Wednesday, April 28, 2004

WHL finals, baby!
Silvertips beat Kelowna 2-1 in OT of Game 7; play Medicine Hat in championship series

By Nick Patterson
Herald Writer

KELOWNA, British Columbia -- There's no question about it, this season the Everett Silvertips have been a team of destiny.

And now that destiny includes being the Western Hockey League's Western Conference champions, too.

Jeff Schmidt scored the winner in overtime -- Everett's third straight overtime victory -- and the Silvertips continued their improbable inaugural season with a 2-1 victory over the Kelowna Rockets in Game 7 of the best-of-seven series on Tuesday night.

That's right, the expansion Everett Silvertips are the conference champions.

"We talked about doing it, but to actually do it is unbelievable," said Everett goalie Jeff Harvey, who again was stellar, stopping 35 shots. "I'm so proud of everybody in that room. It's been a great ride and I just don't know what to say."

Ivan Baranka scored with 3 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime, then Schmidt scored the game winner when Barry Horman's centering pass deflected off Schmidt's leg and past Kelowna goalie Kelly Guard 7:56 into overtime.

Everett plays the Eastern Conference champion Medicine Hat Tigers for the WHL championship. The series begins Friday in Medicine Hat. The winner of that series advances to the Memorial Cup.

These Silvertips put the Little Engine that Could to shame. A roster filled with players discarded by the rest of the league, Everett first breaks every WHL record for an expansion team and becomes the first first-year team to win a division title.

Then trailing Kelowna, the defending WHL champion and the team with the best record during the regular season, 3-1 in Western Conference finals, the Silvertips win three straight overtime games, receiving fortunate bounces on all three game-winning goals.

Yes indeed, there must be some magic at work in Everett.

"It seems like a team of destiny right now with the three overtime wins," Everett defenseman Mitch Love said. "I don't know when the last time that ever happened from a 3-1 deficit.

"I'm so proud of the guys in that room for not quitting on anything," Love added. "Our backs have been against the wall all year and we seem to rise to the occasion."

For the third straight game Kelowna had the advantage in both territory and shots on goal, outshooting Everett 36-21. And in overtime the Rockets even turned up the pressure, squeezing off the first five shots of the period.

But then that Everett magic struck once again. Barry Horman was in the right circle when he flipped the puck toward the crease. Schmidt was battling for position in the crease when the puck floated in, and the next thing you know the puck was in the net with Schmidt's third goal of the playoffs and the series was over.

"We lost the puck and somehow John Dahl passed it back to Barry Horman and he just threw it on goal," Schmidt said. "I was just standing right in front of Kelly Guard and it went off my leg and in the net. That's what playoff goals are all about; it's greasy goals and that was one of them. It's just unbelievable that we came back and won three in a row in overtime. It's something else."

Everett forced overtime on a shot by Baranka with 3:46 remaining in the game. Schmidt won a faceoff in the left circle, pulling the puck straight back to Baranka at the center point. Baranka wound up and fired a one-time slap shot just inside the right corner, the score at 1-1. It was Baranka's third goal of the playoffs.

Kelowna needed just 2:38 to get on the board first. On an early power play, Tyler Mosienko took a shot from the right point. Simon Ferguson, camped out in front, lifted the shot in the air. The puck sailed over Harvey's outstretched arm and into the net to stake the Rockets to an early lead. The goal was Ferguson's fifth of the playoffs.

Kelowna continued to create chances the rest of the game, but Harvey turned everything away, giving the Silvertips the opportunity for their comeback.

Kelowna's 2-1 overtime loss to Everett in Game 6 was the Rockets' third playoff loss to the Silvertips. That matched Kelowna's loss total for the entire 2003 playoffs, when the Rockets went 16-3 in rolling to the WHL championship.