By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — It’s a day later than for most teams, but the 2012-13 Western Hockey League season has finally arrived for the Everett Silvertips.
Eighteen of the WHL’s 22 teams have already played their openers, while the Tips had to wait until tonight’s home game against the Prince George Cougars to get their season under way.
“I’m definitely ready,” Tips overage winger Cody Fowlie said following Friday’s practice at Comcast Arena. “I’ve been waiting all summer for this, I couldn’t wait to get back out here. So I’m really excited for (tonight). All the family is coming down and everything, so it’s going to be good.”
Everett is beginning its landmark 10th season in the WHL. The Tips are coming off a season in which they finished 22-40-2-8 and just squeezed into the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. Everett is eager to improve on that showing.
“We’re ready,” Tips coach Mark Ferner said. “We’ve got a settled bunch of kids. Now the real bullets start to fly and I know our guys are excited.
“Every time we step on the ice we have to be ready to go,” Ferner added. “PG was young last year and had a pretty good preseason, so right from the drop of the puck we have to be ready.”
Everett opens the season with back-to-back home games against Prince George. Although it’s unusual to host a team twice in the opening weekend, that schedule was engineered by Everett. This is Everett’s 10th season, and one of the ways the Tips are commemorating the event is by opening against the same opponent that played in the first-ever game at Comcast Arena on Oct. 4, 2003.
“I know Zoran (Rajcic, Everett’s assistant general manager) worked hard to try and repeat the history of 10 years ago,” Ferner said. “I don’t think playing a team back-to-back is a negative thing by any means, we play teams back-to-back every once in a while when teams travel.”
As for the team the Tips will put on the ice, for the second straight year it will be a young squad. Everett has nine rookies on its roster, and those rookies are being counted on to be immediate contributors.
“I think there’s a lot of speed and a lot of skill out there,” Everett captain Ryan Murray said. “We’ve got some young guys and older guys, and I think the young guys have really improved so far, even in the time I’ve been here. It seems we’ve got a good group and the young guys are really picking up the slack. Any time you’ve got a team with this many rookies they’re going to have to play well for your team to win. So we’re going to be counting on them and we’re going to be counting on our veterans as well.”
Despite the team’s youth, the Tips say this season’s team stacks up favorably to last season’s.
“I think we’re going to be a more skilled team this year,” Fowlie said. “Last year we grinded it out a little more. But it’s always all about hard work. We’ll see how it goes (tonight).
“I definitely think it’s going to translate into more wins,” Fowlie added. “I think a lot of the young guys are going to step up and score goals for us, and our vets are going to come out flying.”
Everett will be even younger for tonight’s opener as two veterans sit out because of suspensions. Overage winger Ryan Harrison, the team’s leading returning scorer, is suspended for the first four games for a charging major in Everett’s final playoff game against Tri-City last season. Also, 19-year-old center Manraj Hayer has one game remaining in the three-game suspension he received in the playoffs for a checking-from-behind double-minor penalty.
“It’s disappointing for them, no question about it,” Ferner said. “They certainly both would have liked to play. But at the same time, it is what it is, and we’re just going to push forward with what we have. It’s a good opportunity to get some guys into the lineup early and get their first taste of real action in the Western Hockey League.”
One of those young players, rookie center Ty Mappin, is questionable for tonight’s game. Mappin, the team’s first-round pick in the 2011 bantam draft, left practice Friday with what was described as a small nagging injury and is considered day-to-day.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.