By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Portland Winterhawks underwent a dramatic turnaround in 2009, transforming overnight from the WHL’s laughing stock into one of the most formidable teams in the league.
The Everett Silvertips are handing their reins to someone who helped orchestrate that turnaround, hoping he can accomplish the same thing in Everett.
The Tips plumbed one of their nearest rivals for their new general manager, hiring Garry Davidson to guide the team’s hockey operations. Davidson was introduced at a press conference Wednesday at the Everett Events Center.
Davidson, 60, signed a multi-year contract. Further details of the deal were not disclosed. He becomes the third general manager in franchise history.
“(The WHL) is the best junior league in the world, and now having the opportunity to take on a GM role and head hockey operations in Everett, I’m very excited and very pleased to be here,” Davidson said.
Silvertips president Gary Gelinas said the Tips are making a small restructuring in their front office. Davidson will focus solely on hockey operations, while assistant general manager Zoran Rajcic will handle the business operations. Rajcic was already largely responsible for Everett’s business operations.
Davidson spent the past four years as the director of player personnel for Portland, a U.S. Division rival of Everett’s. The Winterhawks saw a dramatic change in their fortunes during that period.
From 2007-09, Portland finished last in the Western Conference three straight seasons. Early in the 2008-9 season the Winterhawks were bought by Bill Gallacher, with Davidson brought on board as director of player personnel in December of 2008. With Davidson overseeing the team’s scouting and bantam drafts, the Winterhawks took off in 2009-10.
Last season, Portland finished with the best record in the Western Conference and reached the WHL finals, and this season the Winterhawks are on pace for their third straight season of 44-plus victories. The Winterhawks gave Davidson a contract extension last June.
Davidson also has prior experience as a general manager at the junior A level. From 2001-08 Davidson was the owner, general manager and sometimes head coach of the British Columbia Hockey League’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The Silverbacks were 260-136-24 during Davidson’s seven seasons, finishing with a winning record every season and finishing first in the Interior Division in 2003-04.
“I’ve known Garry for a number of years and there’s no question he’s one of the most successful junior operators,” said Gelinas, who was an owner in the BCHL at the same time as Davidson was at Salmon Arm. “When you look at his track record and what he’s done in Portland, he really was the key guy who found the talent, developed the talent and drafted the talent. That’s an area we really wanted to focus on.”
Davidson takes over an Everett franchise that has drifted into mediocrity. Everett’s first four seasons were enormously successful as the Tips won three U.S. Division titles, one Western Conference championships and one Scotty Munro Trophy for the league’s best record. In the ensuing four seasons, the Tips twice finished with losing records and in all four seasons Everett was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. This season the Tips, who have played better of late, are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
“The last two to three weeks this team has been playing very well,” Davidson said. “The coaching staff has them going in a very positive direction. Hopefully we can keep that going, catch a playoff spot, and then go forward from there trying to build a winner we would like to see here on a long-term basis.”
Under Davidson the Tips can expect to see a shift in the the type of player Everett targets. Davidson stressed that the primary attributes he’s looking for in players are speed and skill, two attributes that define Portland’s current team. Under previous general manager Doug Soetaert the priority was often work ethic.
“I’m a big believer in skating and skill,” Davidson said. “Speed kills. You’ve got to have speed, you’ve got to have skill, and then you put in all the pieces around that.
“(In Portland) we played an up-tempo game, where the puck was going one way or the other real quickly,” Davidson added. “I’d like to see that. I think it’s fan appealing and I think it’s a way you can win hockey games.”
Soetaert was fired two weeks earlier after nearly a decade at the helm. The timing of Soetaert’s firing was surprising, and the quick hire of Davidson confirmed Everett had Davidson picked out all along.
“It was some time ago that I talked with Portland about speaking with Garry, and we’ve been having dialogue ever since,” Gelinas said. “It was before my conversation with Doug because we knew Doug’s contract was coming up, so we needed to figure out where we were going. We didn’t take this lightly, this was not an overnight decision.”
Both Gelinas and Davidson expressed their support of first-year Tips head coach Mark Ferner. Davidson received a first-hand look at Ferner when Ferner was the general manager and head coach of the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers from 2007-11.
“He gets along with Mark Ferner, and that was one of the key criteria,” Gelinas said. “I think Mark’s an excellent coach, we just need to support him with a stronger hockey operations department, and I think we’ve done that today.”
Davidson’s first game in charge is Friday, when the Tips play host to his former team, Portland. Davidson said that with the trade deadline past, he plans on spending the season’s final month evaluating Everett’s current players.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter @NickHPatterson.