The 2017-18 WHL regular season was an unforgettable one for the Everett Silvertips. They reeled off a 47-20-2-3 record, winning the U.S. Division, setting themselves up for a playoff run. After dispatching the Seattle Thunderbirds, Portland Winterhawks, and Tri-City Americans, the Silvertips captured their first Western Conference title since their inaugural season.
Ultimately they fell to the Swift Current Broncos in six games in the WHL final. The two wins in the final were their first ever.
After a successful season in a developmental league like the Western Hockey League, there are sure to be departures and the ‘Tips were not immune to them.
After Mitch Love left to take the head coaching job with the Saskatoon Blades and Assistant General Manager Bill La Forge took over for Russ Farwell in Seattle, Everett General Manager Garry Davidson had lots of hiring to do.
“We were very excited that we were able to have the playoff run that we had but the downside was that we lost Mitch (Love – Assistant Coach and Assistant General Manager) and we lost Bill La Forge to Seattle, who became G.M. there and we lost Shane Clifford, our goalie coach so that meant a busy spring interviewing and trying to figure out who would replace them. The positive thing was that we did have Willy (Dennis Williams) coming back. That is why I wanted to keep Mitch the previous year – he gave continuity to our staff. Well now Willy is that continuity,” Davidson said.
While they lost their trio of overage players in forwards Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne and defenseman Kevin Davis, along with signed 20-year-olds Garrett Pilon, Ondrej Vala, and Carter Hart, there are still quite a few players returning.
“I think we were actually a fairly young team and made a very deep run. We’ve got some guys back so we are excited moving forward. Obviously, we’ve lost some very good players but we are hoping that some younger guys will step up and fill those holes.”
The biggest hole to fill has to be in net, where their three-time WHL Goalie-of-the-Year has departed. Everett thinks they have just the guy to step in though in 2001-born Dustin Wolf.
“There’s no doubt that Dustin has some big skates to fill, so to speak, but his track record and resume speak for itself. He was an outstanding Bantam and Midget, had a great 16-year-old year and just had the opportunity to play for the U.S. at the Ivan Hlinka so we feel very excited that we have him to come in and step in for Carter. I think that he is going to do well for us.”
Beyond the stats, Davidson has always been impressed with how Wolf has handled himself.
“That’s the thing. When we evaluated him as a young player – he was always calm and cool. He played a lot of games and did not seem phased by a lot of work. He is a very dedicated player. He has many of the same attributes that Carter Hart had and it’s kind of our focus when we are looking for goaltenders – we are looking for three or four things and those two young men possessed them. I think Dustin always seems to be in control. He’s very mature beyond his years.”
Wolf was not the only young goalie to impress at Everett’s training camp as they now have the 17-year-old Wolf and 16-year-old Blake Lyda as their two goalies.
“Blake has had a very good training camp. He is in control and is relaxed and calm out there. He’s also grown substantially physically since last training camp.”
The prospect of having a duo of goalies so young is not without its concerns for Everett, but Davidson thinks that as long as they maintain their health, they will have a strong couple of netminders, regardless of how young they are.
“There’s a lack of depth in goaltending throughout the whole Western Conference. I’m not exactly sure why but that’s a little concerning if you have an injury. Last year we got off to a slow start because of both of our goalies were out. We will keep our fingers crossed that we stay healthy in that department.”
With so many signed 20-year-olds likely moving on to the pro ranks, Everett had just one 1998-born player in forward Sean Richards coming back. Davidson did add one more in Swift Current Broncos defenseman Sahvan Khaira, but they still have one open spot for another 20-year-old.
“We’ve already made the one deal to acquire (Sahvan) Khaira who is a 20-year-old, so that gives us two guys. We will certainly keep our eyes and ears open to what becomes available. We are certainly not in a rush to do it. We were concerned with that hole a couple years ago when the likes of (Tyson) Jost and (Patrick) Khodorneko – our first and second round picks – decided not to come. With (Carter) Hart signed as well that did not leave us with a lot of depth at that age group. We have two solid ones here now though and we will see what is available.
“It will also depend on how we stack up in a competitive nature within our division and the whole Western Conference.”
A player missing for much of training camp was 1999-born forward Bronson Sharp. He was acquired from Portland at the trade deadline last year and should have an increased role on the team this year.
“He had some health issues. He had surgery. He arrived on Thursday (the 30th). We will have to have one more clearing from the Doctor sometime in September before he will be totally cleared. As soon as he is cleared, he will be back on the ice for us.”
A player who turned a lot of heads at camp and in the Green-White game was 2002-born forward, Brayden Morrison. The 2002-born forward, who is the son of former Vancouver Canucks forward Brendan Morrison, has yet to sign with Everett, but that in no way is a done deal according to Davidson.
“We are hoping he will sign at some point and commit. He went home to Calgary but he did stay a few extra days to see what it was all about. We are still optimistic that at some point we can get him into Everett. Whether that is the near future or for next season we will see. I have a history with his dad Brendan – he did not come play for me at 16 (in the BCHL for Penticton back in 1991-92) but he did come at 17 and I have to appreciate their thinking. They are worried about how he will develop as a 16-year-old, as well as whether he is ready to leave home or not.
“Again the door is wide open because he was very good in camp and I personally think he is ready to play in this league at 16 and would do very well here.”
Someone who will be taking to the ice for a rookie season in the WHL is Slovakian import Peter Melcher, who Everett took in the CHL Import Draft.
“I’ve been very pleased with him. He’s strong on his stick and strong on his feet. He seems to be getting to the areas he has to and he plays with some tempo and speed. It’s still a little early to be totally analytical where his game is at but we will see in the next bunch of exhibition games, but the initial observation has been very positive.”
Two other players to sign in the offseason were Everett’s top WHL Bantam Draft picks, defensemen Olen Zellweger and Ty Gibson. They both impressed in camp.
“They possess good hands and feet and they play the game with some speed and tempo. We are very excited that we got both of them committed to play in the league. After some exhibition games, they will head back to their respective Midget programs for their 15-year-old years and at some point, we will try to get them AP’ed (Affiliate Player assignment) which might give us another opportunity to take a look at them.”
It was not too long ago that Everett was really struggling to sign their top picks, but getting three players drafted to the NHL last June in Riley Sutter, Wyatte Wylie, and Connor Dewar and the playoff run, seems to be paying dividends in getting players to sign.
“Anytime your team makes a run to the league final and have three guys go in the NHL Draft, those are very positive things. I think it’s a tribute to the people that we have here but also to Willy and Mitch – the job they did in coaching the team. I don’t see any reason why that won’t continue and that’s why a player like Brayden stayed a few extra days. I think it’s a really positive thing.”
There does not seem to be any reason why the winning won’t continue in Everett as well, even with all the losses.