Hunter Campbell knows all about playing in an NHL rink. The Everett Silvertips winger and Everett native spent the first two-plus seasons of his WHL career playing for the Calgary Hitmen, who share the Scotiabank Saddledome with the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
So when Campbell comes away impressed by a venue, it’s saying something.
Everett’s players got a taste of what they all hope to someday achieve when they played in the Battle of the Sound on Saturday, which was the first-ever WHL game at Climate Pledge Arena, home of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.
“It was unbelievable,” Campbell said following Everett’s 4-0 victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds on Saturday. “Especially getting the win the first time here in this inaugural game against Seattle, so it was really cool to be a part of it.”
The WHL is a developmental league for players ages 16-20, just about all of whom aspire to one day play in the NHL. With the NHL arriving in the region this season via the expansion Kraken, it’s given everyone a window into hockey’s highest level, and Everett’s players got to experience it up close and personal Saturday.
“For a lot of guys it was their first time in this building, either watching or playing a game,” Everett goaltender Koen MacInnes said. “It was pretty cool seeing the facilities. Everything here is state of the art, it’s definitely not what we’re used to — even though we’re in good rinks, this is just something special.
“I took a walk around here before the game and I just couldn’t believe my eyes,” MacInnes added. “Right by the Kraken door they have this panel, and if you’re walking right to left you’ll see the Seattle skyline, but if you walk left to right you’ll see the Kraken logo. I’ve never seen that before, I don’t know how they did it, but it looks so cool.”
Climate Pledge Arena lists its hockey capacity at 17,100, and while the Tips and T-birds didn’t draw a Kraken-sized crowd, the 8,381 who attended filled up the lower bowl, while the upper level was curtained off. And although Seattle was the home team and had a slightly higher percentage of the spectators, there was a strong contingent of Everett fans who nearly matched the T-bird fans’ volume.
“It was awesome, especially seeing our fans in our section cheering for us and Seattle’s cheering for them,” Campbell said. “It was good we had enough fans where we weren’t overtaken by Seattle.”
The victory against Seattle was a positive end to a challenging week for the Tips. Everett (36-7-3-5) lost 4-3 in a shootout at B.C. Division-leading Kamloops last Monday, then suffered an unexpected 6-5 overtime loss at Tri-City on Friday. However, the Tips still came away with four points from three road games, two of which were against teams vying for top playoff seeds.
Three stars of the week
Third star: Olen Zellweger. The 18-year-old defenseman racked up a goal and four assists across the three games. He played a huge role in Everett’s third-period comeback against Tri-City, which salvaged a point for the Tips.
Second star: Campbell. The overage winger tallied two goals and four assists. Both his goals came in the victory over Seattle, when he broke a scoreless tie in the second period and put on the finishing touch with a late empty-netter.
First star: MacInnes. The goaltender in his 19-year-old season has had to carry a heavy load with No. 1 netminder Braden Holt out because of a non-COVID illness. His stats from the week as a whole — 2.77 goals against average and .918 save percentage in three starts — aren’t particularly special. However, his 48-save shutout against the T-birds was.
The week ahead
This week is a huge one for Everett in the context of the U.S. Division race, as the Tips host Portland on Friday and Seattle on Saturday at Angel of the Winds Arena. Everett holds a seven-point advantage on the Winterhawks (34-13-3-2), having played one fewer game, while the Tips are 15 points clear of the Thunderbirds (30-14-4-1), having played two more games.
Everett and Portland have split their eight meetings so far this season. The Winterhawks won the past three — one was in overtime and one was in a shootout — meaning the Tips are seeking their first victory over Portland since November. This is one of four games remaining between the two teams.
Everett holds a 7-2 advantage in the season series against Seattle. With just three games remaining between the teams this season, the T-birds will need to maximize their points in the head-to-head matchups to have any chance of catching the Tips.