EVERETT — It’s almost as if they were never gone.
The Everett Silvertips were back on the ice Thursday for the opening of training camp at Angel of the Winds Arena, and one can be forgiven for thinking it seems like only yesterday that they left town at the end of the 2017-18 season.
Everett is coming off its best showing in franchise history, when the Tips won the WHL Western Conference championship and reached Game 6 of the WHL finals before succumbing to the Swift Current Broncos. And given the lengthy playoff run that lasted into May, it meant the Tips had an abbreviated offseason.
“It was probably one of the quickest summers I’ve ever had,” said returning forward Connor Dewar, who during the offseason was named captain for 2018-19.
“(A short offseason) is always a good thing, you don’t want long summers,” second-year Everett coach Dennis Williams added. “It was fast, but hopefully the players got some well-needed rest. As I said to them, that season is done and now we have to put our focus into the 2018-19 season.”
Approximately 80 players were on the ice Thursday, including returning veterans, rookie hopefuls, prospects for the future and tryout players. Two scrimmages were conducted Thursday, and scrimmaging continues through Saturday. Camp concludes Sunday with the annual Green vs. Grey game. The goal is to whittle the roster down to about 25 once the season opens on Sept. 21 in Vancouver.
While the Tips are back in town, they’re minus several names that had been entrenched in the locker room the past four or five years. Carter Hart, the most decorated goaltender in WHL history, is off to the professional ranks after four stellar seasons in Everett. Meanwhile the trio of forwards Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne and defenseman Kevin Davis exhausted their eligibility after five years, with more than 1,200 games (regular season and playoffs) in Tips jerseys between them.
Everett also underwent substantial turnover in both the coaching and front office staffs. Longtime assistant coach and franchise icon Mitch Love departed to become the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades, while director of player personnel Bil La Forge was hired as the Seattle Thunderbirds’ general manger. Love was replaced by the duo of Harry Mahood and Louis Mass, while La Forge’s duties were split between Alvin Backus and Mike Fraser.
All those losses point toward Everett taking a significant step backwards this season. But the Tips have other ideas.
“I think we’re in a good space,” Dewar said. “I think any time you go on a run that deep in the playoffs and come up short you build a lot of character.”
Everett’s biggest asset heading into the season is a strong group of 19-year-olds who are already accomplished WHL players and have the opportunity to step into starring roles this season. That group includes Dewar, fellow forwards Riley Sutter and Bryce Kindopp, and defensemen Wyatte Wylie and Jake Christiansen.
The Tips also have strong belief in goaltender Dustin Wolf. While Wolf won’t be asked to replicate Hart’s accomplishments, the 17-year-old was an exceptional backup to Hart last season, and he added to his credentials this summer when he was called up to the U.S. under-18 team to play at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Everett also bulked up on the back end by acquiring overage defenseman Sahvan Khaira from Swift Current, and with Khaira and forward Sean Richards as the only 20-year-olds in camp the Tips still have an empty overage roster spot to play with.
So while no one is expecting Everett to repeat their exploits from 2017-18, the Tips still believe they can be contenders.
“I really like our group coming back,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “We’ve obviously lost some key people like our goaltender and our three 20-year-olds. But I feel confident with young Dustin Wolf coming in to take on a lead role in the goaltending department. Our back end is the depth of our team right now, not only with the guys who are going to play this year, but the guys we’ve got coming in over the next couple years. Up front we’ve got lots of guys back, and I think we’ve got some real quality people on our protected list, we just have to figure out who will be ready to play this year.
“I like our group. I’m not going to make any big predictions, but I think we’re going to be a handful for anybody.”
Everett’s two European players, Slovakian forwards Martin Fasko-Rudas and Peter Melcher, were not able to participate Thursday after running into visa snafus. Melcher arrived Thursday afternoon, while Fasko-Rudas is scheduled to arrive Saturday. … Forward Akash Bains, who did not finish last season with Everett after arriving in a midseason trade with Red Deer, was present at camp and looking to earn a roster spot. … In delegating assistant coaching duties, Williams said Mass will run the defense while Mahood helps with the forwards.