As Team USA’s National World Junior team hauled its travel bags out of Angel of the Winds Arena on Monday, Silvertips chief operating officer Zoran Rajcic was racing around the hallways of the rink, putting the finishing touches on what was a successful weekend.
The American team was in Everett for training camp in preparation for the World Junior Championships in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
Everett not only provided a rink in which the top under-20 American players could skate, but showcased itself for bigger Team USA events in the future.
“I think the city of Everett being a great junior town is very evident,” USA Hockey general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. “(With) the NHL (coming) to Seattle, we see a vibrant community and unless you come and visit you don’t really know that. Now that we’ve been here, (we know) it’s a great spot and who knows, you might have a World Junior opportunity here in the non-distant future because it’s a very vibrant hockey town.”
That was something Rajcic and the rest of Everett’s hockey brass hoped it could accomplish with the World Junior training camp in Everett, to posit itself as a possible joint host with Seattle when the World Junior Championships are hosted by the U.S. in 2025.
The primary host of an event such as the World Juniors would require a large metropolitan market such as Seattle to function as the main host. With the National Hockey League announcing its expansion to Seattle last week, Vanbiesbrouck said they’re monitoring the area closely.
“This is an interesting area of the United States,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “I haven’t spent a lot of time here, so I was curious. But coming to Seattle has a great feel to it. Like I said, USA Hockey is really excited for this area to get an NHL team because we know that we’re going to benefit from it and our whole country is going to benefit from it. When we see where players are coming from now all over the place … We want players coming from Everett and Seattle and all these areas.”
But how does Everett figure into this?
There is the possibility that the ancillary host of the tournament will be awarded to a junior-oriented market. Hockey Canada accomplished that by granting World Junior bids to major cities — Vancouver and Edmonton — and junior markets — Victoria and Red Deer — for 2019 and in 2024.
If USA Hockey follows suit, Everett could be a potential suitor. It didn’t hurt that 8,133 fans were in attendance for Everett’s 6-1 win over Seattle for Teddy Bear Toss night after the first day of World Junior training camp Saturday.
“At the end of the day, they needed to see that we can sell tickets,” Rajcic said. “That’s what these tournaments and events evolve around. It’s an economic model and (the USA) gets a chance to host it every so often. Right now, their focus is on Vancouver and Victoria, but in a short period of time, I’m going to put the focus back on, ‘Hey, the USA is hosting in 2025.’ We had a chance for USA Hockey to look at our facility and the region. We put our best foot forward and we hopefully we have an opportunity to have that next conversation.”
Among those in attendance for Saturday’s Silvertips game were a majority of Team USA’s players and coaching staff, who left impressed with their experience.
“We were talking about it upstairs and this is a fantastic facility when you’re talking about junior hockey,” Team USA head coach Mike Hastings said. “To come in and call this your home, I think (Everett) is pretty fortunate.”
“I think it’s a sick rink,” said Jack Hughes, the expected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. “Probably a really good junior hockey rink. … (It was a) good atmosphere, great hospitality, nice hotel. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Practices were free and open to the public, and while the majority of seats weren’t filled, all three days were well attended for what it was: Players participating in drills and coaches were setting up their systems.
Rajcic said he was pleased with the reception of the event and he hopes Everett remains in USA Hockey’s purview moving forward.
“My last two minutes with John Vanbiesbrouck were to wish them luck in the tournament,” Rajcic said. “I’m going to see (Vanbiesbrouck) at the USHL meetings in January right after the World Juniors and we’ll pick that conversation right up and get us to the people that make those decisions so we can get down to the nitty-gritty and what it might take to get a prestigious tournament like that to the Pacific Northwest.”