By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — When junior hockey came to Everett in 2003, it was considered a grand experiment. Could this crazy idea possibly work?
With the Everett Silvertips now entering their 10th anniversary season, it’s safe to say the answer to that question is yes.
Everett will spend this season celebrating 10 years in the WHL, but it wasn’t always a given the Tips would reach this point.
“It’s tough to believe it’s 10 seasons,” said Tips executive vice president/assistant general manager Zoran Rajcic, who’s handled Everett’s business operations since day one.
“Ten years ago we were on the corner of Colby and California as an office. We were packing up to go out to Strathmore (for training camp in Alberta), then busing out a group of guys to start our first season. The arena was touch and go on final completion for the opener. Now, the nine seasons we’ve had between have been pretty spectacular.”
When Bill Yuill decided to sell the Seattle Thunderbirds and begin an expansion franchise in Everett, there was a healthy amount of skepticism around the league over whether Everett was a viable market.
It was just 30 miles down the road from the T-birds, who despite a lengthy run in the WHL had yet to capture the imagination of the local community. There was no history of any kind of hockey in Everett, including a lack of youth hockey players and parents to serve as a base level of support. Only one team had ever made it in Everett, that being the Everett AquaSox minor-league baseball team.
Then after selling out the home opener, there were some sparse crowds at the Everett Events Center (now called Comcast Arena), particularly on weeknights. There was one game where the attendance wasn’t even announced because the number was so small.
However, the Tips began winning games, and the community took notice. Everett went on to unprecedented success as an expansion team, winning both the U.S. Division and Western Conference titles before bowing out to Medicine Hat in the championship series. The community embraced the team and has been a staunch supporter ever since.
“There was a lot of skepticism, a lot of people didn’t think it would catch on,” Rajcic said. “Everybody says it was because of the run the team had that initial season. But I think what that did was solidify for the community that we were serious about our business.
“There were times I had my doubts, there seemed like a lot of stuff that needed to get done,” Rajcic added. “But we got it done, and that’s a credit to the staff that’s been here over the 10 years. We’ve had a great relationship with the community and the region. When it’s all said and done, that’s probably the best part, that the people of this region have accepted us and want to be a part of what we’re doing here at the arena.”
The Tips are doing several things to commemorate their 10th anniversary season. It began with the very first players reunion in August. Everett also has new jerseys and logos just for this season — the team will return to its standard logo and jerseys next season — and has several things in the works for remembering 10 years of Silvertips hockey.
“Throughout the season we’re going to be bringing things back, in different facets, to try and get people to remember who was here in the past,” Rajcic said. “We want to connect the past to the present. We’ve dug through our stuff and found our game day programs and some of the giveaways. We’re going to put things out like a time capsule for people to see.
“We’ve had 10 years worth of scrapbooks put together by people in the community so people have an opportunity to touch back. Then in the games we’re going to bring some players back to the region and do some specialized messages. We’re really looking to have some fun this year.”
Most of all, the Tips are appreciative of the fans who have supported the team through the years.
“It’s a testament to the people who have been coming to the games as season ticket holders,” Rajcic said. “If you look at the long list of season ticket holders who have been here for 10 years, those are the people, along with the community and this region, that have really helped us get to where we are now.”
And once the season is complete, the Tips will start preparing for another decade in Everett.