none of the injuries is considered season ending. The worst appears to be Thoring, who could be out anywhere from a week to a month with his high ankle sprain. The injuries to Mueller (foot), Smyke (leg) and Harty (back) are considered more day-to-day.
Stat update: Irving has taken over the league lead in save percentage, stopping 92.6 percent of the shots he’s seen. He also ranks second in the league in goals against average (1.87) and third in wins (35). Irving, who’s started all but four of Everett’s games this season, has also played the most minutes of any goaltender.
John Lammers is leading the Tips in scoring with 70 points. His 35 goals ranks seventh in the league. Shaun Heshka, with 57 points, ranks second on the team and first in the league among defensemen. Mueller, with 56 points, is third on the team and second in the league among rookies.
Zach Hamill leads the team in plus/minus at +19, Heshka has the most penalty minutes with 87.
Around the WHL: Everett continues to hold steady at No. 7 in the Western Major Junior Hockey Writers Association poll. Medicine Hat retained the top spot this week, receiving 12 of the 15 first-place votes. Vancouver moved up one spot to second, Calgary fell one spot to third. … Kootenay forward Adam Cracknell was named the WHL Player of the Week for Feb. 27-March 5. Cracknell had three goals and four assists in two games, both Ice victories. … Vancouver forward Gilbert Brule was named the WHL Player of the Month for February. Brule had 12 goals and 11 assists in 13 games. … Calgary goaltender Justin Pogge was named the top player in the Canadian Hockey League by Prospects Magazine. … Brandon defenseman Keith Aulie will receive the Red Cross Rescuer Award for rescuing his father from freezing water on Dec. 22.