EVERETT — They came from all across Canada and the United States, representing every era of Everett Silvertips hockey. But they all shared one thing in common Friday night beyond their affiliation with the Tips:
They were all sporting a big smile.
Everett players from throughout the franchise’s previous nine seasons were on hand Friday at Comcast Arena as part of the Silvertips’ first alumni weekend.
“It’s great to be back,” former Tips goaltender Leland Irving said. “It’s just great to see all the guys. It seems like it’s the same fans from back in my playing days, so it’s great to see a lot of the familiar faces.”
A total of 25 players were on hand for Friday’s banquet. Among those players were 10 full-timers from the inaugural 2003-04 season, including team captain Bryan Nathe, co-leading scorer Riley Armstrong and goaltender Jeff Harvey. Also present were first-round NHL draft picks Irving and Kyle Beach, as well as former head coach John Becanic and former associate head coach Jay Varady. Former broadcasters Keith Gerhart and Jon Rosen also took part in the festivities.
“It feels unbelievable being back,” Harvey said. “I’ve always maintained this is God’s country coming back to Everett. It’s been eight years and I still love the place just as much.”
The alumni weekend, which begins the team’s celebrations of its 10th season, continues today with a golf outing at Kayak Point Golf Course in Stanwood. The team also used the occasion to unveil its new jerseys for 2012-13, which pay homage to the team’s 10th season.
The alumni weekend was the brainchild of Mitch Love, a member of Everett’s inaugural team and a current assistant coach. Most of the players who took part Friday had little hesitation when contacted about taking part.
“Right away I looked at my calendar and booked the weekend off,” winger Brady Calla said. “It’s a fun thing to do. No matter what’s going on in your life, you can kind of push it away, come down here and just let loose and have fun with the guys. Seeing some of the old faces you saw cheering us on is a lot of fun.
“It’s quite an honor to be invited back and be here with the fans,” Calla added. “It’s just a cool feeling. To see some of these guys and where they’re at in their life, whether they’re working or still playing, it’s really cool to see.”
Added Harvey: “As soon as they started talking about it my phone was blowing up from Jeff Schmidt, Riley Armstrong and Devin Wilson saying, ‘Boys, let’s make this happen.’ “
It was particularly positive for those who took part in the team’s remarkable first season, when the Tips set all kinds of records for an expansion team, winning the U.S. Division and Western Conference titles before falling to Medicine Hat in the league championship series. That run included an unbelievable seven-game series against heavily favored Kelowna in the Western Conference finals, when Everett won the final three games in overtime.
“I fell in love with it out here. It’s gorgeous, I love the climate, I met a lot of great people,” Nathe said. “And after the season we had, it’s a season I’ll never forget, so I had to come back out.”
That first season the Tips created a unique bond with the fans and the community, something the players were eager to experience again.
“It’s great to reconnect, both with the players and the fans,” former captain Cody Thoring said. “I played in Moose Jaw and we had great fans, but there wasn’t this intimate connection. There’s something with here with the fans and familiar faces that I don’t know if any other team can say they have.”
And for at least one weekend, they were all Silvertips one more time.
“It was something special,” Thoring said. The older I get the more I realize it.”