The Everett Silvertips thought they were settling in for what was supposed to be a relatively relaxing long weekend on Vancouver Island. Instead the Tips wound up scrambling at the last minute, playing short-handed, and leaving players behind.
Yet despite the wrench that the coronavirus pandemic tossed into Everett’s gears, the Silvertips still managed to emerge victorious in Saturday’s 5-3 triumph against the Victoria Royals.
The pandemic had already created a light weekend for the Tips when the Kelowna Rockets, who were scheduled to play in Everett on Friday, were put on pause because of a COVID-19 outbreak amongst the team. Therefore, the Tips decided to make it a full weekend in Victoria, ferrying over on Friday before coming back home Sunday.
But the virus had other ideas. Following Saturday’s morning skate Everett had three players test positive. Those three players — Tips coach Dennis Williams declined to name them — were forced to quarantine in the hotel, and Everett, which was placed on COVID-19 pause itself just two weeks ago, was forced to face the Royals down one forward and one defenseman.
“You’re kind of at the mercy of it,” said Williams, who estimated about half the team has tested positive during the current surge. “When I woke up Saturday morning I thought nothing more than it was just another pregame morning skate. Then it hits, 1-2-3. Our guys have been really good about masking and staying diligent, I’m really proud of them for that, but at the same time you just can’t be sure. You could wake up tomorrow and not have three or four guys.”
Despite being short-handed, the Tips (27-7-2-2) controlled the first period, outshooting the Royals 13-2 and taking a 2-0 lead. Everett was able to ride that hot start the rest of the way, despite tiring late in the contest.
The grind nearly caught up with the Tips at the end. Everett was leading 4-2 with 10 minutes remaining when the Tips took three consecutive high-sticking penalties, two of which combined to give Victoria nearly a minute of five-on-three time. Fortunately for Everett, the Tips scored a short-handed goal on the second of those. So even though the Royals converted the five-on-three, Everett still had a two-goal cushion that prevented the final minutes from becoming hairy.
“We had a lot of guys get a lot of minutes in different situations,” Williams said. “This was one of those where you tell the guys that the only thing that matters is getting the two points.”
Because of British Columbia’s COVID-19 protocols, the three players who tested positive remain quarantined at the hotel in Victoria. The Tips hope they are cleared to return mid-week and are available to play in this weekend’s games.
Three stars of the week
Third star: Braden Holt. The 18-year-old goaltender’s numbers from the Victoria game may not seem special: 23 saves on 26 shots. However, they look better when one considers that two of the goals came on four-on-three and five-on-three power plays, and the numbers don’t account for the big saves he made at key junctures.
Second star: Niko Huuhtanen. The 18-year-old winger had two goals and an assist against the Royals. He was a big factor on the power play (one goal, one no-look primary assist), and he also provided a physical presence.
First star: Olen Zellweger. The 18-year-old defenseman posted a goal, two assists and was on the ice for all five of Everett’s goals. For an idea of what he’s capable of, check out the solo end-to-end short-handed goal he scored that effectively clinched the victory.
— Everett Silvertips (@WHLsilvertips) January 23, 2022
The week ahead
The Tips have a three-in-three weekend scheduled. It begins when Everett travels to Tri-City (12-19-4-0) on Friday, and the Tips return home the following night to host Prince George (17-19-1-1) at Angel of the Winds Arena. Everett is a combined 7-2 against the Americans and Cougars this season.
Then comes the weekend’s biggie. On Sunday Everett welcomes Seattle to town. The Thunderbirds (21-10-4-0) have slipped to fourth in the Western Conference, but that’s due more to Portland’s recent surge than any drop-off in play by Seattle, and the T-birds handed the Tips arguably their worst defeat of the season when Seattle won 5-1 in the teams’ last meeting on Jan. 15 in Kent.
The T-birds feature a balanced offense, with 19-year-old Jared Davidson (15 goals and 24 assists in 35 games) leading a group of five Seattle players scoring more than a point per game. T-birds defenseman Samuel Knazko, 19, has been named to Slovakia’s Olympic team.