By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips have some difficult decisions to make when it comes to determining their roster for the 2012-13 Western Hockey League season.
The process for making those decisions begins tonight.
Everett opens preseason play tonight, taking on the Tri-City Americans in the Holiday Inn Preseason Classic at 7 p.m. at Comcast Arena.
Tonight’s game is the first of Everett’s seven preseason games, including three this weekend. The Tips carry a 34-player roster into tonight’s game, meaning over the course of next three weeks Everett will have to pare away approximately 10 players to get to a manageable number.
“I think we have a lot of tough decisions ahead of us at all the positions,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “I guess what we’re hoping to see (this weekend) is some separation between people on the roster so those decisions become more clear cut. But I’m not expecting that, actually. I think even after these first three games we’re going to have some really tough decisions to make going forward into the final four (preseason) games.”
All five U.S. Division teams will be involved this weekend, with two games being played today, Saturday and Sunday. Everett and Portland each play three games during the tournament. Seattle, Tri-City and Spokane all play twice.
This is the second straight year in which just five teams are taking part. Before that there was always a sixth team involved, which allowed every team to play each day and made for three games a day. Davidson said plans are to return to a six-team format in the future.
“We tried (to find a sixth team) and we didn’t have much success,” Davidson said. “But I’ve already started working on it for next year. I think we’ve already got another team from the B.C. Division that’s interested in coming next year, because it makes it function much more effectively.”
For the players it will be a relief to see someone new on the other side of faceoffs. The Tips have spent the past eight days going hard at one another, first during training camp and then during practices. This weekend will be their first opportunity to put those efforts toward an opponent instead.
“It’s been a long camp and I know the kids champ at the bit to play against other teams,” Ferner said. “We’ve seen enough of each other, we’ve practiced enough against each other. It will be a good test for us. We’ve got some real good teams coming in here and it will be a real good measuring stick to see where we’re at.”
Said overage winger JT Barnett: “Everyone here is really excited for it. We’re all pumped and ready to get back out on the main ice. We want to try and win every game, obviously, especially since it’s against our own division. We want to come out and set the tone for the whole year.”
But while the players are eager to get into some true competitive situations on the ice, there’s also competition going on for roster spots. Everett has 19 forwards, 12 defensemen and three goaltenders still with the team. The Tips are likely to keep around 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders during the season.
“We’ve got 34 guys here right now who can all play, so it’s going to be an interesting weekend, for sure,” Ferner said.
“We have some tough decisions to make, and that’s a good thing,” Ferner added. “Certainly it’s not easy on the kids, I’m sure they’re nervous. But we have seven games to figure it out. We just have to make sure we make them feel comfortable as possible, put them in good situations and let them have the ability to go play with some confidence.”
With 34 players on the roster, each player should receive two games with which to make his case. Given the team has had less than one full week of practices in the books, the primary thing the coaching staff will be looking at is compete level.
“Everything kind of boils down to work ethic,” Ferner said. “We have some tremendously skilled players here, both returning and coming in. We have to make sure they’re playing with the right guys and giving them the ability to go out and do the things that got them this far.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.