Ethan Browne came close to the ultimate storybook Western Hockey League debut Saturday in Kennewick, where the Everett Silvertips eventually defeated the Tri-City Americans 4-2 at the Toyota Center.
On Browne’s first WHL shift, Everett’s 2016 first-round bantam pick had a chance to pot his first WHL goal alongside linemates Brandson Hein and Bradly Goethals.
But it wasn’t to be.
“Yeah, first shift I had a shot right in front of the net,” Browne said. “It just bounced over my stick, which is unfortunate, but oh well.”
There figure to be many more chances in the coming months and years for the 15-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alberta. Saturday was the only game in which he played during his weekend trip to Everett, but the visit was more about getting the highly touted forward acclimated to the Silvertips organization than what he did on the ice.
“Experience is growth,” Silvertips head coach Kevin Constantine said. “It’s a new experience, and if you can get through it, you’re growing as an athlete and growing as a person. So when these younger players come here, it’s a five-year process for some of them with us and every single step along the way that we can speed that process up for them, we always try to. That’s helpful to anybody who comes through.”
The Silvertips routinely bring in high draft picks during the players’ breaks in their respective midget seasons for the purpose of experience and education. Canadian 15-year-olds are allowed to play up to six regular-season games in the WHL. They are then eligible to be recalled after their teams are eliminated from the midget playoffs, and elite players often return for the WHL playoffs.
A good example is defenseman Kevin Davis, Everett’s first-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft. Davis played in six regular-season games with the Tips during the 2012-13 season and returned to play in three playoff games.
Browne wasn’t necessarily expected to appear in a game last weekend, but a rash of injuries and illnesses rendered the Everett lineup somewhat depleted for Saturday’s game and the coaching staff called on the youngster.
“He jumped in and helped us and we don’t evaluate anyone on a first game, let alone a young kid,” Constantine said. “All I’d say it was great to get his first game out of the way. It was great to get him to hang out with us for a while and learn a little bit.”
Browne, whose father, Mike, and grandfather, Murray, each attended his debut, said it took him the first period to settle in and get comfortable.
“I was really nervous going into the game, but it got better and I got used to it,” Browne said. “I hope when I play my second game, I can feel more comfortable with everything and play a little bit more.”
The Silvertips were pleased Browne was still on the board when they made the 14th selection in May. Since players are usually at least two years away from making a significant impact, Everett doesn’t necessarily target specific needs in the bantam draft.
However, convincing talented offensive players to report to Everett has been a challenge in recent years, and the Tips wasted no time in signing Browne, even dispatching Constantine and assistant coach Brennan Sonne to Edmonton to procure Browne’s signature on a WHL contract.
“He’s the offensive player that we’ve needed for a while,” Tips director of player personnel Bil La Forge told The Herald after the draft. “He’s a true offensive talent. He plays the game really hard. He’s a physical kid who isn’t afraid to engage a little bit. We love the fact that he can run a power play. He can be the trigger man or the setup guy, and he skates very well.”
A year ago Browne averaged better than two points a game during the regular season, and collected 10 goals and 13 assists in 10 playoff games. By his own admission, he got off to a slow start this season with the Sherwood Park Kings of the AMHL. He nevertheless has seven goals and 16 assists in 23 games — good for a point-per-game average — and he figured prominently in Team Alberta’s victory at the Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup in October, where he recorded three points in four games, including a goal in the championship contest.
“That tournament was something else,” Browne said. “Probably one of the best experiences of my life. Winning that was great. Playing with new guys was also a lot of fun. Overall it was amazing.”
The Kings also competed at the prestigious Mac’s Tournament that began Dec. 26 in Calgary and featured elite midget teams from North America and Europe. The Mac’s Tournament prevented Browne from closely following the World Junior Championships, where Team Canada featured two of his future Everett teammates, goalkeeper Carter Hart and defenseman Noah Juulsen.
But he’s kept close tabs on the Silvertips all season.
“They’re having a pretty good year so far, which is good,” he said. “Actually they’re good every year.”
Under Constantine that’s been true. The Tips have never missed the playoffs, but they’ve never won a playoff series without Constantine behind the bench.
This year Everett remains in hot pursuit of the Scotty Munro Trophy, which goes to the WHL team with the best regular-season record, as Browne waits for his chance to rejoin what the organization hopes will be a long playoff run.
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