The Everett Silvertips begin their preparations for the 2010-11 WHL season today, and everyone's raring to get started -- despite the unhockey-like weather conditions outside.
"It's exciting," Everett general manager Doug Soetaert said. "The guys are coming back to the team and everyone is excited to get started. They're coming here ready to roll."
Everett is coming off a surprising season. The Tips surprised many by finishing tied with Tri-City for the best record in the Western Conference last season at 97 points (46-21-3-2), but suffered a premature exit from the playoffs when they lost a Game 7 heartbreaker to Kelowna in the first round.
Head coach Craig Hartsburg has a season under his belt, and the Tips are looking to build upon last season's success.
"We want to continue to build on the identity we started to build last year," said Hartsburg, who in his first season at the helm crafted the Tips into a pressuring team. "The players who are returning, at least the ones I've seen so far, put in a lot of work over the summer. They know what we're looking for from the start now, so hopefully we'll be ready to go."
The players officially reported Wednesday evening. They take the ice for the first time at 9 a.m. this morning at Lynnwood Ice Center. Training sessions take place all day today, Friday and Saturday, with camp concluding Sunday with the Green vs. Grey game.
This year's training camp was moved from Comcast Arena to Lynnwood Ice Center because Comcast Arena is hosting the circus. All sessions are open to the public free of charge.
The format of this year's training camp has been tweaked slightly. Last year all the players -- veterans and rookies -- were divided into four teams that scrimmaged throughout the first three days of camp. This year the veterans have been separated and will undergo two rigorous training sessions each day, with an on-ice session in the morning and an off-ice session in the afternoon. The rookies will still be split into four teams and participate in two scrimmages each day.
"One thing I found is that when the veterans scrimmaged during training camp, they didn't have that intensity level, especially when playing against one another," Hartsburg explained about the change. "I think we'll get more quality work out of them by having them on the ice for an hour-and-a-half of intense practice, with a dryland session in the afternoon. At last year's training camp the scrimmaging worked because I didn't know the players and I was able to watch them in a game environment. This year I'm better prepared and we can get right to work."
The offseason saw the Tips' roster undergo some unexpected changes, both with players arriving and departing.
Among the newcomers are a pair of 19-year-old forwards who are expected to be impact players. Center Landon Ferraro, who arrived via trade with Red Deer, and right wing Josh Birkholz, previously of the University of Minnesota, will be taking their first strides in Tips uniforms today. Ferraro was a second-round pick in the 2009 NHL draft by the Detroit Red Wings, and Birkholz was a third rounder by the Florida Panthers in the same draft.
The unexpected departures include center Byron Froese, who went to Red Deer in the Ferraro deal, and defensemen Chris de la Lande and Curtis Kulchar, who chose not to return for their overage seasons. They join five-year Tips Shane Harper and Zack Dailey (graduated overagers) and hard-hitting defenseman Radko Gudas (playing professionally in the Tampa Bay Lightning system) as players Everett needs to replace.
Despite the losses, Everett has depth at forward and strength in goal, so the Tips are optimistic about the upcoming season.
"We're pretty excited about the ability we have and the depth we have up front," Hartsburg said. "We have speed and pretty good skill up front. We believe we can be a very competitive team. It all depends on how quickly we can come together as a group and get everyone on the same page."
Overage goaltender Thomas Heemskerk, who may also end up playing pro this season in the San Jose Sharks system, is still attending camp with the Tips. Both of Everett's Finnish players, returning defenseman Rasmus Rissanen and import draft pick Jesse Huhtala, arrived earlier this week.
One player who won't be at camp is 16-year-old defenseman Seth Jones. Jones, a first-round pick in the 2009 bantam draft, has committed to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program. Soetaert said he expected Jones to spend two seasons with the NTDP.
Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog
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