By any measurement, the Everett Silvertips had a great season.
Despite low expectations from the pundits, the Silvertips got off to a hot start and held off the charging Thunderbirds to win the U.S. Division title. On top of all that they ended up the top seed in the Western Conference and are coming off a first-round win against the Victoria Royals.
There’s a lot of excitement in Everett as the Silvertips prepare to take on Seattle in a big second round match up. Even with all that excitement, head coach Kevin Constantine isn’t letting his team get too far ahead of themselves.
“It’s a bit cliche-ish but we just get out there and play our next shift or next period,” the head coach said. “We’re happy we won the first round and we’re ready to play our first shift of the second round.”
That first shift comes Friday night at the Xfinity Arena at 7:30 as Game 1 gets underway.
It’s the third time in four years that Seattle and Everett have faced off in the playoffs. Seattle has won the previous two and Constantine’s Silvertips want to reverse that trend. He knows that his club has a challenge in front of them.
“I think based on the way the playoffs have gone, I think Seattle is a bit of the favorite in this series,” he said. “Based on history and their size and based on guys like (Mathew) Barzal.”
He goes on to say that the Thunderbirds have some distinct advantages.
“I think Seattle’s benefited a little bit in that they’ve generally been slightly older than us,” Constantine said. “They certainly, pound-for-pound, have been much bigger than us and I think in playoff hockey, there’s a little bit more let go in terms of penalties. We certainly aren’t shy about competing, we enjoy the rivalry, we have a very competitive locker room.”
Everett was paced this season by Patrick Bajkov (29-49-78) and Dominic Zwerger (28-47-75) during the regular season but watch out for Riley Sutter. The second year player scored 20 times for the Silvertips and five of those came against the Thunderbirds.
Getting secondary scoring from guys like Sutter could go a long way in Everett prevailing.
The Silvertips of course will have to find a way to contain Seattle’s Barzal along with his linemates, Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Gropp. The health of Barzal and Gropp continues to be a mystery but Constantine says that his team will assume they’re going to play and prepare accordingly.
He says that the Barzal line is one of the best in the WHL.
“We haven’t been able to stop them,” Constantine says of Seattle’s top line. “They’ve scored their goals against us and I don’t think you can stop them, they’re too good for that. You know, you hope they don’t get three or four. They’re going to find their goals and you have to at least minimize the damage they’re doing to you.”
Everett is a strong defensive club and gave up the fewest goals in the league. One of their key defenders, who will be on the ice against Barzal and company a lot, is Noah Juulsen.
The 2015 first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens will see a ton of ice time in this series but says the Silvertips have to worry about more than just Barzal.
“They’re a great team in general,” Juulsen said. “You can’t worry about one line because they’ve got a bunch of lines that can hurt you. As a group, we’ve got to do our job and play hard against all their lines.”
Juulsen is one of the best defensemen in the league and if you’re able to get past him you have to deal with the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year in Carter Hart.
Hart led the WHL by allowing under two goals per game while posting a save-percentage of .927. He has shut out Seattle twice this season already and the T-Birds will have their hands full.
“He’s just a great goalie,” Juulsen said of his teammate. “He came at 16 and started as the back up but got the starting job halfway through the year. He earned that for sure. He’s just professional and comes to the rink every day to do his job. He’s been great for us and has continued to be great.”
In the past two Seattle playoff victories over Everett they had home ice advantage. This season, its Everett who has the advantage. Juulsen says that both buildings will be loud and he is looking forward to playing at home and in front of the hostile ShoWare Center crowd.
“Its exciting, whether you’re playing at home or on the road,” the defenseman said. “Both rinks are loud and the fans are really screaming, so it’s exciting for sure.”
Playing 10 times in the regular season and fighting tooth and nail for the division over the past two seasons has built up the Seattle-Everett rivalry. Playoff series can help grow and fuel that rivalry and with the intensity we saw during the season, this one feels like it’s become bigger.
That intensity begins in Game 1, on Friday evening.
“I know Seattle probably considers Portland traditionally, their biggest rival,” Constantine said. “We, on the other hand, certainly feel like Seattle is our biggest rival. I think it’s good for hockey, it’s a good thing for sports.”