By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Nearly 10 years ago to the day, Kevin Constantine was opening his first training camp as head coach of the Everett Silvertips. Back then Constantine was the high-profile former NHL coach taking over a seemingly hopeless expansion team located in the WHL’s backwoods. Construction on Comcast Arena wasn’t even completed yet, meaning training camp had to be held in Strathmore, Alberta.
Now, Constantine is back for his second go-around with the Tips, and much has changed. Constantine arrives in Everett off a lengthy stint coaching in Europe rather than the NHL. Everett is a well-established WHL franchise, entering it’s 11th campaign. And there’s no longer any need to flee across the border to conduct a training camp.
Nevertheless, as Everett’s training camp gets underway this morning at Comcast Arena, Constantine sees many parallels between now and when he took the reins in 2003.
“The team the first year, of course, were guys that felt like they were WHL rejects because they didn’t get protected by their teams,” Constantine said Wednesday as Everett’s veterans checked in for training camp. “So they came here a combination of maybe excited about opportunity, but also maybe down a little bit by being let go by other teams.
“I think the guys here are a little of that, excited about a new chance and a new opportunity and a fresh look at them as players, but still carrying a little of the lack of success over the last few years. So there’s some similarities to what I think this group is like compared to the way it was 10 years ago.”
The Tips would love for this season to go anything like that season went in 2003-04.
Everett enters camp off a lengthy meandering through WHL irrelevance. Last season, Everett went 25-40-3-4, finishing in eighth place in the 10-team Western Conference for the third straight year. Though they’ve made the playoffs every year of the franchise’s existence, the Tips haven’t won a playoff series since 2007.
But with a roster that returns virtually intact and the potential addition of some high-impact newcomers, the Tips are hoping Constantine can bring back the glory years, when Everett won three U.S. Division titles during his four seasons from 2003-07.
“I hear lots of good things (about Constantine),” center Kohl Bauml said. “I hear he demands a lot on the ice. He’s a real stickler to the plan and if you follow the plan you’ll be fine. He’s going to bring a lot of accountability to our team and he’s going to force us to be responsible and accountable for our actions on the ice.
“There’s been a lot of hype the past couple weeks with a lot of new guys Garry (Davidson. Everett’s general manager) has been able to wheel in,” Bauml added. “So if we can get all those guys, I think we’ll have a good run. I think we have a lot of good qualities coming in as a team this year.”
Wednesday’s check-in included the returning players from last season, as well as the prospects on Everett’s 50-player protected list. Many of the returning Tips arrived in Everett earlier this week, but Wednesday was the first time they were all collected together.
“It’s always fun to come back,” said goaltender Austin Lotz, who arrived back in Everett early Wednesday morning following an epic drive from his home in St. Adolphe, Manitoba. “It’s all smiles, especially when you get back a little late like I did and you get all them at once, which is a little overwhelming. But it’s always good to be back with the guys. You miss it during the summer and I’m looking forward to spending the next eight months with them.”
It also was the first opportunity for Constantine to meet with the players. There wasn’t much opportunity for one-on-one interaction, but he did address the team as a group.
“Today was the first day where we really had the chance to talk with the players and it was fun,” Constantine said. “The attention and eye contact was all very good in the room just now. I think we have a group that’s very eager.
“I’m very excited about (seeing the players on the ice for the first time),” Constantine added. “We did watch a little bit of video from last year. We watched enough to get a bit of feel for the players, but not too much. I think it’s important for the players to get a fresh start, so I want to look at them with a fresh set of eyes and not look at them based on how they were playing last year. Now we get a chance to see them in person and see what kind of contributions they can make.”
It was nearly a full turnout at Wednesday’s check-in. Among those who checked in included this year’s Canadian Hockey League import draft selections, Finnish forward Waltteri Hopponen and Russian forward Ivan Nikolishin; overage defenseman Matthew Pufahl, who was acquired from Saskatoon during the offseason; touted forward Linden Penner; and talented Californian prospects Patrick Khodorenko and Alec Mehr, both forwards.
Two notable names did not check in Wednesday. Forward Jujhar Khaira, a potential major impact player who left Michigan Tech University this summer, is expected to arrive today, though it’s believed he will participate sparingly during training camp as he looks to stay fresh for camp with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. Also absent was forward Tyson Jost, Everett’s first-round pick in this year’s bantam draft. Jost has a scheduling conflict and won’t arrive until Sunday.
The non-listed players who were invited to Everett’s camp check in this morning, with practice sessions then getting underway at 10:30 a.m. Approximately 80 players will take part in camp. Camp continues all week, concluding with the Green vs. Grey game at 3 p.m. Sunday. All sessions are at Comcast Arena and are open to the public free of charge.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.