EVERETT — When Doug Sinclair’s day shift as a firefighter is done, he often heads to the local ice rinks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to sit in bone-chilling conditions as he watches 14-year-old hockey players go through the paces.
Garry Ryhorchuk regularly makes the 170-mile round-trip drive between Prince Albert and Saskatoon, braving the snowy winter conditions across the Saskatchewan prairies in search of the next great hockey talent.
Sinclair’s and Ryhorchuk’s job involves countless games, hours and miles while generating little in the way of riches or glory. But for 20 years they’ve been leading voices behind making names like Ryan Murray and Connor Dewar synonymous with Everett Silvertips hockey.
As the Silvertips prepare to embark upon their 20th season in the WHL, there are but a handful of individuals remaining who have been along for the entire ride. Senior scouts Sinclair and Ryhorchuk, who have been scouting for the organization since before the first puck was ever dropped at Angel of the Winds Arena, are two of them, and their behind-the-scenes contributions have been an important part of turning Everett into one of the WHL’s model franchises.
“It’s unbelievable to think they’ve been here from the beginning,” Everett general manager and head coach Dennis Williams said. “In junior hockey you have huge turnover, guys move on to other roles, and they’ve been through a handful of different general managers and a lot of times scouts go with the guy who hired them. But I think what’s really special about Garry and Doug is their passion for Everett hockey. These jobs aren’t lucrative positions, they’re almost doing it as volunteers. But they do it because they love being at the rinks and evaluating players.”
Since the Silvertips began play in 2003 they’ve been one of the WHL’s premier teams, winning nine U.S. Division championships and two Western Conference titles. There are only four individuals who have been a part of the organization that entire time. Two are Everett’s highest-ranking members, owner Bill Yuill and chief operating officer Zoran Rajcic. The other two are Sinclair and Ryhorchuk.
During my years on the Silvertips beat I have fond memories of interacting with the scouts during training camp, whether it was the gregarious Sinclair bigging up the team he was assigned to coach during camp, or chuckling when told about some of the shenanigans involving the more reserved Ryhorchuk while the scouts drafted teams for the Green vs. Grey game.
But whether it was Ryhorchuk spending two years following Murray (who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche this year) prior to his WHL draft, or Sinclair being the one person who believed in Byron Froese (who’s spent parts of four seasons in the NHL) as he lobbied to have Froese invited to training camp as a non-listed player twice, they’ve had an unsung role in helping build the Tips into what they are today.
“Both are very valuable members of the Silvertips,” said Everett assistant general manager Mike Fraser, who oversees the scouting department. “They’ve been around a long time and seen a lot of things, a lot of the ups and downs. But they probably understand more than anybody what a Silvertip is and what types of players we like to have in our program.
“Coming here five years ago, getting to have guys with that type of experience when I came here, was a big asset for me.”
Both Sinclair, 55, and Ryhorchuk, 66, began their scouting careers with Everett. They both come from hockey backgrounds, as Sinclair played professionally in the minors and in Europe, while Ryhorchuk played at the junior level and was involved in coaching. Both became curious about scouting just when Everett was getting off the ground, and both leveraged connections with original Everett general manager Doug Soetaert to get their foot in the door.
“Doug was coaching in the New York Rangers organization in the late 1980s and he was at training camps when I was there,” said Sinclair, whose job as a Winnipeg firefighter aligns well with scouting. “When I finished playing, one of my friends who was an agent had a couple scouting jobs for me. One was this new team in Everett and the GM was Doug Soetaert. I sent him a resume and had an asterisks at the bottom saying, ‘Hey, I remember you from New York Rangers camp in the late 80s.’ So he called me right away and the first thing he said was, ‘New York Rangers?’ We talked for probably an hour-and-a-half and that’s how I got hired.”
“I saw the advertisement for a Saskatchewan scout, and then when I saw who the general manager was I contacted my friend who is Doug’s nephew,” recalled Ryhorchuk, who’s now a retired Prince Albert police officer. “I said to him, ‘Hey, this is what I’d like to do, could I use your name as a reference?’ Sure enough that helped me because Doug called me right away.”
As scouts, Sinclair and Ryhorchuk do the nitty-gritty work of unearthing players for Everett. The bulk of that work involves scouting players for the WHL prospects draft. But it also involves monitoring players at the Junior A, U18 and U16 levels who may have slipped through the cracks, as well as other WHL teams for potential trade possibilities.
Everett typically maintains a scouting staff of about a dozen, but Sinclair and Ryhorchuk are trusted with an entire province to themselves, as Sinclair handles Manitoba and Ryhorchuk oversees Saskatchewan. In addition, they travel to other provinces so Everett can have multiple sets of eyes at major tournaments.
That adds up to a lot of time and travel. Ryhorchuk estimated he sees around 300 games a year, and Sinclair said he can spend as many as 20 hours at the rink in a weekend. Both hit five figures in driving miles in a typical year.
The Tips have been big beneficiaries of their work. In addition to the aforementioned Dewar and Froese, Sinclair has been the point man for the acquisitions of the likes of current players/prospects like Dexter Whittle, Kyan Grouette and Carter Bear, while Ryhorchuk was involved in scouting past standouts like Kohl Bauml and Carson Stadnyk.
“Garry is probably one of the smartest talent evaluators I’ve worked with over the years,” Fraser said. “I think Doug’s biggest strength is how he socializes with and recruits both the players and the families.”
But both are quick to say they aren’t solely responsible for any player becoming a Silvertip.
“It’s basically teamwork the whole time,” Ryhorchuk said. “If somebody were to come up to you and ask, ‘Which player did you identify?’ That’s not what really happens with us. We know the kids in our area well and push the kids in your area a little bit. But it’s a collective group with a lot of discussion to find the kind of Silvertip we want. There’s a lot of reward in identifying those type of players.”
What makes Sinclair and Ryhorchuk extra special to the Tips is their loyalty. Scouting at the WHL level isn’t necessarily a long-term job, and when a team changes general managers it’s common for the scouting staff to undergo turnover — a quick look at the Seattle Thunderbirds’ scouting staff reveals several former Everett scouts who followed Bil La Forge when he was hired as Seattle’s GM after serving as the Tips’ head scout. Working in the same organization for so long has allowed them to forge a bond that includes using one another as a sounding board about players, as well as ribbing one another over the natural fireman-policeman rivalry.
So why have they stuck with the Tips this long?
“Doug (Soetaert) told me, ‘As loyal as you might be, I’m going to move on one day and you don’t have to leave because I’m leaving,” Sinclair said. “Then Garry Davidson came in (as general manager) and I connected with Garry right away. I’ve been coming her for 20 years and I love the organization, I basically bleed green.”
Said Ryhorchuk: “Any time there was a change in management and I got a phone call asking me to stay, I’ve just stayed. Everybody who’s left has been replaced by a quality person, and they treat you so well here.
“When I decide it’s time to retire and I don’t want to sit in the rink at 40-below at age 70, it will be as a Silvertip.”
Not just any Silvertip, but one of the last originals.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.
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