Wyatte Wylie signing with the Everett Silvertips on Thursday was a big deal, bigger than you probably realize.
It was a big deal for Wylie, who as a young 16-year-old defenseman now has confirmation that the Tips believe he has the chops to play in the WHL.
It was a big deal for the Tips, who were able to get a commitment from a talented young player who had options with regards to where he continued his hockey development.
But it was perhaps the biggest deal for the city of Everett and the surrounding community in Snohomish County. Wylie’s signing was the final piece in affirming Everett as a true hockey town.
You see, Wylie is a native of Lake Stevens. His official entry into the fold represents the first time a player from Snohomish County has signed on with the Tips. He is the first player from the generation that grew up with the Silvertips to achieve the level necessary to play for the team he rooted for as a child.
It may have taken 13 years, but not only do the Silvertips finally have one of their own locked down, the area is now capable of producing a player the Tips want.
That wasn’t always foreseen. When the idea of WHL hockey in Everett was first broached in 2002, the standard response within the hockey world was accompanied by a snicker.
Hockey in Everett? Really? What makes you think hockey will work in a city with no arena? No hockey history? And most importantly, no built-in hockey base provided by a local youth program? It was an endeavor most thought would blow up like a failed chemistry experiment, leaving singes and soot on owner Bill Yuill’s face.
But Everett proved the doubters wrong. The Tips are in their 13th season in Everett, with six banners hanging from the rafters at Xfinity Arena, and the 8,149-seat facility still regularly plays to a full house when the Tips host the Seattle Thunderbirds on a Saturday night.
And Wylie signing with the Tips demonstrates Everett isn’t just a Silvertips town, it’s now a hockey town for players of all ages and abilities.
“I think it’s very positive for hockey in our area here,” Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson said. “For me, when I arrived here we talked about trying to grow the game. Wyatte got his start here and he’s continued to grow and develop as a player.
“I hope it’s the beginning of many of these players.”
Wylie wasn’t the first Snohomish County native to be drafted by a WHL team. Mill Creek’s Brad LeLievre earned that distinction when he was picked by Seattle in 2010. Wylie wasn’t the first Snohomish County native to be drafted by the Tips. That honor fell to Mill Creek’s Daniel Woolfenden in 2012. Wylie wasn’t even the first Snohomish County native to sign with a WHL team, as Monroe’s Luke Ormsby beat Wylie to the punch by a couple months when he signed with the T-birds in December.
But Wylie, more than anyone, provides the blueprint for any area youngster who has aspirations of one day playing for the hometown team. His first hockey game as a spectator was seeing the Tips. His first taste of organized hockey came when he signed up with Everett Youth Hockey. He stayed with EYH throughout his youth career, becoming the first EYH player ever selected in the bantam draft when he was taken by the Tips in the sixth round in 2014. He even played his first year of midget hockey locally, spending last season with the Everett Junior Silvertips U-16 team.
It used to be that local hockey talents had to go elsewhere in order to find the teammates and competition necessary to develop. Current NHLer T.J. Oshie left to play high school hockey in Minnesota, while Ormsby departed for Los Angeles to play bantam and Phoenix to play midget.
Wylie signing Thursday shows that’s no longer necessary. He’s proven that the local hockey infrastructure has progressed to a point where it’s now possible to reach the highest level as a young hockey player by staying home.
It’s been a long journey for Everett-area youth hockey to reach this point. EYH started up in 2004 in the wake of the Silvertips’ arrival, then received a boost in 2013 when the Tips stepped in to help administer the program. All the kinks haven’t been ironed out yet since the Tips took over, but participation numbers have increased from approximately 160 players to about 270.
And Wylie signing with Everett ticks off that final box on the hockey list that was formed when the Tips arrived in town.
“We’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of good things as an organization, but I think (producing a local Silvertip) was always been in the back of our minds,” said Tips assistant general manager Zoran Rajcic, who’s been around since Day 1. “It’s one of those things you look at and it’s a good day for our organization, it’s a good day for youth hockey in our region. It proves that if they’re looking up as young men and women, they can achieve something. That’s why we’re here, so that those kids can say some day, ‘I may want to be a Silvertip.’ We want to give them the ability to dream.”
Wylie is the first player to turn that dream into reality. But he won’t be the last.
After all, Everett is a hockey town now.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/seattlesidelines, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.