Tough way for season to end

  • By John Sleeper / Herald columnist
  • Thursday, April 27, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

EVERETT – Asked Tuesday night about the frustration level following the Silvertips’ 5-0 defeat to the Vancouver Giants, Tips winger Torrie Wheat put it at 11 on a scale of one to 10.

Yet, the series – and season-ending 5-0 loss to Vancouver Thursday night – served as a mercy kill. Dead emotions, including frustration.

“It’s over,” the Silvertips captain said. “I don’t want to dwell on it. They won fair and square.”

Finding themselves on the business end of a 4-0 series sweep was bad enough. But putting up three straight zeroes in the goal column was neither the way the Tips wanted to end the season, nor was it the farewell presents they wanted to give over-agers Shaun Heshka, Mark Kress and Wheat, playing in their final games as Silvertips.

The Tips couldn’t finish a sentence, let alone a scoring chance.

Everett had such high hopes going into the series against the Giants. Everything was going so well. The Tips had dominated Tri-City in five games, giving up nary a power-play goal.

They were even better against the defending WHL champions Kelowna Rockets, a powerful team that had NHL-caliber talent at nearly every position.

Close observers of the league predicted a ferocious series that would last at least six games. Everett, it was said, had the advantage in the penalty kill and power play; the Giants had the edge skating five-on-five.

No one expected this.

“You have to give them credit,” Heshka said. “They were better. They played hard every game. They didn’t let up once and won by a huge margin.”

It went kerflooey for the Silvertips before the series even began, when goalie Leland Irving, an absolute virtuoso in the second half of the season and the playoffs, pulled a groin muscle in practice a day before the series began. He would not return until Thursday.

“That really put us down,” Heshka said. “He’s a huge part of this team.”

It went downhill from there, as Ondrej Fiala, Karel Hromas and Jonathan Harty all went down with concussions. Down with them went the Tips’ chances, although Fiala and Hromas returned Thursday.

The Tips had opportunities in an eventful first period in which they outshot the Giants, 14-10. Wheat fed Peter Mueller twice for point-blank shots right in front of Vancouver goalie Dustin Slade, but the Vancouver goaltender stopped both and made it look easy.

That’s the way it was all night. Slade, coming off two straight shutouts to bring his WHL season shutout record to 16 going into Thursday night, was excellent again.

Excellent, as in 17 shutouts and counting, three in this series alone. It was no upset that he was voted the series MVP.

“He was unbelievable,” Mueller said. “He’s one of the best goalies in the league. Whenever you shoot, he gets a glove on it. Good for him. Amazing.”

Everett may have received an emotional lift by the presence of Irving, who played Thursday despite obvious pain. He survived a physical game. The crowd held its breath when 6-foot, 206-pound Mitch Bartley slammed Irving with 4 minutes left in the first period, knocking the goalie on his backside and sending the goal flying.

But Irving popped back up, and normal breathing resumed.

But whatever boost Irving may have given them, the Silvertips couldn’t take advantage. The first period was the best offensive thrust the Tips had in six previous, but three penalties didn’t help the cause. Neither did Slade’s brilliance.

The last thing Irving needed was Brule bearing down on him on a breakaway, which is precisely what happened a minute into the second period. Suddenly, Everett trailed 2-0 and you could feel it starting to slip away.

The slippage continued later in the period when Garet Hunt and Bartley scored goals nine seconds apart.

This was supposed to be the season before the season that the team would break through. To make the Western Conference finals exceeded every expectation this young team had.

Go one step further. Look at the history of this three-year-old franchise.

“I’m not one that holds disappointment from losing very long,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “I find it a worthless emotion. I think we can pretty well put aside that pretty quickly. If you take regular-season games won, playoff rounds won, playoff wins and you add them all together, only two teams have played better than us the last three years, Kelowna and Medicine Hat … I don’t know why we’d want to hang our heads at all.”

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