Young team endures month of struggles
By Jim Riley
Special to The Seattle Times

Over a 72-game Western Hockey League season, adversity is almost inevitable.

The Everett Silvertips are 3-7 since Jan. 1, 6-11-3 in their past 20 games, so these are times that qualify. After a surprisingly fast start with an exceedingly young team, the dip puts the Silvertips at 21-18-6-2 and second in a tight U.S. Division.

The slump can be explained in large part by injuries. Everett has had as many as five forwards out of the lineup at the same time.

Although he won't use injuries as an excuse, Everett General Manager Doug Soetaert knows they have been a factor.

"We have to look at things with some perspective," Soetaert said. "Before we had all the injuries, we were comfortably in second place in the division. There was a reason for that."

Soetaert almost seems more proud of the way his team has handled misfortune than the immediate and unexpected success it found last season as an expansion team.

"No matter who is in the lineup, our expectations have been to go out and compete hard and to win," Soetaert said. "That's the way our entire organization has been from Day One. We don't look for excuses. When we've had problems, we've moved through them and moved forward."
Players rarely return from injuries in peak form, and it may take some time to rebuild chemistry lost to rust. Centers Mark Kress and Zach Hamill returned last week. Center Brennan Zasitko and winger Jeremy Cruerer could return sometime this week, and it will be at least 10 days before winger Tyler Dietrich is ready.

Unfortunately for the Silvertips, this is a difficult week with some of the best teams in the league on the schedule.

The Silvertips play tonight at Kelowna, the team with the most standings points in the league. They return home for a game Friday against the Portland Winter Hawks, who are only two points behind Everett for second place in the division.

The Silvertips play at Seattle on Saturday against the division-leading Thunderbirds, who have the best winning percentage in the league, before capping things off with their fourth game in five days in Kennewick to play the desperate and physical Tri-City Americans.
With so many players out of the lineup, Everett has used its younger players, something Soetaert thinks will make the Silvertips stronger down the stretch.

"We're not built around any one player," Soetaert said. "Our success has always been team success."