EVERETT — Dennis Williams held back tears while answering the kinds of questions he’s been asked plenty of times since taking over as head coach of the Everett Silvertips before the 2017-2018 season.
Those queries pertained to the Western Hockey League trade deadline. Williams was asked not just about the new players coming to Everett, but the players leaving the Silvertips, as well.
For those outside the locker room, the week leading up to the WHL trade deadline can be exhilarating: Which top-flight player is going to be shipped to a contender? How many first-round draft picks will be moved?
The questions and speculation are endless in the days leading up to the Jan. 10 deadline.
All that chatter makes for a tense week inside the Silvertips’ locker room.
“Obviously, it’s really nerve-wracking,” 18-year-old center Gage Goncalves said. “You try and not think about it as much, but it’s kind of in the back of your mind.”
It’s especially anxiety-inducing for the younger players. Everett has been a contender and a buyer at the trade deadline for the past six seasons, and the rebuilding teams Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson typically negotiates with are usually seeking young players to develop around.
Team leaders try to ease the young players’ nerves during the week, but that’s easier said than done.
“Last year, every time my phone rang or phone beeped my heart just kind of stopped for a second,” Goncalves said of his rookie season, “because you never know, it can happen anytime.”
Perhaps there was no more jarring example of that this year than forward Martin Fasko-Rudas being dealt to Swift Current on Friday morning.
On Thursday, the import forward who was in his third season with the Silvertips, returned to practice after competing in the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Czech Republic, and was greeted with fist bumps and head pats from his teammates.
Less than 24 hours later, Fasko-Rudas was headed to the Eastern Conference along with defenseman Parker Hendren in exchange for 19-year-old center Ethan Regnier and import defenseman Kasper Puutio. Fasko-Rudas was dealt to Saskatoon later in the day, which reunited him with Blades coach Mitch Love, a former Silvertips assistant.
It was a big blow to the Silvertips’ dressing room. The Slovakian winger is known for his infectious smile and wacky sense of humor and was not only a fan favorite, but was incredibly well-liked among Everett’s players and coaches.
“It stinks. There’s no way to put it. It was terrible,” Williams said. “It’s one of those bittersweet days where we got that centerman position (filled and) we got a really good defenseman … but two really good guys moved out as well.”
Williams said losing Fasko-Rudas hurt.
“He brings, speed and compete and energy, but his biggest attribute is what he brings to our locker room,” Williams said. “He’s always the happiest guy in the room. You could be having the worst day and if you bump into Fasko, it all changes. That’s what I think is the tough part about it.”
It was a similar situation to the Silvertips’ acquisition of Zack Andrusiak last year, a deal that sent locker-room favorite Sean Richards to the Seattle Thunderbirds. The year before, Everett traded away popular young players Montana Onyebuchi and Orrin Centazzo to Kamloops for Ondrej Vala and Garrett Pilon.
From a hockey standpoint, each of those trades was a success, but at the time, the collateral damage stung. It’s the cost of doing business in the WHL, and that’s what the players are constantly reminded of.
“Obviously, we’re at that level now where it’s just business,” Goncalves said. “There’s nothing we can really control, so we just have to trust it.”
The WHL schedule, rules and regulations are loosely modeled after professional leagues, with the common thought that it helps prepare players for the rigors of pro hockey. Players get to experience grueling travel, games on back-to-back days and, of course, what it’s like to be traded.
“At the end of the day, they are 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds,” Williams said. “It’s not like the NHL where you trade someone and they’re still making five million dollars. You want to be cautious and accommodating for guys, because there’s a lot more that goes into those trades, than just, hey, we’re moving this guy for this. It can improve your morale in the locker room and it can impact the players inside much more.”
Even though players are reminded, and generally accept, that wheeling and dealing players is part of the business, it doesn’t make the week leading up to the deadline any easier to cope with.
“You see a lot of good guys go,” Silvertips defenseman Wyatte Wylie said. “Obviously to add more pieces, but the good teammates are the toughest ones to let go. … Everyone that we’ve let go of so far has been a great teammate and a great friend.”
Josh Horton covers the Silvertips for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter, @JoshHortonEDH