EVERETT — When Kevin Bieksa, a 13-year NHL veteran, decided to accept an invite to play for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, in late December, he needed a rink to train on. But Bieksa, who resides in Southern California, didn’t have many local options, especially during the hockey season.
He decided to explore some possibilities in the Pacific Northwest in hopes of possibly finding a junior team to skate with. While perusing the rosters and schedules of Western Hockey League teams in the United States, Bieksa stumbled upon two of his former teammates at Bowling Green State University — Everett Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams and assistant coach Louis Mass.
“I thought, ‘Oh, this would just be perfect to skate with them for a week,’” Bieska, a 37-year-old defenseman, said.
Bieksa, sporting a helmet and pants with the Anaheim Ducks’ logo on them, has skated with the Silvertips this week, taking part in drills and participating in extra conditioning once the players leave the ice.
“It’s good to have him up and teach our guys a bit,” Williams said. “We (Williams and Mass) haven’t seen him in a few years, so it’s nice to reminisce about our college days a little bit.”
Williams and Mass overlapped with Bieksa for one season (2000-01) at Bowling Green; the Silvertips coaches were seniors and Bieksa was a freshman.
After the conclusion of his college career, Bieksa went on to play 13 seasons in the NHL — 10 with the Vancouver Canucks and three with the Ducks.
Bieksa and Williams lost touch over the years, Bieksa said, but his agent linked up with Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson, who provided instant approval for Bieksa’s plan to skate with the Silvertips.
“I think the exact words that came out of (Davidson’s) mouth were, ‘If Kevin Bieksa wants to skate with the Everett Silvertips, I’m not even asking the coaches. He’s skating with them,’” Bieksa said.
Bieksa wasn’t the only unusual face at practice this week. Dwayne Blais, a skills coach and consultant for the Washington Capitals, helped out with practice Monday. Silvertips center Riley Sutter is a signed Capitals prospect.
Bieksa isn’t in town to coach, but he took it upon himself to provide insight to Everett’s players throughout the week.
“Obviously it works both ways,” Bieksa said. “I’m here to get back into skating shape and game shape and practice with the team… but also I’m here to help these guys out.
“I’ve always prided myself on learning from other people and not thinking that I have it all figured out. (I’m) always watching other guys and things that make other guys successful and adapt them into my game. I’m giving tips to some of these kids out here, but I’m not telling them what to do. … I love helping guys out because I’ve seen so much over the years and I’m grateful to pass it on.”
Bieksa played in the NHL last season with the Ducks, but his contract expired and he didn’t latch on with another team. His availability provided an opportunity of a lifetime for the Silvertips players, many of whom grew up watching Bieksa play for the Canucks.
“Oh, It’s unbelievable,” said Roman Seeley, the Silvertips’ youngest defenseman. “(I watched him play in) the NHL when I was younger and now I’m skating alongside him. He’s teaching a lot that he knows, and it’s really cool experience. I’m making the most of it.”