It’s been a heck of a couple of months for hockey in Snohomish County.
In mid-May, the Everett Silvertips completed their most successful campaign in franchise history, winning the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference and stretching the Swift Current Broncos to six games in the WHL championship series.
In early June the first son of Snohomish County hockey, Everett native and Seattle Junior Hockey Association alum T.J. Oshie, helped the Washington Capitals win the National Hockey League title and had his name etched into the grandest trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup.
On Saturday, Silvertips defenseman and Everett native Wyatte Wylie was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth round of the NHL draft, becoming the first child of the Tips’ arrival in Everett in 2003 to reach affiliation with hockey’s highest level.
All of this happened in front of the backdrop of developments that brought the possibility of the NHL coming to the Puget Sound closer to reality.
Yep, local hockey is on a winning streak, and it’s something the county’s hockey organizations are relishing.
“I think it’s kind of been the perfect storm,” said Nick Fouts, the athletic director of Mountlake Terrace-based Seattle Junior. “With the Silvertips doing so well, with a Seattle Junior player winning the Stanley Cup, and with the announcement of the NHL coming, it’s a very exciting time, not only for us at Seattle Junior but the entire state of Washington hockey.”
Wylie being drafted Saturday put the exclamation point on Snohomish County hockey’s recent streak. The 18-year-old, who played a vital role in Everett’s run to the WHL finals, is a true product of Everett hockey. He was inspired to try the sport after watching the Silvertips as a kid. He came up through Everett Youth Hockey, an organization that was born out of the Silvertips coming to town. He became the first Snohomish County native to play for the Tips.
Now, 15 years after the Tips first began playing games at what was then known simply as the Everett Events Center, the Snohomish County hockey community has grown to the point where it’s capable of developing a true NHL prospect.
“I think (Wylie getting drafted is) very flattering for the start of hockey in Everett,” Tips general manager Garry Davidson said. “He started in the infancy of hockey in the community. He entered the program very young, got his start here, and that’s very positive. It also speaks well of the way the game has grown since the coming of (Angel of the Winds Arena) and the arrival of a major-junior team.
“It’s also special because the first one was someone who’s actually playing for Everett. When you’re drafting (in the WHL bantam draft), you don’t always get the local players. I think it’s really exciting and really positive for the local hockey establishment.”
Then there’s Oshie, the player who put Snohomish County on the hockey map. Oshie’s youth came prior to the Tips’ arrival, meaning he had to leave the county at 14, moving to Warroad, Minnesota, to find better hockey competition. He became a first-round NHL draft pick, a 10-year NHL veteran and an American Olympic hero. Now he’s a Stanley Cup champion, starring for the Capitals as they defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to lift the cup. Oshie also provided the emotional apex of the post-championship celebrations when he talked about his dad Tim dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Never before had a Snohomish County native ever stood on such a high hockey platform.
“It was kind of interesting to see because people have always known T.J. played here, but once Washington started going deep into the playoffs you saw the whole association rally behind the Capitals,” Fouts said. “Each day at the rink you’d see more Oshie and Capitals jerseys, and then there were Facebook posts and phone calls and emails. Everyone’s sitting back and reflecting on T.J.’s time here, pulling out old photos and talking to his old coaches. We couldn’t be more proud of what he’s accomplished in hockey and what he’s done for youth hockey here, probably without even knowing what he’s done.”
The trickle-down effect is that enthusiasm for hockey is growing a the grass-roots level. Davidson said the number of players registered with Everett Youth Hockey has increased from about 160 to approximately 350 since the Tips began administering the program in 2013. Excitement has also built within Seattle Junior.
“It’s tough to tell if registrations are higher, but they’re flooding in at an earlier rate,” Fouts said. “I think a big part of that is in direct relationship to the announcements about an NHL team. I think people this year tended to be more into the NHL playoffs because of T.J., so hockey is on the mind earlier than normal. The combination of T.J.’s success and the announcement of the NHL has led to more registrations at an earlier time, and in the fall we’ll be able to tell if it truly did increase overall registrations.”
Want to bet what Fouts will discover come September?
Yeah, maybe hockey in the county is just having a hot streak, one that will cool down just as temperatures begin to rise for the summer. I wouldn’t count on it, however. Snohomish County hockey is on the rise, and there’s no reason to think the trajectory is going to change.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.