By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — There’s a sense in the air in Everett. Something’s that’s been missing for several years.
The Everett Silvertips open their 2013-14 season — their 11th campaign — on Saturday, and this season there’s a greater belief that the Tips are capable of accomplishing something.
“We’re pretty excited and pretty confident right now,” center Manraj Hayer said. “With what we did in preseason we’ve shown we can play and win and get lots of goals. We’re just really excited to get things going right now.”
The WHL season kicked off Thursday night when the Swift Current Broncos faced the Regina Pats in the league’s curtain raiser. Most of the teams open their seasons tonight, while the Tips have to wait until Saturday for their first game, when they play host to the Prince George Cougars at Comcast Arena.
And while there’s always a large amount of excitement surrounding the beginning of any season, there’s something a little different this year for the Tips. There’s a sense of optimism around the team that hasn’t been seen in many a year.
“(The coaches) have brought a lot of that optimism,” center Kohl Bauml said. “They’re expecting nothing but winning right now, and we have to hold ourselves to that same standard. We’re not going to take losing as just an OK thing again like we did the last two years. This year we want to win.”
The source of excitement is the belief the team will be significantly improved this season.
Everett’s been stuck in a rut, finishing eighth in the 10-team Western Conference each of the past three seasons and being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Those teams weren’t a lot of fun to watch, either, as the Tips were the lowest-scoring team in the league during that stretch.
But since last season ended, there’s been a cascade of positive feelings about the team. The Silvertips already were expecting to be better this season after going through a full rebuild. Then there was the rehiring of Kevin Constantine as the team’s head coach, which energized the fanbase. That was followed by some intriguing offseason player additions.
Then came a preseason in which the Tips went 7-0 and scored the most goals in the league.
“(The start of the season) will be a lot of fun and I can’t wait for things to get rolling,” said defenseman Ben Betker, who missed most of the preseason while attending training camp with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. “I know all the guys are just jacked. I was pretty impressed, watching how they were outshooting teams and going 7-0. So I’m just kind of trying to earn my spot back on the team right now.”
Therefore, the Tips feel good about where they stand as the season begins.
“If you look at a timeline, there’s lots we want to put in place,” Constantine said. “Do we have everything we want in place? Probably not. But do we have an awful lot? We’ve got 95 percent of what we want to do in place. Are they in place with everybody knowing every detail and having perfect habits? No, that’s going to take time. We have a lot of things we have to work on, but we have a lot of things that we do really well right now as a team.”
So what is an observer going to see about this season’s Silvertips that’s different from last season’s?
“Your’e going to see an upbeat tempo of play,” Hayer said. “We’re forechecking all over the ice and not being patient anywhere. Coach has really been stressing that we’re a forechecking and pressuring team. So you’re going to see lots of forechecking, lots of hits, lots of pressure, and we won’t be patient one bit.”
That’s largely a product of Constantine and the type of systems he’s implementing.
“I’m really pleased with the work Kevin and his staff have been doing with the players day-in and day-out,” Tips general manager Garry Davidson said.
“The first thing I see is that good work ethic, and I think that’s a reflection of Kevin,” Davidson added. “I think the teams when he was here the first time around were noted for being hard working and committed. I think we’re seeing that early on, which is great. We’re also getting a lot of shots on goal, which I think is important for us because we didn’t score a lot of goals the last few years. The other thing we’re doing is becoming much more of a puck possession type of team. Combine that puck possession with hard work and I think it should result in a lot more wins for us.”
At least that’s the belief now in Everett.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.