Everett Silvertips (1st in the U.S. Division) vs Seattle Thunderbirds (2nd Wild Card seed)
10/22 SEA 4 @EVT 3
11/17 EVT 3 SEA 2
11/18 SEA 2 EVT 0
1/26 EVT 3 SEA 1
1/27 SEA 3 EVT 2 (SO)
2/16 EVT 4 SEA 3 (OT)
2/17 SEA 3 EVT 2 (SO)
2/24 EVT 2 @SEA 1
3/3 EVT 2 SEA 1 (OT)
3/10 EVT 3 @SEA 2
Everett: Patrick Bajkov 33-67-100 points, Matt Fonteyne 35-53-88, Garrett Pilon 34-46-80, Connor Dewar 38-39-68, Kevin Davis 10-55-65.
-In the 10-game season series: Dewar-7-2-9 points, Bajkov-2-6-8, Pilon-6-2-8, Fonteyne-2-5-7, Davis-1-5-6.
Seattle: Nolan Volcan 32-44-76 points, Donovan Neuls 22-54-76, Zack Andrusiak 36-38-74, Austin Strand 25-39-64, Noah Philp 14-36-50.
-Volcan-6-4-10 points, Neuls-0-7-7, Strand-4-1-5, Turner Ottenbreit 1-4-5, Philp-2-3-5.
Everett: Carter Hart 41 Games Played, 1.60 GAA and 0.947 Save Percentage, Dustin Wolf 20 Games Played, 2.25 GAA and 0.928 Save Percentage.
-Season series: Hart-0.934 save percentage.
Seattle: Liam Hughes 36 Games Played, 3.15 GAA and 0.909 Save Percentage, Dorrin Luding 28 Games Played, 3.78 GAA and 0.884 Save Percentage.
-Season series: Hughes-0.930 save percentage.
The Everett Silvertips hung yet another regular season banner in the rafters of their oft-changed arena in downtown Everett. This was their sixth Division title, but the elder statesmen in the room for the Silvertips know that regular season means absolutely nothing come playoff time. The ‘Tips have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 2006 and in their recent history those short-lived playoff exits have come at the hands of the rival less than an hour to the South, the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Three times over the past four years, a strong Seattle team led by the likes of Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp, Keegan Kolesar and Ethan Bear (among others) have beaten Everett in five, five and four games.
The games were usually tight, as they often are when the two defensively sound teams do battle, but it always seemed like the Thunderbirds would score the big goals at the right times.
Veteran defenseman Kevin Davis, overage forwards Matt Fonteyne and Patrick Bajkov were there for each of these series losses.
That core group looks to avenge those losses this season. They have proven that they can carry this team, as they did so for much of the first half of the season, when Everett iced one of the youngest teams in the WHL and yet still found themselves at the top of the division.
That strong record prompted ‘Tips General Manager Gerry Davidson to deal for 19-year-olds Ondrej Vala – a d-man signed by the Dallas Stars and Garrett Pilon – a play-making center signed by the Washington Capitals. Those two joined the fold and the team too off. Pilon provided the team with some secondary scoring outside of the top line of Bajkov, Fonteyne and Sean Richards, Connor Dewar or Bryce Kindopp.
Vala meanwhile gave Everett another veteran defenseman on their blue line and someone who is well versed in playing in every situation.
Once those two joined the fold, the ‘Tips did not lose many games. Since January sixth in fact, they have only lost in regulation three times.
That run was enough for them to seal up the U.S. Division and top seed in the Western Conference.
The Seattle Thunderbirds were faced with a challenge no other T-birds squad before them had faced, this year – namely defending a WHL title.
In doing so, they would need to figure out a way to replace a whole lot of scoring. Somehow they copped together a group that found a way to score enough to win games. In fact it seemed that they were never quite out of games as long as there was still time on the clock.
We have expected some scoring improvements from the likes of Volcan and Neuls, but we certainly did not expect players like Andrusiak rookie Dillon Hamaliuk and Philp to have beyond-career years. Adrusiak went on a tear down the stretch and ended up leading the team in goals with 36.
Seattle won just enough as the season turned grey and were able to hold off the Kamloops Blazers for the final playoff spot.
Revenge is clearly on the mind of the older Silvertips and they seem to have the club that can pull it off. Last year Everett had home-ice in their second round series, but still many expected the potent group led by Barzal and company to come out on top.
Under new head coach Dennis Williams, Everett has shown a willingness to open up their game a little more, but their strength still lies in team defense. When you have a goaltender like Carter Hart for just one more season, that should not surprise anyone.
Hart is so sound positionally that he does not give the opponent’s shooters anything to look at and also does not seem to cough up many juicy rebounds either. This being his fourth playoff run in net for the ‘Tips, Hart has to want a long playoff run more than anything. He has the ability to put this team on his back and win a series if Everett needs him to.
Liam Hughes also gives Seattle a reliable netminder and his numbers in the season series are not too far behind Hart’s – despite the much heavier workload. Seattle consistently got out shot later in the year and Hughes’ play was a big key in them stealing games where they were outplayed.
On the other side, the Thunderbirds’ known strength coming into this year was their blue liner and they were just that. Led by the tow 20-year-olds, Strand and Ottenbreit, Seattle’s defense not only shutdown opponents at times, they provided need offense from the back end. Strand was a power play goal scoring machine with 14 of his 25 markers coming on the man advantage.
Seattle will need to continue manufacturing goals from players that do not have “NHL drafted” next to their name. Strand is not the only double digit power play goal scorer as Andrusiak (11) and Volcan (10) also showed a penchant for scoring on the man advantage.
Seattle was middle of the pack on the power play at 11th, but they still have multiple weapons to hit with you when you are a man down.
Everett’s top duo of Bajkov and Fonteyne set the pace for Everett, but they are by no means the only productive players. Riley Sutter has moved beyond being just a strong defensive center, to one of the better two-way draft eligible forwards in the WHL.
Bryce Kindopp netted five goals in the season series, including some big ones. He is one of the most improved Silvertips forwards and could add a big playoff goal or two to his resume.
Impact Players to Watch:
- Carter Hart
- Turner Ottenbreit
- Patrick Bajkov
- Donovan Neuls
- Kevin Davis
I think the longer this playoff series goes, the more it starts to work in favor of the Thunderbirds. With their big, veteran blue line and goalie in Hughes who always seems to make big stops, they have the ability to wear down their opponent. One has to think that if Everett drops a game or two to start the series, they could start clenching their sticks a little tighter and try a little too hard.
However, when you have quite possibly the best goalie in the entire CHL in your net, a lot of other factors do not matter as much. I could see Hart putting together a big performance and Everett’s forwards doing enough to squeeze this series out and finally get by the Thunderbirds.
Everett in six games.
Game 1 – Friday, March 23rd – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett – 7:35pm PDT
Game 2 – Saturday, March 24th – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett – 7:05pm PDT
Game 3 – Tuesday, March 27th – ShoWare Center – Kent – 7:05pm PDT
Game 4 – Friday, March 30th – ShoWare Center – Kent – 7:35pm PDT
Game 5* – Saturday, March 31st – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett – 7:05pm PDT
Game 6* – Tuesday, April 3rd – ShoWare Center – Kent – 7:05pm PDT
Game 7* – Wednesday, April 4th – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett – 7:05pm PDT
Banner photos by Brian Liesse and Chris Mast.