EVERETT — Jake McNeil’s connection to the Everett Silvertips goes all the way back to the inaugural season in 2003 when his parents served as billet parents for Mark Kress.
The McNeil family went on to host other Silvertips players including former Toronto Maple Leaf and current Tampa Bay Lightning farmhand Byron Froese.
Now, 15 years later, McNeil is attending his second Silvertips training camp as a free agent aiming to forge his own WHL career.
“I was pretty nervous last year, but last night I didn’t get much sleep (either),” said McNeil, who is entering his junior year at Snohomish High School.
One of a half-dozen players who played on the Everett Junior Silvertips 16-U team for Turner Stevenson last season, McNeil suited up with Team White when the Silvertips opened their 2017 training camp at the Xfinity Arena Community Ice Rink on Thursday morning.
There are 97 players in camp this weekend split into five teams. Scrimmages continue Friday and Saturday with the annual Green vs. Grey Game on Sunday afternoon. Exit meetings take place afterward as many players head home while the camp roster is pared down for the next phase of training camp.
Like McNeil, Lake Stevens junior-to-be Caden Pattison learned to skate at Everett’s community rink. Pattison attended training camp last year with the Spokane Chiefs and chose to participate in Everett’s camp to “increase his exposure” to the Silvertips staff.
“I grew up playing here and it’s been my dream to play for the Tips since I was a little kid,” Pattison said. “It’s a great experience coming here.”
John Studioso, Dawson Butt, Alonzo Coburn and Nico DeVita joined Pattison and McNeil on last year’s Junior Silvertips squad. All six are currently in camp.
Stevenson, the 13-year NHL veteran and former Seattle Thunderbird, took over the team last year and was named the NAPHL Coach of the Year. The Junior Silvertips program is designed to give local players a chance to play at a high level while competing in the shadow of the WHL Silvertips.
“Seeing the guys around that are on the big club is pretty nice to see what playing junior is like,” McNeil said. “Being young guns you look up to (the Silvertips). They’re good kids and it’s a leadership role they play and they do a really good job of it.”
McNeil will play on the newly established 18-U team this season while Coburn and Pattison will return to the 16-U team.
Coburn attends Inglemoor High School and is in his first WHL training camp.
“Kids are bigger and it’s a lot faster,” he said. “Last year was fast, but this is a lot faster. I was anticipating it. I was expecting them to be faster and bigger.”
Scrimmages began at 11 a.m. Thursday morning and dozens of parents, siblings and fans lined the glass surrounding the community rink. Each game consists of two 30-minute periods.
Playing 60 minutes with just a three-minute break in-between periods was plenty exhausting in its own right.
“I’m a little tired,” Pattison said. “I haven’t skated that hard at that pace for a while. Full-body checking is something to get used to, but it was a good experience and glad I was part of it.”
The Junior Silvertips have a role model in Tips defenseman Wyatte Wylie. A Snohomish County native, Wylie is entering his second season with the Tips and is the first former Everett Youth Hockey player drafted and developed by the big club.
“It’s inspiring,” McNeil said. “I’m pretty good buddies with him and seeing him play in front of all these people every night is really cool and seeing his name called out there is really good.”
McNeil and Pattison hope to one day add their own names to that list.
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