Saturday, February 14, 2009

T-Birds @ Silvertips, Friday 2/13/09

The last time I saw the T-Birds and Silvertips square off, it was to christen the ShoWare Center in Kent last month. I know the guys have faced each other since then, with victories on both sides. Last night, they met again at Comcast Arena, with ‘Tips fans out in full force. I’ve been to Silvertips games, but always as a fan. I’ve never covered a game there. In fact, to tell you the truth, this is only the second hockey game I’ve covered from a writing standpoint. (My first game was the ‘Tips-T-Birds game at ShoWare on January 3, 2009). So, I really didn’t know what to expect.

It began with a little confusion at the door, because my name wasn’t on the list, but I handed the nice woman my business card and she whipped up a game pass without calling someone to double check, and showed me how to get to the Green Room. From there, it was up an elevator to the third level, where Michael, the Silvertips intern, helped me get set up on a platform behind the other reporters (it was a packed night!). The only drawback, he explained, was that I would have to stand for the entire game in order to see the ice. Oh-kaaay. Well, I needed to burn the extra calories anyway, so I set up and prepared to watch the game on my feet.

The anthem was sung by a man named Paul Kline, who was introduced as a “fan favorite.” I heard this guy last weekend at two T-Birds games; on Friday against Lethbridge and Sunday against Vancouver. He has a very nice voice and I enjoyed listening to him last night, as well.

Seattle vs. Everett, 2/13/09 (Photo: Su Ring)

Then, the puck dropped and I could tell immediately that this was going to be Everett’s night. They were more aggressive off the bat, outshooting Seattle for a good portion of the first period. In fact, the T-Birds didn’t mark their first shot on goal until about 8 minutes into the period, although goalie Calvin Pickard stopped some pretty intense shots. Here’s the odd thing, the T-Birds’ formations looked pretty good- they moved the puck into the Silvertips end pretty well, but they could not score. About 7 minutes into the first, T-Bird Chris Cloud was called for slashing, setting the stage for a night of penalties by an increasingly frustrated Seattle team.
(NOTE: I’ve talked before about the “audience participation” factor at ‘Tips games, like shouting “LOVE” and “FIGHT” during the anthems. Seems, they have a little shout for penalties as well. When the announcer said, “The Seattle Thunderbirds are back at full strength”, the crowd yelled, “But they still SUCK!”)

Thomas Heemskerk 2/13/09 (Photo: Su Ring)

Seattle started making shots after the 8 minute mark, and Everett goalie Thomas Heemskerk was ready. He turned away a hard shot and two rebounds about 14 minutes in, then stopped another shot by T-Bird Prab Rai just seconds later. Seattle’s lines seemed to start gelling but still could not score. In contrast, the Silvertips looked more intense, almost like mavericks on the ice, working to keep the action down on the Seattle end. Even early in the game, there were several scrums around the Seattle net and a little pushing and shoving. Then a fight about 18 minutes in that sent Taylor Ellington of Everett and Seattle’s Jim O’Brien to the locker room. I heard O’Brien got 2:00 for roughing and another 2:00 for unsportsmanlike conduct. I never heard what Ellington got, because Everett scored as the announcer was calling the penalties. Byron Froese took a shot from Shane Harper and put it past Calvin Pickard. Kellan Tochkin was also credited with an assist here. The first period ended just after that goal.

Calvin Pickard 2/13/09 (Photo: Su Ring)

During the first intermission, the Silvertips organization had several contests to keep the fans engaged. They drove a car out to center ice from Bryant Ford (sorry, I didn’t notice what model), and had two contestants fire one shot on goal each. If they scored, they would be entered into a contest to win the car. Both contestants missed wide. Then they brought two more contestants on for another game, this time, to build a puzzle. The pieces were scattered at each goal. The guys had to run (or slide) to pick up pieces, bring them back to center ice and put them together. The Silvertips’ mascot “Lincoln” made things fun by stealing pieces while the guys’ backs were turned. Finally, one guy won, although I don’t remember the prize. I think it was dinner.

Puzzle Game 2/13/09 (Photo: Su Ring)

You’d think that would be it for entertainment, but no! They turned the camera on unsuspecting couples in the crowd while romantic music played, for a bit called “Kiss Cam”. Some couples embraced the opportunity to smooch in public. Others looked mortified until the camera turned away from them. If you plan to attend a Silvertips game with a member of the opposite sex, be warned, or bring chap stick and mints. You’ll most likely end up on “Kiss Cam”.

The second period started out a little more slowly than the first, but ‘Tips fans showed their support by ringing their cowbells and boy, were there a lot of cowbells in the arena. Seattle’s Brad Haber was called for a tripping penalty about a minute into the period and Everett capitalized. About 30 seconds later, Taylor Ellington scored, assisted by Daniel Bartek and Byron Froese. The game really started getting physical here. I saw a lot of grabbing and shoving. The T-Birds seemed very off their game in the second, not connecting on shots, not keeping the puck out of their own end, which is very uncharacteristic of this team, whose top pairing of Greg Scott and Prab Rai usually seem to make great plays instinctively. Even Captain Thomas Hickey seemed off his game last night. I did see something that made my heart stop for a minute. Chance Lund of Seattle fell and an Everett player nearly skated into him, but leapt over him at the last second. Goalie Calvin Pickard made several good saves for Seattle this period, including one that seemed like an accident. He lost his balance just as Everett took a shot and blocked the puck with one flailing leg.

8:26 into the second period, Markus McCrea took a penalty for tripping, leaving the Silvertips short handed, but Everett killed this penalty fairly easily, as the T-Birds continued to miss scoring chances, including a nice wraparound attempt by Chris Cloud that just didn’t go in. Seattle went shorthanded about 12 minutes in, as Brendan Dillon got called for hooking. Again, Everett capitalized on the power play. Mike Alexander took a pass from Graham Potuer and found the net. Shane Harper was also credited with helping set up this goal.

Seattle started to get more physical here, almost a little too much so. Sena Acolatse was called for slashing about 18 minutes in. Thomas Hickey and Kellan Tochkin exchanged words before a ref stepped in between them. Then Mike Alexander went to the penalty box for interference. Thomas Heemskirk stopped a big slapshot from Jim O’Brien with about a minute left in the period. The second period ended with the Silvertips up 3-0.

The second intermission featured the ever popular “Chuck a Puck” contest, but they do it a bit differently in Everett than they do at ShoWare. They drove the car onto the ice, or in this case, a Suzuki Grand Vitara, but fans don’t chuck their pucks at the sunroof. Instead, they aim for a square of ice at center ice, surrounded by four mats. Those who get their pucks into the center are entered into a drawing. Those that land on the mats get the chance to win other prizes, like a $500 gift certificate to Les Scwab Tires.
Comcast Arena 2/13/09 (Photo: Su Ring)

I must say I like the layout of Comcast Arena slightly better than ShoWare Center. The floor plan is very open, meaning you can grab a drink or a hot dog without missing any of the action. At ShoWare you have to leave the ice area to go to concessions. Picture a smaller and nicer KeyArena and you get the picture. I was told that ShoWare’s floor plan is a lot like Kelowna’s, which is a very popular place to play.

Comcast Arena 2/13/09 (Photo: Su Ring)

After “Chuck a Puck”, a guy drove around the ice in a little mobile thingy with a cannon attached to it, shooting t-shirts into the crowd. Watching this brought to mind a funny series of “Bud Light” radio commercials called “Real Men of Genius”. They include “T-Shirt Launcher Inventor”. Click here to listen to it. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do. I’m just saying that it came to mind as I watched the guy drive around launching shirts into the stands. The crowd also did their best “Chicken Dance” for a chance to win dinner at Alfy’s Pizza.

The third period got underway with the teams 4 on 4, as they worked off penalties from the end of the second period. Everett has lost 11 of its last 13 games, but you can’t tell. They are playing lights out, physical, getting into Seattle’s end again and again. The T-Birds, on the other hand, have won 3 of its last 5 games (and tied one), but really looked as though something is “off”. I know several players are injured, including Devon LeBlanc, Brad Richard and Lindsay Nielsen, but something else seems to be up. Illness? Off-kilter from having several days off? It was hard to tell, even from my lofty perch.

Everett ran into penalty trouble about 6:50 into the period, as Graham Potuer got called for interference. But once again, the Silvertips’ penalty kill was stellar and Seattle failed to score. Everett didn’t have such problems, as they found the net again just before the 9 minute mark. Graham Potuer came out of the penalty box to score, with help from Byron Froese.

Frustration continued to build on Seattle’s end. Sena Acolatse got into a scrap with Dale Hunt, then Jim O’Brien got called for his second penalty of the night, this time for high sticking. The cowbells began ringing in force and the music guy pumped things up by blasting AC/DC and other heavy rock songs. The action on the ice continued with more scraps. The T-Birds pulled goalie Calvin Pickard with a little over 3 minutes left, but Everett nearly capitalized on that, too. Dale Hunt missed the empty net goal, though, at the same time that Captain Zack Daily got called for interference. Pickard went back in goal and the action continued. A scrum down at the Everett goal knocked the net off its moorings and more pushing and shoving ensued.

As the clock ticked down the final minute, the crowd went crazy, screaming and ringing their cowbells. , Sena Acolatse got called for kicking from behind just as the game ended, capping off a night of great frustration for the T-Birds and great jubilation for the Silvertips.

Final score: Everett 4, Seattle 0.

After the game, they announced the three stars of the game and I’m proud to say I picked them, in order, but it really wasn’t that difficult, if you look at the way Everett played.
3 Stars of the Game:

1. Byron Froese (one goal, two assists- and really a playmaker the entire game)
Thomas Heemskerk (stopped 24 shots and recorded his second shutout)
Shane Harper (had two assists and played extremely well all night)

If I could, I would have also named Everett’s defense as a star of the game. They did a great job breaking up scoring chance after scoring chance. The penalty kill unit was also stellar.

NOTE: According to an Everett Silvertips press release, rookie Kellan Tochkin’s assist on the first goal broke the franchise record for points by a rookie. Tochkin’s 62 points surpassed a record of 61 held by Kyle Beach. Congratulations to Kellan! (You can read my interview with Kellan Tochkin by clicking here.)

I know that this isn’t the type of game recap you normally read, but I like to include as much of the game experience as I can, not just what happens when the clock is actually running. If you prefer a more “sports-like” recap, I highly suggest you read Nick Patterson’s column in the Everett Herald. He is a stellar writer whom I greatly admire. I like to focus on the fan’s perspective and hopefully, help you decide whether to go see a game in the future. I hope I've accomplished that this time.

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