It had been 629 days since the Everett Silvertips last played an opponent from outside the WHL’s U.S. Division. So when the Tips traveled across the U.S.-Canada border on Friday to face the Vancouver Giants, it represented the next step in returning to normalcy.
Everett’s last game against a non-U.S. Division foe came on Feb. 29, 2020 when the Tips beat Kelowna 4-1 at home. Since then the coronavirus pandemic shut down the remainder of the 2019-20 season, forced a shortened 2020-21 campaign that was played entirely within the division, and required Everett to play its first 13 games of 2021-22 against U.S. opponents.
Therefore, Friday’s contest was novel for multiple reasons. First, Everett was able to break up the monotony of facing the same four teams over and over. Second, it was the first opportunity to gauge whether Everett’s impressive record since the shutdown (31-4-0-1) was a true indication of the Tips’ quality, or whether it was a product of the quality of competition.
Playing a game in Canada was also a special moment for Everett’s players. Eighteen of Everett’s 23 players are Canadian, including seven who hail from British Columbia — two of whom, winger Jacob Wright and defenseman Dylan Anderson, are from Langley, which is where the Giants are based.
“It was nice,” Everett coach Dennis Williams said. “I think the guys were pretty amped up for the game, you could almost feel it in the locker room. There were a lot of families there from across the province, and other guys had friends or extended family there. Emotionally we were jacked up for the first period, we came down a bit in the second, but bounced back in the third. It was definitely nice to see a different opponent, and an opponent like Vancouver that has a strong team with a lot of high-end NHL draft picks. It was a good test for our group.
“The border crossing was great, there were no hiccups, we were able to get two points, and a lot of guys got to play in front of family, which a lot of them hadn’t had in two seasons,” Williams continued. “Seeing them afterwards in the hallway with their families, you could see how excited they were to see them.”
As far as being a gauge, Friday’s game ended up being business as usual for Everett as the Tips beat Vancouver 4-1. The game followed a familiar pattern as Everett jumped out to a 2-0 lead, held the Giants to 19 shots on goal and spread the wealth as nine different players recorded points. So the first indication is that Everett’s impressive record isn’t because it plays in a weak division.
The victory was one of four the Tips scored during the week as they continued their scorching start to the season. Everett won 3-2 in overtime at Portland last Tuesday, then won home games against Spokane (4-1) and Seattle (5-2) on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Tips are now 15-0-0-1, and they extended their divisional lead over second-place Seattle to eight points with a game in hand.
Three stars of the week
Third star: Austin Roest. The 17-year-old forward had two goals and two assists across the four games, and he was a presence on the forecheck.
Second star: Olen Zellweger. The 18-year-old defenseman totalled three goals and two assists, and he was named the first star of the game against both Vancouver and Seattle.
First star: Ronan Seeley. The 19-year-old defenseman racked up two goals and five assists, and he scored one of the goals of the season on a Connor McDavid-like rush and weave through traffic against Portland. For his efforts he was named the WHL Player of the Week.
📽️ HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT 📽️
— The WHL (@TheWHL) November 17, 2021
The week ahead
On Saturday night Angel of the Winds Arena hosts what may be the WHL’s biggest game of the first half of the season. That’s when the two Western Conference teams that have been steamrolling the competition finally meet.
Everett welcomes the runaway B.C. Division-leading Kamloops Blazers to town Saturday for a first taste of what may be the battle for Western Conference supremacy. The Blazers are 14-2-0-0, having outscored the opposition 80-31, and Kamloops routed Seattle 5-1 Saturday in Kent. The Blazers have a wealth of offensive talent, led by NHL draft picks Logan Stankoven (10 goals, 16 assists) and Josh Pillar (nine goals, 16 assists), and they have one of the league’s best goaltenders in Dylan Garand (12-2-0-0, 1.79 goals against average, .929 save percentage). The teams’ other three meetings take place in February, so this is the only chance to see them head-to-head for a while.
Everett has two other games this week as the Tips host Tri City (4-8-2-0) on Wednesday and travel to Victoria (2-11-2-0) on Friday.