By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — All Glenn and Nikki Stratton were looking for was an older influence for their son, Braden.
Little did they know they were beginning a saga that demonstrates how the Everett Silvertips family can come full circle.
Ten years ago, Braden Stratton was a 6-year-old who’d never even tried on ice skates. But because of his family’s experience as billets for former Everett defensemen Jonathan Harty and Graham Potuer, he now finds himself a training camp invitee hopeful of catching the eyes of the team brass.
“It’s definitely been special,” Glenn Stratton said of his son’s journey. “Obviously as a billet family you get attached, they’re part of the family after all those years. To see Braden follow in his billet brothers’ footsteps has been a special experience.”
Today Braden Stratton is a 16-year-old defenseman who’s attending his second training camp with the Tips. He’s an invited player, meaning he’s hoping to impress Everett’s scouting staff enough during camp to land on the Tips’ 50-player protected list.
But just participating in camp, which continues through Sunday at Comcast Arena, is special for a player who’s long been a member of the Silvertips family.
“It means a lot,” Braden Stratton said of attending Everett’s training camp. “It would be pretty cool to follow Jon and Graham.”
The Strattons, who reside in Everett, served as the host family for Harty and Potuer from 2004-2009 — Harty was with the family for four seasons, Potuer for five. It was the Strattons’ first experience as billets.
“Basically, Braden is an only child, and we wanted to see if we could give him a bigger brother to pick on him,” Glenn Stratton explained with a chuckle. “We were thinking of becoming foster parents, but one of the guys my wife used to work with said, ‘It’s a hockey town, why not become billets?’ So that’s what we did.”
Prior to the arrival of the Silvertips in Everett, hockey wasn’t even on the Stratton family’s radar. But the family attended a few games during Everett’s inaugural season in 2003-04, and that got the hockey juices stirring.
“Neither of us knew anything about hockey,” Glenn Stratton said. “We thought Braden would end up playing baseball, basketball, football, the traditional American sports. But when we took him to watch some games the inaugural season, his eyes were just attached to the game.”
Then came the arrival of Harty and Potuer, and there was no looking back. Braden Stratton began skating after watching the Tips, but he decided to go all-out to become a hockey player after the Tips moved in.
“They were a huge influence,” Braden Stratton said of Harty and Potuer. “I was skating a little bit before, because I went to a few Silvertips games, but when they came I started playing a lot. They got me a pair of skates, and then I just kind of followed them.”
The Strattons wouldn’t let Braden start playing organized hockey until he spent a year with his skating lessons. Braden Stratton then began playing with Everett Youth Hockey at the mite level, later switching to the Seattle Junior Hockey Association.
Then last summer he received the invitation to attend camp with the Tips.
“I was pretty excited,” Braden Stratton said. “It was a pretty cool moment. I called Jon and Graham and told them about it. They were pretty excited, too.
“They just said to work hard and make sure to be competitive to try and get noticed.”
What makes Braden Stratton’s story even more remarkable is his late start. Most players at the Western Hockey League level were practically skating before they could walk, and they started playing hockey when they were about 4 years old. Players such as Braden Stratton, who started later, rarely are able to catch up to those whose development began at a much younger age.
But Braden Stratton isn’t attending camp as a favor to a former billet family. He’s reached the level where he was invited to attend USA Hockey’s Boys Select 16 national player development camp last month in Buffalo, N.Y., where he registered two assists in five games.
“It was good,” Braden Stratton said of his experience in Buffalo. “There were a lot of talented guys there. It was high-tempo and good play.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better over the years compared to when I started,” he added. “I started a lot later than a lot of players. I started when I was 7 or 8, and they all started when they were 3. But I took skating lessons for a while before I started playing, and that helped me catch up with everyone skating wise. I’ve just worked hard and practiced a lot.”
The Strattons know Braden’s chances of landing a spot with the Tips this season are slim. But a good camp might just lead to a Silvertips family member eventually returning to the fold.
“I just want to go as far as I can go,” Braden Stratton said. “Wherever that is, I’m not sure yet. But playing here would be pretty cool.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.