EVERETT — If you’re looking to field a baseball team containing only Everett Silvertips players, your starting nine will certainly include Robbie Holmes and Gage Goncalves.
The Everett forwards both played a high level of baseball growing up before electing to play in the Western Hockey League.
The decision between baseball and hockey was especially difficult for Holmes. The Sherwood Park, Alberta, native competed at Team Canada’s junior training camp in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the spring of 2016. The camp was in conjunction with major-league spring training and Canada’s up-and-coming baseball stars competed against minor-league players across several MLB organizations, including the Blue Jays, Yankees and Phillies, as well as international teams from Europe and Australia.
“It was really fun and eye-opening,” Holmes said. “You play against guys who are trying to get to the next level and you see how they prepare for games. It was a great experience.”
Holmes, an 11th-round pick in the 2014 bantam draft by Regina, first appeared for the Pats at age 16 after competing at national junior training camp and played six playoff games in 2015-2016. Holmes eventually broke in full-time with Regina as a 17-year-old and has played in the WHL ever since.
“It’s for sure one of the toughest decisions I’ve made,” Holmes said of sticking with hockey. “Hopefully it works out.”
Goncalves played baseball up until last summer with the Abbotsford Junior Cardinals as a middle infielder. His teams won three consecutive British Columbia provincial championships and were the runner-ups at the 2014 13U national championships in London, Ontario. The Cardinals lost 11-10 in the championship game on a walk-off single.
Another future WHL player, Kootenay goaltender Jesse Makaj, was also on that squad.
Major league spring training is now in full swing and both players are keeping an eye on their favorite team, the Toronto Blue Jays — Holmes said his idol growing up was the late Roy Halladay — but only from a distance, as Everett is in the home stretch of the season and deadlocked with Vancouver for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Silvertips and Giants each are at 94 points with just five games remaining.
Both players have steadied into top-six-to-middle-six-type roles for Everett. Holmes boasts eight points (two goals, six assists) in 21 games since being traded to the Silvertips on the Jan. 10 trade deadline day.
Holmes’ impact in Everett has been providing a heavy approach to Everett’s lineup. Lately, he’s played plenty of minutes with two of Everett’s top forwards, Connor Dewar and Bryce Kindopp.
“His intangibles are what helps you win in the playoffs,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said. “If you don’t have Robbie Holmes’ on your team, you don’t win hockey games. What he does along the walls here, the netfronts, he’s a team-first guy, he gets to the tough areas. He’s strong on pucks. That’s what helps you win playoff series.
“I think he’s trending in a real positive direction.”
Williams said he wasn’t aware Holmes played a high level of baseball growing up, but said it wasn’t surprising.
“I don’t think I’d want to be catching with him rounding third with his speed,” Williams said. “He doesn’t slow up too much.”
Goncalves has collected 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 62 games for Everett as one of the team’s impact rookies.
Do they miss playing baseball? Sometimes, but hockey is each of their passions.
“Hockey’s always been a passion of mine and I love it more, maybe,” Holmes said. “But I still love baseball a lot.”
“Yeah, a little bit,” Goncalves said. “Because baseball is so different from hockey. (In hockey) you always have to get yourself psyched up, you always have to be engaged, when baseball is more relaxed and laid back. I think it was good for me to play both growing up.”