Bigger, stronger, but better?

EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips arrived at training camp bigger, stronger and fitter.

Now they’re hoping that equates to playing better.

Everett began preparations for the 2012-13 WHL season Thursday with the opening of training camp at the Comcast Community Ice Rink, and they did so with several of the players providing clear visual evidence of the work they put in during the offseason.

“Everyone worked hard this summer and is here to compete,” said overage winger Cody Fowlie, who is the poster child for those offseason efforts after adding 20 pounds of muscle. “I think it’s going to be good competition.”

Everett is coming off a season where it finished 22-40-2-8 and only secured a playoff spot on the last day of the season, before being swept in the first round by Tri-City. The Tips want to improve upon that showing this season, and offseason training was the first step in achieving that goal.

“You look at some of the guys and physically they look good, their (off-ice physical testing) was real good,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “Now it’s just a matter of making sure we’re in good shape on the ice. Some guys put a lot of hard work in this summer. At the end of last season we talked about how that’s going to be the foundation of our season, how much hard work they put in, and they did. I know they’re excited to come back, and today I was pretty impressed.”

Thursday was the first opportunity to put that offseason training to use. The players went through practice sessions in the morning, then participated in scrimmages in the afternoon. While the players are not yet in midseason form, and although some of the newer players showed some nerves, play in the scrimmages was generally spirited.

“The first day went well,” Fowlie said. “I think the (afternoon scrimmages) felt a lot better than practice in the morning. We got the rust off the boys in the morning and came out flying (in the scrimmages).”

The first day of training camp also turned out to be a crash course for the youngsters. In past years training camp scrimmages consisted of one-minute shifts that ended with the horn being blown, which kept the veterans playing against the veterans and the rookies playing against the rookies. This year the horn was taken out and line changes were made on the fly.

Therefore, the rookies frequently found themselves on the ice against the veterans.

“It was way different playing with them than against bantams,” said 15-year-old defenseman Kevin Davis, Everett’s first-round pick in this year’s bantam draft. “They’re so much bigger to move in front of the net.

“It was intimidating.”

Nevertheless, Ferner was pleased with the way the younger players rose to the challenge.

“I thought it was pretty good, to be quite honest with you,” Ferner said about the first day of camp. “I think the young kids came in here and made a real positive impression. I think they’re pushing our older guys. I’m not saying our older guys were terrible because I know they came here in pretty good shape. But I think it speaks volumes about the parity in camp.”

That played a part in prompting a format change. The original camp format had each of the four teams practicing in the morning each day, then playing one scrimmage in the afternoon. However, the Tips decided to scrap the morning practices after the first day and instead will have each team scrimmage once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

“The first day was more about feeling good, getting them out there and being familiar with one another,” Ferner explained about the change. “We have some real tough decisions to be made, and those decisions aren’t going to be made in practice, they’re going to be made watching these kids play.”

Today’s scrimmages begin at 8:30 a.m.

Slap shots

Two of Everett’s top returning forwards are not skating in scrimmages. Overage winger Ryan Harrison is dealing with a case of mononucleosis, while center Kohl Bauml is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The Tips expect Bauml to be ready at some point during the preseason. They hope Harrison will be ready by the time he finishes his four-game suspension that carried over from last season’s playoffs. … Also not taking part Thursday was returning goaltender Austin Lotz. However Lotz, who was held out as a precautionary measure because of a minor hamstring strain, should be able to return during camp.

Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.

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