The game had ended. The traditional post-series handshakes were complete. The Everett Silvertips’ season was over.
Yet two Everett players lingered on the ice last Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, skating around and hugging everyone they could find, be it teammate, coach, even linesmen and referees.
Then finally came one big hug for one another before they stepped through the door and disappeared down the tunnel one final time.
Taylor Ellington and Graham Potuer have spent more time in Everett Silvertips jerseys than any other players in franchise history. But with the end of their overage seasons their careers with the Tips have come to a close.
“It was a little emotional, knowing it was the last time I was going to step on the ice with those guys,” Potuer reflected about that final moment in Kennewick. “It went by faster than I expected it to.”
Ellington and Potuer spent the maximum five seasons in Everett, the first five-year Silvertips the team’s ever had. They arrived as 16-year-old rookies during the 2004-05 season, mistake-prone defensemen who saw few games and even fewer shifts. They depart as 20-year-olds who rank Nos. 1 and 2 in career games played for Everett, having been the workhorses of the Tips defense.
“It was five good seasons in Everett,” Ellington said. “I met a lot of great people and friends I’ll have for the rest of my life. It went by so fast.”
This season as overagers on a youthful team, Ellington and Potuer were asked to carry heavy loads, often logging more than 30 minutes of ice time in games.
They both also dramatically increased their offensive output. Strictly stay-at-home types during their first four seasons, both nearly matched their previous career point totals. Ellington recorded 32 points (six goals, 26 assists) in 69 games after having just 34 in his previous 215. Potuer registered 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 69 games after notching just 30 in his previous 206.
“Anybody with any hockey savvy knew what we had ahead of us in September, when you’re a 20-year-old and looking at the roster and thinking you have no chance,” Everett coach John Becanic said. “But right from the start they were positive. They were going to do whatever it took to make the playoffs and have a respectable year. They just wanted to be a part of the Silvertips, they believed in the jersey and the crest.
“They’re special players and special people,” Becanic added. “It’s fun seeing a player going through his whole career with one team, whatever the level. It’s not very common anymore.”
Thanks in large part to the work done by Ellington and Potuer, Everett was able to keep its playoff streak alive, giving the duo the distinction of reaching the playoffs in all five of their WHL seasons.
Those five seasons also included some special moments. They were regular members of Everett’s 2005-06 team that reached the Western Conference finals, as well as the 2006-07 team that won the Scotty Munro Trophy for the league’s best record.
Through it all Ellington and Potuer grew from being bit players to being the foundations of the team.
“I came in as the young guy, not the most skilled guy, who would do anything to get into the lineup,” Ellington recalled. “I finally started to feel more confident as the years went by and was able to progress offensively while still playing with an edge.”
Added Potuer: “Playing behind guys like Mitch Love, Shaun Heshka, Cody Thoring, even Taylor Ellington, you learn a lot of stuff from them. You’ve got to take what you can from them and I think I’ve progressed well. Being a 20-year-old on a WHL team is a pretty hard thing to do, and I’m grateful for every opportunity I was given.”
And the bonds the two formed extend well beyond the ice.
“I love them truly like family,” Becanic said. “Dealing with the defense the first four years (as an assistant coach) I went through the growing pains with those two kids. All five of those years go through your head and you think, ‘they’re men now,’ and that’s special.”
But now it’s time for the next step in their hockey careers.
The next step has already begun for Ellington. Selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the second round of the 2007 NHL draft, he signed his first professional contract just before the playoffs began, and now he’s joining Vancouver’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, for the remainder of the season. He’ll be a full-time pro beginning next season.
“In an ideal world I’d obviously like to play in Vancouver next season,” Ellington said. “But hopefully I’ll play in Manitoba. I’m going to work as hard as I can over the summer, come to camp and do everything to stay.”
As for Potuer, he’s still weighing his future options. He’d like to seek a tryout with a professional team, but if that doesn’t happen he’ll continue playing for a Canadian university.
“I’ll see about getting a pro contract,” Potuer said, “and if I don’t I’ll take my WHL scholarship and go to university, try to learn something while I’m there and play a little hockey.”
But wherever the path leads for Ellington and Potuer, they’ll always have fond memories of their five years in Everett.
“I just want to say thank you to the city and everyone who had anything to do with my career,” Potuer said. “You made it the best five years of my life.”
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog