EVERETT – Passersby on Broadway who happened to peer into the windows of the Everett Events Center last week might have concluded the Everett Silvertips are going with an extreme youth movement next season.
But, who were these sawed-off whippersnappers flying about the ice with devil-may-care bravado? And – crossing sticks one minute and wolfing down chicken strips the next – do they really have what it takes to elevate the defending Western Hockey League Western Division champions to even loftier heights?
If the Silvertips’ goal is to spread additional good will in a county that has already warmly embraced them, the answer may prove to be a resounding “yes.”
“It’s an opportunity to introduce more people to the game we coaches and players love,” said Silvertips assistant coach Jay Varady, who managed the club’s first-ever youth hockey camp that drew 31 players ages 7 to 12.
The campers were divided in to two groups, one for the younger players’ ages 7 and 8, and another for those 9-12. Another camp for experienced players ages 13-17 is being held this week at the Events Center.
Varady led the 9-12 age group while fellow Tips’ assistant coach John Becanic worked with the younger players. Each was assisted by current or former Silvertips players.
The training provided classroom and on-the-ice sessions to help players develop and improve basic hockey skills such as skating, passing and shooting.
While virtually all of the older players were experienced, having played in either the well-established Seattle Junior Hockey Association or the fledgling Everett Youth Hockey organization, some of the younger kids were taking to the ice for the first time.
“On the first day a lot of them couldn’t really stand up,” said former Silvertip player Bryan Nathe who helped instruct the younger players. “But they’re really getting better.”
“The most important thing is just having fun and introducing them to hockey,” Varady said.
Varady was happy to let his long-time friend and associate Becanic lead the seven and eight-year olds.
“He’s the saint,” Varady said with a laugh. “He has a wonderful approach to youth hockey and a ton of patience.”
During every day of the five-day camp each group had two sessions on the ice. Ice time totaled two and one-half hours per day. Aside from the classroom instruction, other activities included dry-land training, which consisted of competitive games such as soccer or dodgeball.
“There’s never much time for them to get bored,” Varady said.
They were also served more lunch than you could shake a hockey stick at.
“Basically, they’re all my friends,” said Christian Jorvey, age 7, as he sat among his fellow campers munching on pizza during the mid-day break.
Christian has already played ice hockey for about two years and enjoys time on the front line. “I like both of the wings,” Christian said.
Tony Carey of Marysville, watched his son Joe, age 9, run through a high-spirited three-on-three drill with the older group.
“He’s holding his own,” Carey said. “It’s a good workout, he’s tired at the end of the day.”
Carey, a Silvertips season-ticket holder, said he never played on an organized team, but grew up playing ‘lake hockey’ with his friends in New Jersey.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t any lakes that freeze around here,” Carey said.
Varady and Becanic likewise grew up honing their skills in frozen pond pick-up games. The generally mild Northwest winters make that kind of low-cost daily training more difficult for aspiring players.
“For a lot of these younger kids it’s the first time they’ve skated,” Becanic said. “We want to make it fun so they want to play organized hockey after this week.”
Games like ‘Killer Glove’ made it exciting.
During the drill the players skated all about the ice frantically dodging hockey gloves being thrown at them by Varady, Silvertips defenseman Mitch Love and others.
“The kids are going to see Mitch in the rink this year and he’s going to know them by name,” Varady said.
The campers yowled with glee, little realizing how much the drill might improve their skating skills.
“That’s an old one out of the archives,” Varady said of Killer Glove. “To the kids it’s a game. It’s competitive and they skate faster than they ever would in a thousand skating drills.”
Daryn Young laughed when the camp staff herded the older group, including his son Korey, 10, off of the ice and into the penalty box for some final words before a lunch break. “That’s where they belong, right there,” Young suggested.
“He caught the fever last year and here we are,” Young said of Korey. “They’ve done a fabulous job with this camp, the coaches and players have been great for the kids.”
“This camp allows the kids to be a part of our dream season and share a little in our success from last year,” Becanic said. “The fans are what made the season real special. I come from north Ontario (Canada) and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s great to give a little back to the fans who have been so wonderful,” Varady agreed.
At lunch several of the older group players talked hockey.
“It’s one of the best sports,” said Connor Zurcher, 10, Marysville. “One of the things is the ice. I like skating really fast.”
Nick Kragseth, 11, Marysville, has played for about two years. He currently plays in the Everett Youth Hockey organization.
“Its fun hanging out with Mitch (Love),” Nick said. “But, you’re really tired when you get home.”
“In one week you just get to know a kid,” Varady said. “Ideally, we’d like to have two.”
The campers dove into their chow with the same brand of enthusiasm they showed on the ice. The well-traveled Varady pondered life on the road with such a crew.
“I wouldn’t want to be on the bus with them,” Varady noted with a laugh.
On the first day of camp the older players were evenly divided into two teams of seven, the greens and the whites.
Towards the end of the week a scrimmage played between the blue lines turned out to be hotly contested. Each team ran out a new line of three players every minute or so with the lead changing back and forth as fast as the puck was flying.
“Nine to Nine, overtime boys,” Love shouted as he threw a puck out to center ice and the teams scrambled for possession.
When one of the squads scored a game-clinching goal teammates rushed from the bench onto the ice and piled on in a celebration that rivaled Lake Placid circa 1980.
Do you believe in miracles?
Hey, ice hockey is booming in Everett isn’t it?