EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips have left the building.
But most of them are still in town.
The Tips went through annual exit meetings with the coaching staff at Angel of the Winds Arena Tuesday. Usually players head out of town as quickly as possible, but that is not the case this week.
“We’re all not ready to say good-bye, so we still have a couple more days to make some memories and hang out with each other,” Everett goaltender Carter Hart said. “It’s a sad day. It’s not something you look forward to, but at the same time it’s good to come in and thank everyone for what they’ve done for this team and for our players. Our coaches and our staff work just as hard as our players to help us succeed.”
Hart was the highest-profile player on this year’s Everett team. There is nothing left for him to prove as this year’s WHL player of the year and three-time goaltender of the year will play for the Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL affiliate, Lehigh Valley, next season.
Yet Hart is one of a half-dozen players who will not return next season. Forward Garrett Pilon and defenseman Ondrej Vala are both NHL-signed 19-year-old players who will all but assuredly play in the AHL next season.
Everett overagers Matt Fonteyne, Patrick Bajkov and Kevin Davis have all exhausted their junior eligibility while rewriting the franchise record book in the process.
“It was really upsetting having to leave this great organization,” said Bajkov, who signed a three-year entry-level NHL deal with Florida in March. “It’s something that sits in the back of your head and I still don’t think it’s really settled in. Throughout the week I’m sure it will more and more. Now I’m just proud to have spent my past five years here.”
Bajkov, Fonteyne, Davis and Hart formed the veteran nucleus of this year’s team that captured the second Western Conference title in franchise history and the first since the inaugural season in 2004. The three overagers were homegrown players, the product of general manager Garry Davidson’s first Everett draft, and played five seasons with the organization.
“They kept giving me an opportunity as an organization to succeed, and there are obviously going to be some highs and lows, some good days and some bad days,” said Fonteyne, who split captain duties with Davis this season.
“The organization has done (everything) to help me progress as a human (being) as well as a player,” Fonteyne continued. “It’s something that’s tough to put into words. I look forward to coming back and kind of checking in and seeing how everyone is doing. It makes me proud to say I’ve been a Silvertip for five years.”
Fonteyne scored a career-best 88 points while earning an AHL deal with the San Jose Barracuda. Bajkov became the first 100-point scorer in franchise history while setting team records for career goals (112), assists (176) and points (288), and assists in a season (67).
Davis set the franchise record for games played (347), with Bajkov (342) and Fonteyne (340) right behind. Davis is also the career leader in assists (148) and points (174) among defensemen.
“I think it’s been so cool — this whole process of going to the finals with this team and this franchise,” said Davis, who is still weighing his options for furthering his hockey career. “I can’t wait for a couple years down the road to look back on this experience with this team and be proud of what we accomplished.”
It is extremely rare for three players to be selected in the bantam draft, debut as 16-year-olds and remain with the organization that drafted them for five seasons. Yet Everett’s overagers were part of three U.S. Division championship teams and withstood a coaching change following their penultimate season to lead the Tips to unprecedented success.
“(They) were just warriors for five years,” said Everett head coach Dennis Williams, who coached the overagers in their final campaign. “It was an honor to coach them, not just what they’ve done on the ice, but for what they’ve done for the city of Everett. They’re just great human beings. They’ve done a lot here and this is their home. They’re going be a piece of the Everett community for their entire lives.”
The addition of Vala and Pilon in a pre-deadline deal with Kamloops was what truly made Everett a contender.
Pilon flourished offensively with 16 goals and 20 assists in 30 regular-season games with Everett, and added 11 goals and 17 assists in 22 postseason games.
Vala gave Everett a needed physical presence on the blue line and contributed eight assists in 28 regular-season games, and a goal and 10 assists in 22 postseason games.
All of Everett’s five professionally signed players could one day find themselves in opposing sweaters. But that will never take away from the season they had in 2017-18.
“Just to see the support we got from the fans and the city of Everett, and how they all rallied around us, it was really cool for all of us,” Hart said. “To make it that far and come up so short is definitely disappointing and wasn’t the result we wanted. But at the end of the day we’re still very proud of what we got done here.”
For the latest Silvertips news follow Jesse Geleynse on Twitter.