EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips acknowledge that the 2008-09 season will be a challenge.
However, the Tips are adamant about one thing:
It will not be a rebuilding year.
Despite the probable loss of most of the team’s top players, the Tips are still approaching next season with the intention of competing.
“I never look at any year as a rebuilding year,” general manager Doug Soetaert said. “I think we’ve set this up from year one to be successful. Our goal next year is to make the playoffs. We’ll be younger, but we still want to compete in this league.”
The expectations will be significantly lower next season in Everett. The Tips lose a trio of true impact players — forwards Dan Gendur and Clayton Bauer and defenseman Dane Crowley — as graduated overagers. Also all but gone to the professional ranks are a pair of Everett stalwarts in center Zach Hamill and goaltender Leland Irving. Key defenseman Taylor Ellington may join Hamill and Irving as a 19-year-old in the pros.
Should all that come to pass, Everett will be forced to replace its entire No. 1 line, its top defensive pairing and it’s three-year starting goaltender.
But does that mean a rebuild?
“I think rebuilding is the wrong way to put it,” said captain Jonathan Harty, who barring a successful pro tryout will be back to claim one of the three overager spots.
“I think we had a lot of young guys this year and next year they’ll all be a year older, which is a big experience boost,” Harty added. “We lose a top line, but we gain a lot of solid players who have experience. It could be very much like the first year (when the Tips overcame a lack of skill through hard work) again.”
Those youngsters, who won’t be youngsters anymore once next season rolls around, will have to take another step forward for the Tips to have success. Chief among those is forward Kyle Beach. This season as a 17-year-old Beach was a dominant player during the first half of the season. However, injuries plagued him in a second half that saw his production dip dramatically. Everett needs Beach to be the player he was during the first half, thus giving the Tips an offensive fulcrum.
“When we get back next year we’ve got the same goals,” said Beach, a likely first-round pick in June’s NHL draft. “We’re here to win and we’re here to try and win a couple more banners for this organization and this city.”
Others will need to step into more prominent roles. Forward Shane Harper, who made good progress as an offensive player this season, needs to step up to the point-a-game level as a 19-year-old. Forwards Matt Ius and Jordan Mistelbacher, who carved out niches for themselves this season as 17-year-olds, will have to show they can score. And defensemen Chris de la Lande and Jeff Regier will have to show they can handle a regular shift for an entire season.
And perhaps most importantly, Shayne Barrie will have to prove he can take over the No. 1 goaltending position. Barrie made great strides during the season and performed admirably when called upon during the playoffs, but his total WHL experience consists of just 23 games.
Nevertheless, the Tips believe they’re up to the challenge.
“If you look at Brandon, they lost a lot of key players from last year’s team, but they came up with (Scott) Glennie and (Brayden) Schenn and (Matt) Calvert, three rookies who tore the league apart,” coach John Becanic said. “I don’t know what potential exists in the system since I don’t know the young guys a lot, but we’re going to coach the guys we get and try and develop them and win games.”
Fortunately for the Tips they have some pieces waiting in the wings. Everett had three players — forwards Kellan Tochkin and Brett Chartier and defenseman Paul Sohor — who participated in the prestigous U-17 World Hockey Challenge this season. Typically those teams are populated by 16-year-old WHL rookies, but none of those three made the Tips this season. All three had excellent seasons for their lower-level teams and should be ready to contribute next season as 17-year-old rookies.
And if the sum total isn’t enough, don’t expect the Tips to hit the reset button and go into full rebuilding mode.
“If it’s not good enough, we’ll do what we need to be a competitive hockey team,” Soetaert said. “We want to win as many games as possible.”
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog