You could see it coming.
As the Everett Silvertips emerged from their deathspin known as November, it was clear to see that they were taking the steps needed to stay on top of the US Division. Saturday night in Portland, it all came together as the Tips defeated the Winterhawks 3-2.
Good forechecking by all four lines, solid play from the defence and key saves by goaltender Leland Irving all contributed to the win at the Rose Garden. In fact, Irving's save late in the 2nd period on Brandon Dubinsky may currently be the save of the year in WHL, and was huge as the Tips were able to keep their 3-1 lead through two periods of play. After constant pressure by Portland, a point shot by Michael Funk found its way through a maze of players to defending WHL Player of the Week Dubinsky. From no more than 10 feet away, Dubinsky literally had the entire net to shoot at as Irving had committed to the point shot and was now out of position after the deflection. Dubinsky one-timed the shot and miraculously Irving dove across the crease and snagged a sure goal with an incredible glove save.
'No question, the best save I have seen in the three years I have covered this team.' raved Tips play by play man Keith Gerhart. Gerhart has it on good authority, having called every game in the young history of the club.
But it was more than just one big save that propelled the team back on top of the US Division last night. It was spread out goal scoring. Rookie Shane Harper netted his first WHL goal on a first period power play. Harper, a native of Valencia, CA., deflected a Jason Fransoo point shot late in period one to tie the game. Second period markers by John Lammers, with his team leading 14th, and Karel Hromas with his 8th rounded out the Tips scoring. Not one Silvertip player had more than one point as the scoring was spread out among three lines.
Everett's young defence, in particular Graham Potuer and Taylor Ellington, bent but did not break. Potuer's 2nd period scrap with Kyle Bailey was another key point to the game. Immediately after Hromas scored to make it 3-1 Everett, Potuer and Bailey squared off at center ice after the faceoff. With Bailey having the early ege in the fight, a upper cut left sent Bailey reeling and after the fight Bailey went to the Hawks dressing room with concussion like symptoms and a damaged left hand. It is unclear how long Bailey may be out for, but he along with Dubinsky was a major force against Everett in this two game series.
The test for the Tips will be to see if they can put together back to back wins for the first time in over a month. Next up will be Prince George on Tuesday, followed by a Friday tilt against red-hot Vancouver.
Notes: Both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada release their rosters on Monday for the World Junior Hockey Championships, to be held in Vancouver at the end of December. Tips Peter Mueller and Hawks Brandon Dubinsky and Michael Sauer are expected to be named to Team USA. While Mueller and Sauer are sure to be selected, Dubinsky is on the bubble as the US in the past has been keen on promoting their own hockey program and less inclined to choose the best available, as was evident last year in the snubbing of Jack Johnson from the Team USA last year.