Tips hope to contain Giants’ offensive star

  • By Nick Patterson / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, April 18, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

EVERETT – The Everett Silvertips just got done shutting down one of the WHL’s offensive stars. Now they have to deal with yet another.

Fresh off rendering Kelowna’s Justin Keller impotent in the second round of the playoffs, Everett has the unenviable task of trying to do the same to Vancouver’s Gilbert Brule in the Western Conference finals, which begin Friday in Vancouver.

“We would hope the results are the same,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said.

“One would hope we could maybe slow Brule down. Stop him? That’s impossible. We’ll have to try and slow him down a little bit.”

Slowing Brule down might seem an impossible task. But then going into the Kelowna series, the same could have been said about shutting down Keller.

Keller was the league’s leading goal scorer (51) during the regular season. However, the Tips shut out Keller in six second-round games, keeping his offensive output to a mere three assists and never more than one in a game.

“I don’t know how we shut him down,” said Cody Thoring, who as a right side defenseman had to deal with Keller on a regular basis.

“We didn’t zone in on him, we played our game against everybody. It just so happened he wasn’t able to put the puck in the net.”

Keller did manage to get into good scoring position on a number of occasions. However, he never did manage to beat Everett goaltender Leland Irving, and many of Keller’s shots ended up going wide rather than requiring a save.

“We wanted to make sure we finished every hit against him,” said Shaun Heshka, another right side defenseman. “We knew if he didn’t have the puck he wouldn’t be able to score.

“Irving had a number on everyone, especially Keller,” Heshka added. “He made some key saves and their confidence kind of went down. I think Irving had a huge impact on all their goal scorers.”

It will more difficult containing Brule. While Keller is an exceptional goal scorer, Brule is an offensive prodigy.

The 1987-born center was selected sixth overall by Columbus in the 2005 NHL Draft and began the season with the Blue Jackets, where he had two goals and two assists in seven games before injuries forced him back to juniors. He had 23 goals and 15 assists in just 27 regular-season games with the Giants, then recorded seven goals and four assists in Vancouver’s first 10 playoff games.

“Both (Keller and Brule) are hard-working players who can shoot the puck,” Thoring said. “I’d say Brule has a little more grit.”

That grit is perhaps one area of Brule’s game the Tips can exploit. Along with his offensive gifts, Brule also has a bit of a short fuse. In 165 career regular-season games, Brule has 309 penalty minutes, and he had 24 penalty minutes in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

“I think we’ve just got to play him tight,” Heshka said. “He’s one of those guys who if you give him a little ice to work with, he can do miraculous things with the puck. If we can frustrate him, maybe get him to take a few penalties, that might take him off his game a bit. If he’s on his game you can’t stop him.”

Tougher loss: Two years ago the Silvertips pulled off the impossible. Everett upset Kelowna in the Western Conference finals – despite being an expansion team; despite Kelowna’s status as both defending league champion and best team during the regular season; and despite the Rockets taking a 3-1 series lead.

Everett’s second-round victory over Kelowna this year wasn’t nearly the shock it was two years ago, although the Tips were again the underdog. However, in some ways this year’s loss had a greater impact on the Rockets than the one two years ago.

“I think this one hurts more because we don’t have a bye into the Memorial Cup this year,” Kelowna right wing Blake Comeau said. “It’s tough. It’s never easy to lose, especially after you get the taste of winning.”

As the host team Kelowna received a bye to the 2004 Memorial Cup, which it eventually won.

Slap shots: Irving was honored again Tuesday, being named the Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the week. Irving won three of his four starts, notching a 1.57 goals against average and .950 save percentage. … Everett center Zach Hamill is the leading playoff scorer among players whose teams are still alive. Hamill has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 11 games. The only player ahead of Hamill is Portland’s Brandon Dubinsky (15 points), whose team was eliminated in the second round by Vancouver. … The Tips are preparing for Vancouver at the Lynnwood Ice Center. The Everett Events Center is unavailable because of the home show.

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