EVERETT — Garry Davidson came to the Everett Silvertips as general manager in 2012 with the goal of returning a moribund franchise to the glory of its early days.
Six years later the team Davidson built did exactly that as the Silvertips won their second-ever Western Hockey League Western Conference title and reached the WHL finals for the first time since their improbable inaugural season.
“You try to sustain (the success) and then you try to take that next step, and that would be winning the Western (Hockey) League championship,” Davidson said Tuesday as the Tips held their exit meetings after they were eliminated by the Swift Current Broncos in Game 6 of the WHL championship series.
“That was the message that we brought to the players in their exit meetings. We’ve had a taste of it. Now we want the whole bite.”
The Tips will lose six outstanding players to the professional and college ranks this offseason. Yet Everett will return a number of key contributors on the offensive and defensive ends, while goaltender Dustin Wolf will step into the vast chasm left by Carter Hart.
Wolf fashioned a 13-6 record with four shutouts, a 2.25 goals-against average and .928 save percentage while backing up Hart as a rookie this season. Backing up Wolf next season will be either Blake Lyda or Danton Belluk, both of whom will be 16-year-old rookies.
Everett’s top two returning offensive threats are leading goal-scorer Connor Dewar (38 goals, 30 assists) and 20-goal scorer Riley Sutter (25 goals, 28 assists). Dewar added 12 goals and 14 assists in 22 postseason games while Sutter chipped in nine goals and 10 assists in 21 games.
Both benefited heavily from Garrett Pilon joining their line in January. That trio maintained their offensive contributions while often being charged with defending against their opponent’s top line during the playoffs.
Dewar was an alternate captain this season and figures to be a shoo-in to captain next year’s team. He seems likely to be selected in June’s National Hockey League draft as an overager after he was passed over last year.
“I just want to uphold the culture that the 20(-year-olds) are leaving behind and make sure their legacy lives on through guys like me and Riley,” Dewar said.
Sutter has been on the NHL’s radar all season and could go as high as the second or third round. But he is already focusing on returning to Everett in August.
“It’s good to have a short offseason and get back at it,” Sutter said. “It will be exciting next year, and I’m already looking forward to getting back.”
Sean Richards (20 goals, 29 assists) is one of three 1998-born players on this year’s roster who will be overage candidates next season along with forwards Spencer Gerth and Ty Westgard.
Rookie forwards Reece Vitelli and Martin Fasko-Rudas will each return after strong postseason performances on Everett’s third line.
“There is room for guys to take big jumps, and in order to be successful you need every guy to take a jump like we did this year,” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said. “The teams that can have those guys make those kinds of jumps and not be just content have the best chance of winning.”
Sutter and Dewar are part of Everett’s 1999-born class who will all be 19 next season along with forwards Bryce Kindopp (24 goals, 12 assists), Luke Ormsby, Bronson Sharpe and Ethan O’Rourke, and defensemen Jake Christiansen (six goals, 25 assists), Wyatte Wylie (six goals, 25 assists) and Jameson Murray.
Everett brings back three other defensemen in 2000-born Ian Walker, Kyle Walker and Gianni Fairbrother. Blue line prospects Alex Moar (2001) and Ronan Seeley and Dylan Anderson (both 2002) will be in the mix to make next season’s roster.
“One thing in this league is that (defensive) veterans play a big factor,” Williams said. “Our D-corps was very young compared to a lot of teams (this year), and I think that is going to help us going into next season.”
With Ondrej Vala moving on to the professional ranks, the Tips will look to add another European player to complement Fasko-Rudas — either via trade or the Canadian Hockey League import draft.
Things could also change among Everett’s overagers. Unlike this season, when Everett’s 20-year-olds formed the nucleus of the team, Richards is the only returning 20-year-old who played big minutes for the Tips this season. Gerth is a depth player who is beloved by his teammates and a “great dressing room guy.” Westgard spent the season with the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles. He appeared in just two postseason games for the Tips and has played in just 37 combined regular and postseason WHL games.
However, the talent pool for next year’s overagers is thin, and that could drive prices for impact 20-year-olds very high.
“The 1997 group was a very good group and a very deep one,” Davidson said. “I don’t think the 1998 group is deep by any means, so it could be a year when those guys are very desirable by many teams.”
The Tips are poised to potentially be very good next year. They could also make some moves to set themselves up to be outstanding in two years when Wolf will be in his second year as the starting goalie, and three of the homegrown 1999-born players will be overagers.
The precise path Everett will choose remains to be seen, but sustaining success while reaching the next level remains the next franchise goal.
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