Zack Dailey remembers his first trip to Everett.
It was back in early 2005 when Dailey was a teen-ager trying to decide if he should finish high school and then play college hockey in the United States, or instead play junior hockey with the Western Hockey League’s Silvertips.
Team officials brought him to Everett for a visit, which included a Silvertips game at Comcast Arena. The experience of sitting in the stands, surrounded by noisy fans, did a lot to help Dailey make up his mind.
“When the guys came out on the ice, the crowd erupted,” he said. “I got chills down my spine and I knew then I wanted to play in Everett. For a young kid coming into that environment, it was surreal.”
For the next five seasons Dailey was a Silvertips mainstay, both on the ice and in the community. Well-liked by teammates for his good nature, admired by fans for his determination and pluck, and respected by all for his willingness to represent the very best of Everett hockey, Dailey soon became one of the most popular players in franchise history, as he remains today.
Dailey closed his five-season Silvertips career in the spring of 2010 and headed to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he has been ever since. Now 24 and in his fourth season with the Golden Bears, he is pursuing a degree in physical education with the hope of becoming a firefighter someday, though he first wants to play professional hockey, most likely in Europe.
“I wanted to go play in Europe when the WHL was over for me, but I figured since I was getting my school paid for (by the WHL’s education program, which pays for a year of college or other schooling for every season played) it’d be smart to take advantage of that,” said Dailey, speaking by telephone from Edmonton. “And if I was good enough and improved enough, then I could go pro afterward.”
Alberta, which plays in the eight-team Canada West Universities Athletic Association, offers a level of hockey comparable to the WHL. Indeed, it might even be better, Dailey said, given that all but two players on Alberta’s 24-man roster played in the WHL, “and now we’re all older and have more experience.”
Since coming to Alberta, “I feel like I’ve improved as a person as well as a hockey player,” he added.
Of course, Everett remains a special place for Dailey. Not only was he part of some outstanding teams — he helped the Silvertips to five straight playoff appearances, including a franchise-best record of 54-15-1-2 in 2006-07 — but he was also a two-time captain and recipient of the team’s Community Relations Award in 2009-10, which was the same season he was the Western Conference nominee for the Doug Wickenheiser Memorial Trophy, given annually to the league’s Humanitarian of the Year.
His years in Everett were “a great experience and something I’ll never forget,” said Dailey, a native of Healy, Alaska. “The way fans treated the players was great, the coaches I had were great, the organization treated the players really well, and the billets I had were all great. Honestly, I don’t have a bad thing to say about being there.
“A lot of the guys I met there and played with, I still talk to and I’ve been to a few of their weddings,” he said. “I made some lifelong friends when I was in Everett, so it was definitely a special time in my life.”
Two of Dailey’s former teammates, Radko Gudas and Ryan Murray, are currently in the NHL. Others have been there and are now playing in Europe, among them Peter Mueller, Leland Irving, Zach Hamill and Shaun Heshka. Like the others, Dailey would love a crack at the NHL, but given his size — he is a mere 5 feet, 6 inches — he figures Europe is a better option.
“I’m kind of a smaller guy with a little bit of speed mixed in with the hard work,” he said.
Yet even if he ends up playing professionally, Dailey understands that “hockey is something that’s not going to last forever. So you have to make sure that you’re prepared for other things.
“I have a lot of friends who’ve quit hockey and they’re just as happy now,” he said. “Obviously they miss hockey and they miss being around the guys, but they’re still happy with the rest of their lives.”
And as he ponders the rest of his own life, Dailey likes the idea of someday ending up back in Everett.
“I do love it there,” he said. “And not just the people, but the weather, too. I know most people there hate the weather, but compared to the snow and the cold (of Edmonton), Everett is very nice. I didn’t mind the rain at all. So that’s something that’s definitely on my radar.”
And if he needed a job, what about coaching hockey?
“I’d love to get into coaching,” Dailey said. “That’s definitely a dream I have and it’s something I’d definitely look into.”
There are plenty of youth hockey teams and leagues in and around Snohomish County, so there are certainly opportunities to coach at that level. But could he also see himself returning in some capacity to the Silvertips, and perhaps working with Kevin Constantine, Dailey’s former coach who left the team for a few years but returned this season?
“I’d love to be reunited with Kevin Constantine,” Dailey said with a chuckle. “I’m not scared of him anymore, like I was when I played for him.”