EVERETT — Sean Mallonee had already performed the mental and physical repetitions many times over when he stepped on the ice for the Everett Silvertips Sunday in Prince George, B.C.
But this time it was different. This time it was for real.
“I pictured that a million times before and to actually go out there and do it in real life was awesome,” said Mallonee, who skated in his first WHL regular-season game against the Prince George Cougars on Sunday.
Perhaps even more special for Mallonee and the greater Silvertips family is the fact that he is a product of the 16-U Junior Silvertips AAA program, which is in its second year since the Everett Silvertips took over Everett Youth Hockey, and the first to reach the WHL.
A Kennewick native, Mallonee spent two years with the Arizona Bobcats AAA Midget program. It is normal for players of his caliber to leave home to find a level of competition suited to their continued development.
But the Junior Silvertips now offer local players a chance to find that level of competition much closer to home.
“It was a no-brainer to come here,” Mallonee said. “That was one of the pros of being here — just being closer to home and my parents can come and watch me play more often. Everett was a good place to come I thought.”
The 17-year-old center scored five goals with 12 assists in 19 games for the Junior Silvertips last season. That performance allowed him to catch the attention of the Everett Silvertips brass.
“We were in front of good eyes all the time,” Mallonee said. “(Silvertips general manager) Garry (Davidson) would come and stop in at our practices and watch us play, so that was a huge reason why I came.”
At 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Mallonee isn’t particularly big for a hockey player. What really stood out to the Silvertips coaching staff, however, was something else Mallonee possessed.
“The No. 1 thing we saw in Sean was a really passionate athlete,” Tips head coach Kevin Constantine said. “That’s the best way to describe it. Whenever we talked to him last year we just saw passion coming out of his speech and his body language and his play on the ice. That left such a strong impression on us last year.”
Mallonee, whom the Tips acquired as a listed player, signed his WHL standard player agreement in early September along with fellow forwards Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter.
He tallied an assist while appearing in five preseason games this year and earning his way onto the opening-day roster. On Sunday he formed part of Everett’s fourth line — which also included Sutter — in a 5-1 loss at Prince George.
Unlike many of his teammates, Mallonee — one of just three Americans on the current roster — doesn’t come from a hockey background. The extended Mallonee clan leans toward baseball, but Sean was hooked on hockey since he first tried the sport at age 6.
“He’s coming from a bit of a western United States naiveté in his hockey so I think there’s stuff to learn, but I think he will become the player we saw last year which is a passionate athlete,” Constantine said. “I think it will take a little bit of time because everything is so new for him. But if you know the human being behind the athlete, we really have great confidence that he’s going to be a really good player.”
Mallonee says the mental part of the game has been his biggest adjustment thus far.
“There are a lot of things you need to go through, just mental reps, (and) thinking,” he said. “You have to think quicker. It’s a quicker game and it’s faster-paced. That’s definitely a huge difference from AAA to the WHL.”
The goal of all those reps is for things to become automatic. And for Mallonee and the Silvertips the hope is for the game to slow down enough for him to allow for more moments of dream fulfillment like he experienced Sunday.
The Silvertips announced Wednesday that they have reassigned 17-year-old right wing Gunnar Wegleitner to the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL. “We feel like that’s a good spot for him to get a lot of ice time and hopefully he can come back later in the season for us,” Davidson said. Wegleitner, a Vancouver, B.C., native, scored one goal in 43 games last season with Everett.