Can’t Miss Games of 2016-17

SPEAKING OF MONDAYS
“Do what you love and you’ll never have a problem with Monday.”

– Unknown

So in case you missed it:

One day closer to every game with you in the seats, and our booth warmed up for your ears on Fox Sports 1380. Games of utter significance:

1. SILVERTIPS at VANCOUVER (9/23/16 – 7:05pm): Obvious reason, it’s the season opener. The Silvertips will lift the lid a little closer to home than last year – just a two hour trek for #SilvertipCountry to make north this time, versus roughly 12 to Prince George. Bajkov, Millar, Gerth, Juulsen, Christiansen, Davis, and Fairbrother: names from B.C., with families ready to visit should they make the trip. Assistant coach Brennan Sonne is from that neck of the woods. The boys in green also get to the be the first visitors to help give the Langley Events Center a spin, an interesting move for the Giants by downgrading from the spacious and historic but costly 17,000+ seat Pacific Coliseum to the modernized but smaller 5,276-seat Langley Events Centre. All I just hope for is the Giants transfer of the incredible Tim Hortons press room spread to the new township.

2. SILVERTIPS vs. VANCOUVER (9/24/16 – 7:05pm): Opening Night in your backyard is always special. For months, I’ve encountered individuals with Silvertips ties to the seats, expressing how much they’ve missed the electricity at the 8,150+ seat venue on the corner of Hewitt and Broadway, the roar of the goal horn, the smells from the concourse, and the splash of green cruising across the icy tapestry of XFINITY Arena. Vancouver didn’t make the playoffs last year, but they have a new direction with head coach Jason McKee, hired by new GM Glen Hanlon.

3. SILVERTIPS at PORTLAND (9/30/16 – 7:00pm): Funny how we’re 3 of 3 for games into the season (no, we’re not covering 72 of 72 – I don’t have all day)? This will be the first matchup since last season’s first round of the playoffs. The Winterhawks may have several players moving on who felt the sting of the Silvertips sweep in the opening round, but Mike Johnston has returned as head coach after being let go by the Penguins, which needless to say should make things a little on the competitive side. Whether we’re at Moda Center or the Coliseum, things have manufactured a tendency to end on the knee-knocking and fun side.

4. SILVERTIPS vs SEATTLE (10/15/16 – 7:05pm): First time the Tips and T-Birds play for keeps since meeting in the second round, last season. And understanding these games tend to pack the corner of Hewitt and Broadway to the brim, the extra promotional decorum of the Silvertips’ annual breast cancer fundraising tends to elevate the ticket demand. Good seats will not last long here. My hope is the place is electric again for the denizens of Snohomish County and Kent, and everybody wins (in the name of pink) for a great night out. October may still provide a “getting to know you” process when it comes to new players, but it doesn’t matter what season – these two teams, separated minutes through the 405, always bring the heat.

5. SILVERTIPS at BRANDON (2/10/17 – 5:30pm PT): First time in two years the Silvertips will visit Westman Place (my first). By this time, the glow of a WHL championship will have faded from Brandon’s complexion and all you’ll most likely hear about is “the playoff push.” Nonetheless, the sole matchup of the season against last season’s WHL champions will still retain a degree of charm, the names you could hear from have thick NHL potential (Juulsen? Hart? Patrick? Clague?). Devon Skoleski, Connor Dewar, Lucas Skrumeda, and Mario Petit will probably bring a thick ticket list as MB residents. And it’ll be the start of a six-game odyssey through every team in the East Division (I’ve been told to not pack the board shorts) in February. Plenty of team bonding time ahead.

HONORABLE MENTION: Any other game against Portland, Seattle, Kelowna (take note too: MLK Day home game at 2:05pm). There will be passion and fire in the stands, there will be force and intensity from the ice, and there will probably be plenty of one-goal games. That’s just the way these things tend to work. There were 14 of them between all of those teams last year. That’s plenty of juice.

Drink it up!

NEXT WEEK: Hart’s drafted, the CHL Import Draft has passed, and more. We’ll have a lot to cover.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here

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TUESDAY’S TAKES: Canada Tips, Rule Changes, Oilers Hart Check

SPEAKING OF MONDAYS TUESDAY MORNING:

“I only need coffee on days ending in -Y.”
– Unknown

The countdown is on: 95 days until opening night at XFINITY Arena. This is filed on a Tuesday – a rarity – because we had sudden news hit the desk regarding four Silvertips and the door opening to Hockey Canada. So, a day late but not a buck short, here we go:

  • DRAFT DAY: T-minus three days and counting for Carter Hart. The latest, from the Edmonton Oilers (who’ve been doing a lot of profiling on the Sherwood Park native and Tips goaltender lately). I’ll have a conversation ready with Carter Hart later this week, the final one he’ll provide the Silvertips website before NHL Draft Day (keep in mind, we’ll have more with him as he prepares for the 2016-17 season here in Everett … but it’s our last before a career-defining seminal moment).

  • A GIANT OPENER: Last week, the Silvertips announced the home opener on Sept. 24 against the Vancouver Giants at XFINITY Arena, completing a “home-and-home” series with Vancouver and featuring back-to-back home openers (the Giants will open their new digs in Langley, the night prior against the Tips). While this is totally not uncommon, the announcement delivers a new dynamic in the Silvertips home schedule: opening fresh out of the starting blocks – something that hasn’t happened this early since the start of the 2013-14 season. Tips fans won’t have to wait two weeks to see the evolved squad, in living color, in the home digs. On top of it, Langley is roughly a two hour drive north, providing an accessible outlet for Tips fans on the road.

  • RULE CHANGES: Important to note – you’ll be subject to rule changes that mimic the evolution of the NHL next season, and no joke – they’re outstanding.


    – I love the introduction of hybrid icing (bottom line, the concept of “icing” only comes into play when a player for one team is first to the face-off dot – nearby his defending goal line – when chasing a cleared puck by the opposing team. The whistle would then blow as normal. If the team who cleared the puck has a player first to the face-off dot, then icing is waved off and play continues). This is all done in respect to safety, and eliminating dangerous and potentially violent and career-threatening injuries that result from collisions at the end boards from “foot races” for pucks – that was at least the NHL’s case when they used to have full blown foot races determine icing. Here, it prepares players for NHL-like conditions.

  • A kicked-in puck? That’s now OK (on one condition) … I realize Silvertips fans have sore spots after Josh Uhrich’s goal in Game 4 of the second round last season (as a reminder: the goal – admittedly much to some chagrin – was legal). Now, the interpretation is supposed to be as clear as crystal. If you’re in the crease, no skates allowed. Period. If you’re not in the crease, using skates to deflect pucks in: totally fine. Maybe it’s a tactic to be more clear in defining the legality of a goal (because, previously you’d have two human beings in stripes using subjective argument to decide if a puck was kicked in or not). Now, it’s a rule intended to be more clear. Not to mention, intended to increase scoring.

Note: this is a rule currently nonexistent in the NHL, AHL, ECHL and NCAA. This is potentially a trendsetter.

  • Let’s have a review upstairs (with more bells and whistles) … this one will fly right over the heads of fans night after night, simply because they won’t be able to see “behind the curtain.” But believe me, this is a big one, with Hawk-Eye Innovations (manufacturer of the video replay system used in the NHL and MLB) now providing enhanced video replay to all WHL teams in time for the upcoming season. “Improved capabilities” for all video replay will be available, to which, if you’re aligning your forces and resources with the NHL, that’s a good thing.

  • HOCKEY CANADA GETS A SHADE OF GREEN: Four Silvertips were named to the Hockey Canada “Summer Showcase”, which launched last year and splits into three different age groups: the U-20 main World Junior Camp, the U-18 camp, and the U17 development camp. Importantly, Hart and Noah Juulsen return to no one’s surprise at the U-20 camp. Both came within smelling distance of nailing a roster spot at the World Junior Championships, and coincidentally avoided the experience of the much-documented shortfall in Finland. There’s a new head coach in Dominique Ducharme who wants to change the current narrative.

For those who are confused on how this works: the WJC roster selection process works now in “stages.”

  1. We’re at “stage 1”: the Summer Showcase with games against other countries. Rosters will then be narrowed.
  2. Stage 2 is the “Canada-Russia Series,” where both Hart and Juulsen played last year. Rosters will then be narrowed.
  3. Stage 3 is the final camp in December, whereupon the team will be picked.

For Brett Kemp and Gianni Fairbrother, it’s not just a landmark day in their careers to be selected among the elite to participate in camp for the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, but a testifying moment for the Silvertips program. They pick the good ones, the good ones stand out above the rest, and playing in the Silvertips program opens the door to magnificent country-representing opportunities. Incredible to consider, the leadership that’s involved in this: assistant coach Mitch Love was tabbed for the second straight year to serve as a coach for Hockey Canada in this section of the development corridor.

  • ON VEGAS: Hockey is pretty much good-to-go when it comes to Las Vegas, and its another terrific moment for the sport’s growth where it hasn’t reached as far as other cold-weather associated regions. Worth mentioning here, since this is a WHL blog, and there is a WHL connection. Props to Kelowna Rockets voice Regan Bartel for this fascinating chat with Tyler Mosienko, a former Rocket who forged several productive years in the ECHL and Europe (I had the pleasure of working with him in Alaska three seasons ago – he’s a gentleman).


    HOT TAKE ALERT: Vegas and the NHL will work, but on one condition – assuming it’s marketed heavily to tourism consumers, not just the loyal residents. Las Vegas is recovering from a housing market crash and receives strong visitor volume, most recently with over 41 million tourists (a new record) in 2014.  I had the pleasure of visiting Las Vegas on the road trip stop for the first nine years of my career when the ECHL’s Wranglers played at Orleans Arena, a venue seating a little under 9,000. Some nights: the place was packed (they even had a traditional “Midnight Game” there, which sold well and wrecked the sleeping pattern of yours truly for three days after, in 2011-12). Other nights, there would be crickets and an announced crowd of 3,000+, but no more than 1,500 in the building. It has the foundation of loyal die-hards who want to see major league entertainment, now the challenge will be to fill in the blanks with people “just passing through for a good time.” I think based on the right people they hire to sell the game, it will be fine.

  • FREE STROMBO: Disappointed to see George Stroumboulopoulos out as host of Hockey Night in Canada. This is in no way intended to be critical of the decision makers tied to Rogers, or even Ron MacLean (who is remarkable and synonymous with hockey on TV across the world as Bob Costas with baseball, Jim Nantz with college basketball, and syrup on ice cream), who will reportedly come back to the host position – a spot where he is proven, respected, and decorated. I live in the U.S. but, since moving to the Pacific Northwest, have gratefully gained access to Hockey Night in Canada thanks to my sweet Xfinity cable package. This is me as a TV viewer explaining this.


    What is this tied to is a fresh personality who delivered the game in a unique way. I didn’t mind it. And now it’s gone. He had massive shoes to fill when he took the role, and stick tap to him for his dedication to do his best. True, that “Strombo” had a different sense of fashion than the status quo. True, that Strombo wasn’t a big network or NHL team hockey host by origin (his VJ ties would be like Carson Daly chosen to host your *fill in the blank* sport on TV).


    Yes, he was different. But Strombo has a passion for the sport that translates to a host’s necessary duties. More importantly, his delivery and personality communicated authenticity. I like that. His interview skills were exceptional (note: disarming and comfortable). I appreciated that. Sometimes people don’t like “different.” Nothing wrong with that. But I embraced the approach of “fresh,” and hope to see Strombo pop up on another well deserving place soon.

    On a necessary extended note, I like MacLean and admire his style on TV. It’ll be great to see his return to the main host chair. His familiar and reverent approach engages countless viewers on television and has become interlaced with the game’s rich tapestry. Had the pleasure of shaking his hand at the NHL All-Star Game 15 years ago in Los Angeles. He’s as genuine and friendly in real life as through a TV screen. So here’s to wishing the viewer wins, George wins, and Ron wins, in the long run.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here

Best third/specialty jerseys, ranked

My eight years spent with the Stockton Thunder called for more than just jumping on a headset at 7:35 p.m. Cultivating relationships in the media, contributing to a website, even helping sell product (see: corporate advertising, tickets) provided a full time paycheck.

I’m forever grateful: it eliminated hectic “summer job prospecting” that some individuals are subject to once the curtain drops on the season, and provided opportunities to learn the nuances of a well-rounded skill set (it pays to help “preach the team gospel” through the wonderful world of digital media and advertising sales).

But I digress! Part of the gospel-selling included illustrating really cool jerseys that were worn on an occasional, or even sometimes rare basis. The ECHL wasn’t a factory of publicity that was  built on the tenets of superstar player advancement. You had to illustrate “the show,” not just “the cast of characters.”

One-of-a-kind jerseys often get this kind of treatment. They’re a moving tapestry. They’re a part of our team wardrobe. They engage dialogue. When I was with the Thunder, many of them were cool (shout-out to Bryan Boyes – a mastermind behind them).

My favorites that stand out, all-time:

  1. THIRD JERSEY (2009-15)etumm67mhd4r5iepbfw8upjwwMany of us on the inside were aching for a third jersey for a while. But the “powers that be” wanted to conservatively promote the primary home/away jerseys to avoid confusing new fans from what was primary, and what was “third.”thunder 3rd

    This is still my favorite. I loved the tie-down touch. I loved the high-impact gold colored base. I loved the edgy, abrasive numbering style on the back. It was unique. It popped.

    Many of the players and head coach Matt Thomas couldn’t get enough of them.

    It was flexible for home or road games (the reason the Thunder actively chose to wear it for their entire playoff runs in 2012 and 2013 for both home and road – exception – first 3 games of the Kelly Cup Final in white or black jerseys because the league told them they had to wear those instead). They began as a “fifth anniversary season” addition, and became a permanent staple.

 

2. THUNDER GOES PINK, BLACK BASE (2010-15) 

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For all the breast cancer survivor tribute games (take it from me: the front office promotional wheel did a tremendous job bringing these games to life), these were the best looking threads. Loved the black base and the appropriate pink accent. Up until 2013-14 (my first season spent elsewhere), the Thunder only wore black helmets. These were a perfect match.

3. MILITARY APPRECIATION (2012-13) 

021513-WellerMilitary-FRONT
Clean. Crisp. Appropriate. And (selfish broadcaster preference alert) with back numbers that were easy to decipher from way upstairs!

4. “GOLDEN SEALS” THROWBACKS (2009-10)

fho23ek7pqyz8a2pebc1ncwxbThese weren’t even close to what the Seals of the 70’s wore, but the front office had a little bit of fun mixing in some throwback aesthetics. When Edmonton Oilers broadcaster Jack Michaels (back then with the Alaska Aces) and I glared at the ice and noticed the Thunder black/golds matched with the Aces “glacier blues,” we joked it looked like a Pittsburgh Penguins throwback game. But I loved the threads. Many Thunder fans who adored the design marveled at a simple nod to “old time hockey”: block lettering. “STOCKTON” in descending order. Tie-down laces. They were a classic. I wish I own one.

5. ST. PATRICK’S DAY (2011-12) 

thunder
When you have a little fun with a pleasurable March holiday, you can’t go wrong with a shade of green. The design was unique and original, but didn’t “try to do too much.” Differentiating Kevin Baker’s bright, popping “71” from a black base was easy.

Keep in mind: this list is based on pure aesthetics, absent from any kind of humanitarian message delivered with the associated promotion. It wouldn’t be fair to bring breast cancer, military appreciation, etc. into this kind of discussion. The jerseys here are just for us to enjoy.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. He was the original voice of the Stockton Thunder (ECHL) – where he had his first hockey job, met his wife and got married, so his eight years there were pretty special.  Tweet at him here

MONDAY MATTERS: It’s the offseason, and Mitch Love is in midseason form.

SPEAKING OF MONDAYS:

“May your clothes be comfy, your coffee be strong, and your Monday be short.”

– Unknown

  1. CARTER HART WATCH: The NHL Entry Draft is 11 days away.

 

  1. THE END: Pygoscelis antarctica* 4 – Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos** 2 for the Stanley Cup. And now we have summer. Everyone’s done. Brandon gets the WHL trophy, London takes the entire CHL marbles, Allen imbibes the ECHL hardware, Lake Erie seizes the Calder Cup, and the Penguins drink the brandy from Lord Stanley (tribute to Mike Lange).

So how did it happen? Culminating a year featuring a coaching change (out: Mike Johnston, in: Mike Sullivan), a newfound goaltending story, and the resurgence of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins were just flat-out better. They were faster. They delivered speed throughout the entire lineup. That’s zero disrespect to the San Jose Sharks. Martin Jones required 44 saves to keep San Jose alive in Game 5. Logan Couture went to the next level.

But aside from the critical, Final shaping goals by Nick Bonino in Game 1 and Conor Sheary in Game 2, this goal defined the difference the in series.

This is Crosby in a nutshell: breakneck speed, but in full control. And just another garden variety, backhand pass on the tape for a goal. Adore him? Prefer another player suited to your “taste”? Fine. But watch him. Because Sidney Crosbys don’t grow on trees.

After all, James Mirtle nailed it: he’s one of the best. Ever.

* Penguins   ** Sharks

By the way: did you see yet another amazing version of “The End,” brought to you by Hockey Night?

  1. LOVE TO SHARE THE STORY: Today began with a refreshing reminder on how much life is ahead of you in middle school. Mitch Love shared more this morning at Mt. Pilchuck Middle School, for a graduation ceremony. When you’re a respected assistant coach and have a gold medal, engaging an audience isn’t hard. Part of his message that I love:

“How many of us in this room play sports? (**raise of hands**) Lots. The beauty of sports: it teaches you life lessons. All the time. When I was sitting there, and had someone tell me the same thing, I laughed at him. I did. Because we think we know it all. But now that I’m a coach, and I’m the guy standing up here, man … isn’t that true – you live, you learn. Everything you do in life. Adversity, teamwork, work ethic, all those things come into play in life. Mom and Dad get up in the morning. They go to work so they can provide for you. They learned those lessons going through school.”

Fast forward 15 minutes later through Mitch’s address and a short Q & A session: countless kids (and even parents) had absorbed a fascinating educational experience on adversity, and the possibility of overcoming a career-ending injury, and the joys of shaping young lives through coaching and teaching. For kids taking a middle school diploma, it might be one of the best days they’ll have in a long time (thanks, “Mrs. Larson” and Brandy Hackney, for making the trip possible).

  1. O’ CANADA: Mitch Love returning to the Hockey Canada scene is incredible on different levels. First, his resume continues to get heavier. Second, it’s a diamond for the Silvertips testimony, relayed to future Tips (come play here and this is the world-class coaching you’ll receive). Lastly, it’s another bolt in the foundation that we’re witnessing, in the continuous build of a hockey factor in Everett. Mitch’s resume is well deserving of the incredible honor, and many benefit from it.
  1. GET WELL, DAVE: Sometimes in this blog space, I’ll jot down names behind the mic you may have heard of. This isn’t intended to shamelessly name drop. It’s a tribute to those who’ve helped shape who I am and how I work today. That being said, I don’t know Dallas Stars/NBC play-by-play voice Dave Strader. I do know people who know him. And the accounts are unanimous: tremendous broadcaster (to which I agree with) and better human being. He’s been an enjoyable listen for decades. So it’s with a gut-punch to relay the news that Dave is now battling cancer.

We don’t know how long he’ll be undergoing treatments. We don’t know how long this battle will go on for. We do know that for his amount of service, and the amount of ears he’s delivered a spectacular experience, the hockey world is surrounding him with everlasting support.

You got this, Dave.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here

My Defining Gordie Howe Image

I never met Gordie Howe. I know plenty of people who have. That’s refreshing enough.

But it’s almost like I met Gordie Howe when reading Wayne Gretzky’s 1990 autobiography for a junior high english class. From the account of The Great One, Howe was big, strapping, and fierce. But off the ice, he melted into a gentle and thermal personality almost like your favorite Grandpa.

Wayne got that first hand experience as a 10-year old in 1972, when Mr. Hockey visited Gretzky’s hometown of Brantford, Ontario. Gretzky, who idolized Howe as a youngster, got nearly a face full of Howe’s blade.

howe-gretzky

Gretzky said, “It went on to be one of the most popular pictures I’ve ever signed.”

It’s said a picture is worth 1,000 words. There’s nothing like seeing how incredible this photo turns out. It defines the Howe / Gretzky relationship. Howe, already with plenty of years and Stanley Cups behind him, meets his heir to the throne. Except the heir wouldn’t really take the throne until 1989 (in points) and 1994 (in goals). That’s a long road ahead.

What a history they’d have. And in 1972, they had only just begun.

Thanks for the history #9, whether we got to see you play.

Or not. RIP, Mr. Hockey.

Photo courtesy Reuters 

Monday Matters: The Pupil Learned Well.

SPEAKING OF MONDAYS:

“Step aside Monday, this is a job for coffee.”

– Unknown

  • THE PUPIL LEARNED WELL: The timing couldn’t be better with Kevin Constantine’s fingerprints all over Joel Ward’s development, and the jumbo sized sharing of such an incredible story. If you need a refresher: Ward played at the major junior level. He then cashed his education chips for school/hockey at the CIS level. He then latched on with the Minnesota Wild organization (enter Constantine). He then reached the NHL level in 2008-09, has not left it since, and has elevated to Stanley Cup Playoff stardom. He’s essentially been involved in nearly every big playoff goal this decade with the Sharks, Capitals, and Predators.

How’d he get there? Constantine had a lot to do with it. I’m not sure there’s a more direct, tell-tale quote like “he taught me how to play pro hockey the right way.”

If not for Ward, the Sharks could be facing a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final tonight (more below).

  • CARDIO, IT’S GOOD FOR THE HART: Pedaling as fast as you can for a lengthier, predetermined amount of time is not easy. This is a test commonly referred to as the infamous “VO2max,” which includes a bike, a mask, light clothing, and every muscle fiber in your legs and lungs at the NHL Scouting Combine.

Fun: a.k.a. the aerobic fitness: VO2max test. Carter Hart took top honor. Link + drop box has full results from Buffalo.

Obviously, the Scouting Combine is more than just pedaling, jumping, reaching, and note taking. There’s an interview process involved by every interested team, and Hart admitted to having over 20 teams speak with him, in a great chat here with Tom Gazzola, reporter for Oilers TV. (VIDEO) Go look here now.

I can’t imagine how many ticket requests Hart (who grew up in Sherwood Park – 22 minutes of a drive away) would have on a nightly basis if the Oilers are in his future. Hart’s looking to become the first goaltender taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft since Malcolm Subban was taken by the Boston Bruins four years ago. The draft starts two weeks from this Friday, in Buffalo. We’ll be following.

Noteworthy to illustrate Liwiski’s 91 points in 35 games with the Parkland Rangers Bantam AAA squad (2nd in his league), Vitelli’s club leading 69 points in 34 games with the Winnipeg Warriors, and Belluk’s 13-5-0 record in 18 games with the Eastman Selects.

  • (FAIR)BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE AN AWARD: Big news for Silvertips defenseman Gianni Fairbrother, who made his WHL debut in second round action against the Seattle Thunderbirds (and on this account from the booth, didn’t look out of place). He’s heading into next season with a heavier resume. Big congrats to Fairbrother, awarded Most Valuable Player and Top Defenseman honor with the Burnaby Winter Club Elite 15 squad.

Fairbrother was the highest scoring defenseman on the Elite 15 club last season with 18 points in 35 games, also ranking second in playoff scoring with four assists in four games. FYI: 2015 d-man draftee Ian Walker was one regular season point behind him.

  • STANLEY CUP FINAL, GAME 4 TONIGHT: Joonas Donskoi brought the Sharks back in the series, and Finnish announcers (well, everyone really) out of their seats.

DVR worthy: Metallica (who aren’t shy about their Bay Area roots) will perform the national anthem tonight in San Jose. Their guitars will then be up for auction, producing a winning bid which would probably set my family’s budget deficit into a sinkhole the size of Oregon.

Puck drop is 5pm PT (TV: NBC / CBC). You’ve also got the option of syncing the radio feed with one of the top listens in the game – Dan Rusanowsky (a terrific broadcaster and better human being) – whose story is a great one.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here