Overreaction of the week: After winning three-in-three, the Everett Silvertips are alone on top of the U.S. Division and will be there at the end of the year.
It was as tough a three-in-three as you will see in the WHL for the Everett Silvertips this weekend. They played Friday night in Kamloops, Saturday down in Kent, Washington and then traveled back up to Kamloops for a Sunday evening game.
For a team that has played well this season, it was a really tough test.
They passed with flying colors.
On Friday, they out shot the Kamloops Blazers 26-6 over the first two periods and used power plays to chase an NHL-signed goalie in Dylan Ferguson. They were up 6-0 just over halfway through the game and coasted to a 6-1 road win. They even rested goalie Dustin Wolf for the first time this year in the third, not that he’d had to face much over the first 40 minutes.
On Saturday they went to Kent and used the same formula to stifle the Seattle Thunderbirds. They had the first 18 shots of the game and nearly pitched a shutout on their rivals but Reece Harsch fired a shot on net from the neutral zone with the clock nearing triple zeros. It was already 3-0 Silvertips at that point.
They then held off the desperate T-birds and ousted them 5-1.
The toughest part of the test was the last game back up in Kamloops for their third-in-three nights. The Blazers, meanwhile had sat at home and rested while the ‘Tips went back and forth from Kent (a five and a half hour trip).
They still had more shots in the first (11-8) and scored the only goal. They ended up going down 2-1 but came back in the third with goals from Connor Dewar and rookie Jackson Berezowski, before adding an empty netter in a 4-2 win.
For the first time this year, Wolf did not get the start as Max Palaga beat his old team by stopping 26-of-28.
Everett has won consistently over the last four years despite constantly being overlooked. They have won three of the last four U.S. Division titles but had even those discounted until they finally got by the second round of the playoffs and advanced to the WHL final last year.
Despite those results, in our DUBNetwork poll of writers only the Portland Winterhawks and Spokane Chiefs got votes as U.S. Division winners. There were just too many questions about where the offense would come from after the departures of Garrett Pilon, Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne. Also, losing three-time WHL goalie of the year was supposed to have an impact.
Instead, the Silvertips are now 14-6 and have a three point lead on Portland for the division lead. Unlike the Winterhawks, they have already done their grueling road trip to Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The two teams play in Everett on Wednesday.
With the shortened season, Everett has already played over 29 percent of their games.
They have given up 42 goals, which is the fewest of any team in the U.S. A key reason for that has been the play of 17-year-old Dustin Wolf. He has an astounding 1.725 GAA and 0.927 save percentage and has played in all but one game. He has 13 of his team’s 14 wins.
How well the young Wolf has played has helped what was a pretty young defense settle in. Wyatte Wylie was the lone returnee of the top-four from last year. He has been great with 19 points in 20 games and has been solid in his own end.
Gianni Fairbrother and Jake Christiansen were the two expected to get increased ice time and like has often been the case in Everett, their play has improved dramatically. Fairbrother had a four-assist game over the weekend and Christiansen has two goals and an assist in his last two games.
Everett looked at Swift Current in adding some experience as they traded for overage d-man Sahvan Khaira before the season started. Then they brought in overage, import blue liner Artyom Minulin from the Broncos recently as well.
Khaira has 11 points this year and is a plus-five. Minulin played his first three games this last weekend, had an assist and was a plus-two.
Their defense and goaltending seemed pretty set, but the big question this year was where the scoring would come from. Dewar and Riley Sutter were expected to take on a lot of this, but up until the last couple of weeks, secondary scoring was a concern.
Dewar has 26 points and Sutter has 25, but Bryce Kindopp has stepped up recently and had five of his 17 points over the weekend. Sean Richards has 10 points this year and Akash Bains had two goals in the game Saturday. Jackson Berezowski also has four goals this year, with two coming over the weekend.
While this group is not going to put up the points that Portland and Spokane’s will, they also continue to play a stingy defensive game and seem to play their best at the start of the game. If you let them get up on you, it is nearly impossible to come back.
If they can get some consistency out of that group of forwards – with Kindopp being the most likely of the group to take a huge jump statistically – that will be enough for them to hold off the likes of Portland, Tri-City, Seattle and Spokane, who have struggled defensively way more than Everett has.
With Wolf in net, they have the best goalie in the division and very well could have the best in the league yet again. Even if their depth scoring is an issue, with Wolf back-stopping them they will be near the top of the division.
A really big reason, I think they will take the division though is general manager Garry Davidson. The Western Conference Executive of the Year last season, could add another key forward like he did last season with Garrett Pilon and this would really push them over the top. Regina Pats center Jake Leschyshyn is a player who would be a perfect fit in Everett. He would bring a lot of what Pilon brought last season.
Even without a big piece, as they showed this last weekend, the Everett Silvertips have what it takes to win their fourth U.S. Division title in five years.