EVERETT — Austin Roest’s hockey relationship with his father is fairly typical for a WHL player.
Roest’s dad got him onto skates at a young age and helped coach his teams through youth hockey. With Roest moving away to play junior hockey with the Everett Silvertips, his dad does his best to follow his career from a distance. He’ll fly into town to watch Roest play in person during parents weekend, but he tries his best not to get overly involved in his son’s career.
There is one difference, however. Most WHLers’ fathers aren’t NHL power players who helped build championship dynasties.
When Roest’s father Stacy isn’t being a hockey dad, he’s busy trying to get the Tampa Bay Lightning another Stanley Cup as the organization’s director of player development and assistant general manager.
But Roest isn’t riding his dad’s coattails. He’s out to make a name of his own.
Roest was Everett’s breakout performer last season, and when the Tips’ 2023-24 campaign begins Saturday with Everett hosting the Victoria Royals, Roest will be the one leading the way.
Roest, a 19-year-old center from Coldstream, B.C., is coming off a big season. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder racked up 32 goals and 46 assists in 60 games. His 78 points ranked second on the team, and it more than doubled his previous season high of 32. His breakout caught the scouts’ eyes as this summer, the Nashville Predators selected him in the sixth round of the NHL draft. Hockey Canada also invited him to take part in its preparations for the 2024 World Junior Hockey Championships.
With captain and leading goal-scorer Jackson Berezowski aging out of the league, Roest will be the one charged with leading Everett, coming off a rare .500 season after winning five of the previous six U.S. Division championships, back to a position of prominence.
“The year he had last year was phenomenal,” Everett general manager and head coach Dennis Williams said. “From the get-go, he played with speed and was dependable in all three zones. But he knows it’s a new challenge, a new year and a new opportunity to move up into a bigger leadership role.”
Roest’s hockey journey didn’t begin in his home country of Canada but rather in Switzerland — and that, too, is a product of his dad.
Stacy Roest was quite the player himself, breaching the 100-point barrier three times for the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers and appearing in 244 NHL games from 1998-03 with the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild. After that, he headed to Switzerland, where he starred for SC Rapperswil-Jona Lakers of the Swiss National League for nine seasons. It was during the first of those seasons that Austin was born, and he spent the majority of the first 10 years of his life growing up in Switzerland.
“I used to be fluent (in Swiss German), but honestly I can’t speak anything now. I lost it,” Austin admitted with a laugh.
“He always loved hockey,” Stacy said about his son. “When he was born, we cut off one of my sticks, and he was always crawling around with that stick. We’d take him to the rink when he was old enough and skate with him. There was an outdoor rink at the rink I played at, and we had free access to the ice there. He loved it.”
“I always remember going to the games with my mom,” Austin added. “It’s obviously a different scene in hockey there. I’d say the fans are a lot more energetic. It was definitely a different style of hockey, and it was cool to watch my dad over there.”
Once Stacy’s playing career ended in 2012, the family relocated back to Canada full-time, and in 2013 he joined the Lightning organization as director of player development, adding the assistant general manager title in 2019. In the ensuing years, Tampa Bay became the league’s dominant power, winning the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021.
Meanwhile, Austin’s career progressed to where Everett selected him in the third round of the 2019 prospects draft. His rookie season was the coronavirus pandemic-forced 24-game developmental season in 2021, and he was a third-line contributor in 2021-22 before his explosion last season.
Throughout Austin’s time in Everett, Stacy has been hands-off. He’s pulled no strings, and none have been asked. Indeed, when Stacy calls Williams for business purposes, particularly when Lightning draft pick Niko Huuhtanen played for the Tips in 2021-22, he doesn’t even bring up Austin.
“I’m his dad,” Stacy explained about his rationale. “I tell him I lived my dream. Now, it’s time for him to live his. I support him as much as I can, but he’s in a great spot, and I’m just his dad. I cheer the team and him on as a dad, and otherwise he’s on his own. He knows what he’s doing.”
“Once I got to junior, he kind of let me do my thing, and I’m super grateful for that,” Austin added. “I’m 19 years old. It’s my path now. I’m grown up and can make my own decisions and pull my own weight. He helped me get to a certain point, and now it’s up to me.”
Does having a former NHL player and current NHL executive as a father rub off on Austin as a player? Williams said it does.
“You can tell he’s been around the game a lot,” Williams said. “He’s an intelligent, smart hockey player. He watches the game differently, not just as a fan but to learn. He’s on our power play, and I’ll get a text from him saying, ‘Hey Willy, did you see that power-play goal last night in the Edmonton-Seattle game?’ That’s great because he’s beginning to process it how a coach would look at it. That’s probably due to being around the game his whole life.”
But Austin’s breakout was his own doing. After going unselected in the 2022 NHL draft, he increased his offseason work, particularly in the weight room, and became more diligent about his nutrition. He also received an invitation to attend the Colorado Avalanche’s development camp, where he discovered he could compete with drafted players.
“That’s kind of when I started gaining a lot of confidence,” Austin said. “Just being able to see what it’s like to play in the NHL and see what an NHL day looks like, that was pretty cool for me. And it showed how close I was and how much work I needed to put in.”
The Tips were the big beneficiaries. Everett suffered heavy personnel losses from its 2021-22 team, particularly at center. Roest, who spent his first two seasons in Everett playing primarily on the wing, moved back to his natural center position. Placed on a line with Berezowski, the two clicked immediately and developed into the Tips’ top offensive threat.
“Austin is a play-driver,” Williams said. “He’s always the first one on the puck. He’s the first guy back. That’s a lot of work to go up and down the ice, but his conditioning and summer program last summer allowed him to play with that high pace and log that many minutes on both sides of the puck. He kind of did it all for us. When we needed something, we turned to Austin. Going into the year, I wasn’t sure he was going to be the guy. But he separated himself and made sure he was going to be the guy for it.”
Roest will have to be the guy for Everett this season, as he and Ben Hemmerling are the team’s only proven scorers. And the defense, while possessing potential, is largely inexperienced.
But if there’s anyone on the team who knows how to conduct a breakout, it’s Roest. And he’ll be the one driving Everett’s train this season.