EVERETT — Hunter Campbell was just a toddler when the Everett Silvertips came to town, so it’s safe to say he doesn’t remember a time when the Western Hockey League didn’t have a foothold in Snohomish County.
Earlier this month the Everett native became the third local player to sign with a WHL franchise when the 15-year-old forward agreed to a standard player agreement with the Calgary Hitmen of the Central Division.
Campbell, a third-round pick of the Hitmen in May’s bantam draft, and his father, Brian, traveled to Calgary two weeks ago to complete the official paperwork.
“I probably wouldn’t have gotten into hockey if the Silvertips weren’t around,” Campbell said. “My dad bought season tickets right when they came and got into hockey a little bit. Then he got me into hockey when I was around three years old. The WHL was there and I loved the option and I loved to play that game.”
American-born players forfeit their NCAA eligibility if they sign with a WHL team, so franchises frequently have to invest numerous resources to entice players to sign — particularly players from non-WHL markets. That isn’t as much the case in cities such as Everett, where young players are exposed to the league in which many dream of one day playing.
Campbell said he was “pretty much set on the WHL,” rather than USHL, which plays a similar schedule, but allows players to retain their NCAA eligibility.
“I started to look at (the USHL) as well because I went to camps and stuff like that,” Campbell said. “I had to narrow it down towards the (WHL) draft and just set my mind to the WHL because I went to the WHL camp and I loved it.”
The 5-foot-11, 150-pounder played for the L.A. Junior Kings bantam AAA team last season in his first experience playing away from home.
“Billeting down there was great,” he said. “I got lots of ice time every day. I could go to the rink every single day. … The coaches were great. My billet brothers were awesome. I built good relationships with the coaches and I was captain of the team the first year I was there.”
This year Campbell will return home to play for the Junior Silvertips 16U midget AAA team under the direction of first-year head coach Turner Stevenson. Campbell previously played for Stevenson, a former NHL forward, when Stevenson coached in the Sno-King program.
“I’m happy to be back home,” said Campbell, who will attend Cascade High School this fall. “Obviously living away from home is hard when you’re this young, but it’s going to hopefully be a good season for us. I’m excited to see what happens.”
Campbell is eligible to play five games with Calgary next season as a 15-year-old. He becomes eligible for the team full-time as a 16-year-old for the 2017-18 season.