By Rikki King Herald Writer
STANWOOD — They’ve traveled 17,482 miles this hockey season, and they’ve got the cowbells to prove it.
Tom and Doris Rupert have held season tickets for the Everett Silvertips since the team got started in 2003.
They witnessed most of the team’s pivotal moments over the years, and that big series with the rival Seattle Thunderbirds starting Saturday? Oh yeah, they’ll be there.
This year, the Ruperts made all 72 games played during the regular season — 36 at home, 36 away.
Doris Rupert, 63, worked in aerospace before retiring this year. Tom Rupert, 59, works as a manufacturing engineer.
Their house in Stanwood, their two Jeeps, their wardrobes and even her fingernails are decked out in Tips tones: green, silver, white.
The Ruperts have a human-sized stuffed bear that wears a Silvertips jersey. They named him “Nimitz,” and he goes along on the trips.
If you spend much time in Everett, the name makes sense. The Tips’ mascot is a bear named Lincoln, after the aircraft carrier that for years was based in Everett. Another carrier, the USS Nimitz, now holds that spot in the skyline on Port Gardner.
Doris Rupert loves to take photographs and make collages. A favorite theme in some pieces is including a memento from every arena where the Tips have played. Her favorite photography subjects include Nimitz the bear, the couple’s two Beagles, Benny and Betsy, their three grandkids and the round-about scenic drives the couple takes to and from games in the U.S. and Canada.
The Tips are set to play the Seattle Thunderbirds at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and again on Sunday. It’s the first time the rivals will face each other in the Western Hockey League playoffs since Everett joined the league more than a decade ago.
The Tips asked the Ruperts to go out on the ice after a recent game. The team shared the news of the couple’s perfect attendance at games this year.
The team wanted to show its appreciation for passionate hockey fans, said Zoran Rajcic, executive vice president and assistant general manager:
“The commitment that Tom and Doris showed in attending every game this season is another great example of the unbelievable fan support we’ve enjoyed in this community for 11 seasons now,” he said. “I’ve always been impressed by the way our fans have embraced and supported this team from day one.”
Before the team shared the news, though, the Ruperts had kept their little project mostly private — unless folks asked.
And people asked. Mostly, the question was, “Why?” Doris Rupert said.
“Because we want to and because it’s something we enjoy doing,” she said.
Their devout fandom, though, is less of a secret.
At the first Tips game every year, the Ruperts grab some of the small magnetic season calendars, and the pocket-sized paper versions.
They give them to family and friends: Be forewarned, the Ruperts will be busy on certain afternoons and evenings.
On occasion, they’ve made a wedding before a hockey game. They bring their Tips jerseys in the car, or change at home on the way. They made one ceremony “and skipped the dancing part” to get to a game, Doris Rupert said.
The Ruperts didn’t know they liked hockey until the Tips came to Everett.
Before hockey, they were “typical Washington football fans,” Tom Rupert said.
They loved the fast pace of hockey, and the hard work of the young men who played. The grandkids, the youngest of whom is now 13, liked the games, too.
“It was such fun,” Doris Rupert said. “It was interactive, with the energy and the spirit that you could feel. It was like, we’re a part of this, and it’s cool.”
They were there when the Tips won the Western Conference Championship in Kelowna, B.C., in 2004.
“That set the hook,” Tom Rupert said.
The Ruperts like to meet up with other hockey fans for chicken wings and beers before the games. They listen to the post-game analysis on sports radio. When other folks are traveling to away games too, they try to stay in nearby hotels.
They like seeing historic hockey arenas, especially in Canada.
The trips also give them a chance to see the country. They meet new people.
“We now have good friends in places where we never would have even had a reason to go,” Tom Rupert said.
He drives. She takes pictures. They eat Chex Mix and Subway on the road.
“I love Medicine Hat,” she said. “There’s been a sunset every time we’ve ever been there.”
Of course, they have cowbells. They receive them as gifts, and they keep some in the car, but on occasion, they need more. Even if she doesn’t have a cowbell on hand, she has Tips stickers to decorate a new one, purchased on site.
“She has an assortment,” Tom Rupert said.
At home games, the Ruperts always sit in Section 209, Row 1. At away games, they aim for seats on the lower level, on the glass, just for a different vantage point.
The Seattle-Everett rivalry dates back to the Tips’ beginnings, Tom Rupert said. Some folks who lived in the north sound and were longtime T-birds fans had to reconsider their allegiances. Some fans tried to support both teams, but it got to be too much, he said.
The Ruperts decided awhile ago that if they ever move from Stanwood, they’re staying in Silvertips vicinity. Part of the reason they didn’t tell folks about their plans to attend every game this season was because they needed to make sure they could do it first. They didn’t want to jinx it.
“It was just something we wanted to do, and as we’re getting toward the end, it’s been a bigger thing than we thought,” Tom Rupert said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.