Edmonton vs. Winnipeg: and WHL Alumni Across the Board


This is a night where the main objective is to catch up with another lifetime member of the Everett Silvertips alumni corps, now in NHL quarters. But with the Silvertips around for one more night in Edmonton, Alberta the preparations for Red Deer on Tuesday’s matchup with the Rebels means one more taste of the NHL environment.

It also means one special night at the sparking new Rogers Place in downtown, the 18,000+ seat marvel that is the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization. The Oilers main attraction is Connor McDavid – we know the robust resume he’s already building in his third year in “The Show” – but the lineup is littered with WHL alumni, a league featuring nearly 150 league graduates on opening night rosters for NHL teams.

One of them, still with current WHL ties, is forward Kailer Yamamoto, eligble to return in his draft plus-one year with the Spokane Chiefs. But he was so good in training camp, the Oilers penciled him into the starting lineup on opening night.

Here they are, categorized by tonight’s rosters:

GOALIES:
Edmonton: Laurent Brossoit

DEFENSEMEN:
Edmonton: Kris Russell
Winnipeg: Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey, Tyler Myers

FORWARDS:
Edmonton: Jujhar Khaira, Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Winnipeg: Adam Lowry, Nic Petan, Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey

IN-GAME: The Oilers outshot the Jets, 21-11 in the first period fell behind 2-0 … the WHL alumni corps took care of the deficit … Leon Draisaitl (Prince Alberta, Kelowna) finished a Connor McDavid feed between the circles, then 40 seconds later Red Deer Rebels alumnus Ryan Nugent-Hopkins raced behind the defense for a breakaway goal for a 2-2 tie in the second period … Winnipeg scores the last three (natural hat trick, Nikolaj Ehlers), wins 5-2 … Yamamoto’s second game in an Oilers sweater ended with the search continuing for his first career point, in spite of four shots and a pair of hits in a little less than 12 minutes of ice (his two penalty minutes came at a critical moment: with less than 3 minutes left in regulation, leading to Ehlers’ hat trick goal on the power play).

Note: Khaira, moved up to second line duty in the Oilers 3-0 win over Calgary last Friday in the 2017-18 opener, was scratched from the lineup for the first time this season. But our plan is to catch up with him before the end of the night and get the scoop on the transition of his game into the next level of his career. He’s one of 15 Tips alumni with NHL experience.

More on journey into the NHL, on video.

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ROAD TIPPIN: Through Alberta, and Back, 2017-18 Edition

This continuous blog is meant for more just to give you a location of where we are and what we’re doing. As the Everett Silvertips roll through the reaches of Alberta (and Cranbrook, B.C.), it’s our duty to make this road trip come to life. As Vin Scully once said, “pull up a chair.”


OCT. 14-16
MILES: 189 / 484
DRIVING TIME: 3.5 hours to Cranbrook, BC / 8 hours back home 

One more run to go, then it’s back home. Patrick was actually spotted walking the golf course in the morning (hey, whatever gets you going!).

Nobody touched the ice until game time, save the middle-of-the night drop the players off/then head to the arena/drop off bags at the dressing room/go back to sleep and hit lights out at 4:45 am.

Team breakfast wasn’t until 10:30 am. You bet there was an alarm for 10am.

For some reason, the St. Eugene Resort had a feeling we’d have Instagram ready to go.

2 hockey nets outside the hotel. It's autumn. Greetings from Canada. 🇨🇦🍁

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Western Financial Place is the tiny, compact home of rising star Peyton Krebs, and a projected renaissance under GM Matt Cockell and head coach James Patrick. Former NHL’ers Jon Klemm and Roman Vopat are on staff. The Ice (or, “ICE” as they prefer for marketing purposes) have a new logo, so it’s a new look in more ways than one. They want the glory days of last decade again.

Tough loss for the Tips, who hadn’t allowed a goal to Kootenay since the Obama administration (2014-15, when Kootenay won 4-3 in OT at XFINITY Arena). Jeff de Wit broke a shutout streak in the series of over 125 minutes. The Tips took awhile to get on the board, but finally broke through on Jake Christiansen’s power play goal. It looked good when Riley Sutter deflected a 3-2 goal at the crease.

Then, on the fourth game in five days, the car ran out of gas. Kootenay scored three times to take a 5-3 win. Happy or not, the finish line of the longest road trip of the season finally had arrived. A quarter of the road schedule is done, and we’re not even at the World Series yet.

Four hours of sleep on the bus led to an arrival at 6am. After putting a few things away, the time to hit pillow at home majestically came at 6:45. That’s good for a 15 minute nap because my nearly three-year old son was up at 7am. I hit a wall at 10am. My lovely pregnant wife, Amy (who is a rock star for taking care of the house and family during the trip), encouraged a one-hour nap on the bed while she watched Hallmark and Lukas enjoyed a Blippi! video on the iPad). She had an ulterior motive.

What do you get when you mix a 7am arrival, one hour nap, spare toddler toys and a mischievous wife?

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Good to be home.


OCT. 11-13 – RED DEER TO MEDICINE HAT TO LETHBRIDGE
MILES: 253
DRIVING TIME: Four hours (the RD to MH part) 

WEDNESDAY: Canalta Centre is a pretty swanky place. I know, it doesn’t have the history dripping from the rafters that are splashed from the hockey gods blessed residue of Trevor Linden, Kelly Hrudey, Lanny MacDonald, and so on. Unfortunately, I never touched the place. My first year with the Tips was 2015-16, the Tigers first season in their new state-of-the-art digs and at one point had a dicey situation.

But it’s got every bell and whistle you could ask for. The dressing room is spacious and adequate, the walk to the bench is short, the broadcast booth is adequately well-wired and clean, and the infrastructure is terrific. It’s better than some venues that host American Hockey League teams.

Trevor Linden was here (sort of).

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The day is routine: prepare with a meal, head to the game, say hi to the mic grandmaster Bob Ridley (when you have a press boxed named after you, it’s fine for people to seriously call you “legend”), wrap it up after. The Tips lost a heartbreaker 5-4, almost tied it with 7.2 seconds left on an extra attacker, and could have taken a different outcome if not for mistakes leading to two early first period goals and one with 1.3 left in the period.

We’ll be staying here awhile … all the way until Friday as well. That’s fine.

Shout out to video coach Patrick Pajak and his trusty portable printer that follows him everywhere on the road. I had issues with printing my broadcast homework (read: “spotting boards,” that have 2-3 hours worth of research at your fingertips), failed to get the hotel printer working, and was saved by Patrick’s offer to print the collateral on the bus, en route to the game. Patrick’s a good dude, serious golfer, follows the Colorado Avalanche, loves the Houston Astros, and always a riot of a dinner guest. Give him a shout on Twitter sometime  (even though he unfollowed me for welcoming his once beloved St. Louis Rams back to my longtime home of Los Angeles).

THURSDAY: Reason? I’m low on laundry. Yours truly forgot the Monday in Edmonton was Canadian Thanksgiving, therefore limited to unavailable services on laundry from Saturday through Tuesday. Luckily the hotel had a sweet and convenient coin-op option, so I’m back in the game.

Practice at Canalta Centre was purely for the intent to get extra touches on pucks and keep the body fresh before the home stretch. Afterward: the equipment gets moved into a spare room, because the incoming Saskatoon Blades need the dressing room for Thursday night, heading into their road game at Canalta Centre on Friday. It’s almost like we had a mini convention.

FRIDAY: Another one of those “three cities in one day venture.” Up and at ’em in Medicine Hat, board the bus at 2pm, into Lethbridge for the big tilt, off and running to the next city (Cranbrook, BC).

Lethbridge has another mid-size feel but stacks in the venue essentials. I’m a big fan of their “gondola” booth set up. You can’t miss any action. Tips executive and Consolidated Sports Holdings COO Zoran Rajcic still has family in the area, so it wasn’t surprising to see him around the place – he may know every face, fan, and food fare in the joint.

The Tips also welcomed new affiliated player call-up Blake Lyda. Though 15 years old and almost five months removed from being selected by the Tips in the WHL draft, his growth over the summer made his signing a top priority, giving the Tips Carter Hart, Dustin Wolf, and Lyda one solid goaltending pipeline.

Dorrin Luding stopped enough to give the Tips a comeback Bryce Kindopp and Riley Sutter tagged the Hurricanes for two goals apiece, and the bus ride into Cranbrook had more of a relaxed, easy feeling after a 4-3 comeback win. The Tips only had one win last year when trailing after two periods. They now gained their second in two weeks.


OCT. 10 – RED DEER, JUST FOR THE GAME
MILES: 95
DRIVING TIME: One hour and 45 minutes

Woke up in Edmonton, head hit pillow in Medicine Hat. In between, game preparations in downtown Edmonton (the Silvertips had no ice availability) which turned the morning into classroom sessions to prepare the mind for the 2.5 task at Red Deer.

Kevin Davis, one of the top defensemen in the WHL, wouldn’t be available for the night due to illness. While Davis needed rest for the day, it led Tips coaches Dennis Williams and Mitch Love to shuffle the defensemen for Wednesday night’s game, giving more opportunity for a row of defensemen looking for boosted ice time. Hence, like the Seahawks preach, “next man up.”

Onto the bus. Red Deer is a smidge less of two hours for a drive from Edmonton, so it’s no different than commuting to Langley for a game against the Vancouver Giants.

Enmax Centrium is a stellar major junior venue. Seating a little over 7,100 fans and hosting the Memorial Cup tourney in 2016, its climb to the press box is steep and a “stairs only” obligation (try that carrying 60 pounds worth of equipment – never skip leg day, boys and girls). Everything else is terrific. The sightlines are crisp, the press box gondola is expansive, and the amenities upstairs are NHL standard.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was here.

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Cam Moon, the voice of the Rebels, is one of my favorite hellos in the league. His call and resume are self explanatory, but he’s an engaged and friendly personality (we also grew up Los Angeles Dodgers fans. Celebrating the 3-0 sweep over Arizona in the NLDS was a pretty easy topic of conversation).

The score? Tips lose 4-1, but for a young team still adjusting to the early season, puck possession times and scoring chances in the third suggested momentum to be carried over Wednesday. Ethan Browne collected his first career assist on a crisp and nifty offensive zone face-off win, immediately snapping the puck into Orrin Centazzo’s wheelhouse for the game tying goal.

Mitch Love expressed optimism on the postgame show.

The bus arrived at 3am to dump bags into Canalta Centre. Finally, bed time – it felt good.

 


OCT. 7-9 – EDMONTON, HERE 3 DAYS
MILES: 0
DRIVING TIME: none. Rogers Place is around the block. You walk there. 

MONDAY: No ice for the Silvertips. Four games in five days are coming up, so it’s another day to put the mind to work with one last full day in Edmonton. Two guest speakers met up with the Tips in the morning: former NHL tough guy Matt Kassian (Ottawa, Minnesota), who dropped by the team’s breakfast in downtown Edmonton to share words of wisdom on what it takes to reach the NHL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then with the help of Winnipeg assistant coach (and former Portland bench boss) Jamie Kompon, the Tips earned a special privilege to observe morning skate in the seats of Rogers Arena, and keep their eye on the details of the top players in the world (FYI: all-world talent Patrick Laine is a large man, and has the release of a bazooka). Kompon’s words to the Silvertips, after morning skate, struck a loud tone: “in the NHL, nothing is given … everything is earned.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Kompon coached a Tips U.S. Division rival, the hockey world’s a small world, and his speech was an embodiment of people being willing to help people, regardless of past battle lines. He’s a terrific man.

The Tips had to load bags onto the bus that morning, and move through the Winnipeg Jets hall-wide game of “sewer ball.” Yours truly was the first to ask the Jets to “excuse us for a moment, gentlemen” … while every Silvertip with bag, trunk, and equipment paraded through the paused game.

Thanks for pausing, Mr. Laine, Mr. Ehlers, and Mr. Wheeler.

Evening: Oilers vs. Jets, McDavid vs. Laine. It’s my first ever NHL live game in “north of the border” circumstances, so it’s extra special. Connor McDavid is frighteningly fast. Not to mention, it’s a battle featuring over 10 players on both rosters with WHL ties. Intrigue lies everywhere. The Tips theoretically became the first team to see Kailer Yamamoto (who is eligible to return to Spokane) this season. Another dub grad, Tips alumnus Jujhar Khaira, caught up with us after the game (Winnipeg won, 5-2 on Nikolaj Ehlers’ natural hat trick) for reflection on his time in Everett. He’s a gentleman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oilers voice Jack Michaels and I go back several years, while sharing the experience as former Alaska Aces play-by-play announcers. Other friends across both teams continued to buzz through the press box – so while the night was on working conditions for yours truly, the opportunity to catch up with old friends (and make some new ones) was invaluable.

 

Alaska Aces / ECHL radio alumni reunion.

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(Thanks, Oilers media relations guru and friend-in-the-biz J.J. Hebert for credentialing and the gracious grant of a working space. Rogers Place is a happening scene, and the Oilers are a hot ticket. He’s a pro and even better guy.)  


SUNDAY: Condensed day and condensed preparations for the Tips and Edmonton Oil Kings. It’s also a slightly condensed work environment – the Winnipeg Jets, who’ve followed the Tips from Calgary, are on the practice sheet as the Tips roll into Rogers Place for the 4pm puck drop.

You know what happened: things didn’t come together, and the Tips suffered a disappointing 5-1 defeat on Trey Fix-Wolansky’s three point game.

More on the press box: it’s high, and it’s slightly pushed back. I’m told by an unnamed broadcasting source within the NHL that the only higher booth is Prudential Center in New Jersey. All of that aside (you’re still able to track the puck and players, and reading breakouts are a breeze), it’s a gorgeous venue. Every item you could think of that embraces the 21st century approach to a modern sports structure was thought of and installed. I’m grateful to get a game in this place.

SATURDAY: Into Edmonton after an overnight trip for 3.5 hours into the most northern city in the National Hockey League. The Edmonton Oilers, who also run the Oil Kings, moved into the state-of-the-art Rogers Place last season, an 18,347 seat venue that is an engineering marvel stretching through downtown Edmonton.

The Tips moved into the facilities at 1:30am to deposit bags at the dressing room, and basically gawk for five minutes at the architecture that Connor McDavid presumably will make a work of hockey art out of a slate of ice each night for the next (who knows?) many years.

Once it was “up and at ‘em” for practice at the adjacent practice facility, the Tips returned to the hotel for a 2.5 hour session led by guest speaker and performance coach Barry Jansen of Jansen HR, deeply exploring the structure of an athlete’s psychology. Conclusion? The Silvertips better understand what happens when teams go through a “cohesive” bonding process, how to accelerate it, and better understand what makes each teammate tick. Because after all – they’re humans, not robots.

Dinner time: you know who we bumped into? Zack Dailey. No phones out this time, but he’s doing well and coaching in the Edmonton area.


FRIDAY, OCT. 6 – CALGARY, HERE ALL DAY
MILES: 0
DRIVING TIME: within city

MORNING: Scotiabank Saddledome has been around since the early 1980’s, but it’s the home of a compelling National Hockey League franchise in the Calgary Flames. They also signed one of the most compelling (and future Hall of Famer) Jamomir Jagr, so like the previous day where we had a view but couldn’t snap a photo, today has no issue.

Morning skate came at an extremely early time: 9:00am. That’s because the Flames needed the ice, and they rule the roost. Once the Silvertips were done, it was time to head to the seats for 20 minutes and watch the world’s finest talent roll through drills with head coach Glen Gulutzan. Watching Jagr, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and more brought an extremely eye-opening experience.

Number 68 came down on his second rush and snapped one off the post and in. No big deal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, it’s always good to see old friends. Flames radio color analyst (and it should be mentioned, WHL play-by-play voice) Peter Loubardias and crew were monitoring practice. We had a good few minutes of catch-up and exchanging Flames / Tips news. He’s extremely dialed in, and he asked A LOT of the Tips on this year’s roster.

AFTERNOON: Nothing out of the ordinary for a game day. Eat, meeting, interviews, sleep, bus.

NIGHT: Go time at the dome. This visit only comes once every other year, so it’s a treat to sit and call the game from an NHL view. You go across the high rising and death defying catwalk (don’t look down), which is yet still safe for human legs – I hauled my bag and a 50-pound trunk of radio broadcast equipment across that thing. The only time it swayed was when it was “in my head.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips win 1-0 behind Dorrin Luding’s shutout. Afterward, it was an ideal time for friends, family, and Tips alumni to socialize and revel in the victory before taking off to Edmonton.

 

 

 

 

 


THURSDAY, OCT. 5 – SPOKANE TO CRANBROOK, BC
MILES: 741
DRIVING TIME: 7 hours, 41 minutes (with a stop in between) 

MORNING: After a 5-4 loss (on a freakish goal with 3.5 seconds to play) at Spokane to begin this massive swing, a 3.5 hour bus ride awaited the Everett Silvertips into the first half of the leg. Spokane Valley to the C of Red is quite a journey, so the trip is split up into two parts: the overnight stay in the quaint and picturesque town of Cranbrook, BC, then the afternoon leg into Calgary.

Did we mention the bus crash? Or the one that almost happened? Or two? Yep. Elk and doe love the nocturnal roads of B.C. Getting past the border was one adventure. Having the fearless bus commander, Kevin Pearson, slam the brakes twice in a span of 45 minutes was another, just because Bambi’s offspring wanted to play traffic cop. Wide awake, now!

Into Cranbrook at 3am. Sleep awaits. Up at 10am and finally the cobwebs are shaken off. I had no idea St. Eugene was an exquisite golf destination (and, I’m a sucker for 18 holes during the summer). This was nice to wake up and stare at.

 

 

 

 

AFTERNOON: Finally hitting the road at 1:30pm (bus drivers have a clock before the “overtime rule” hits, you know), I feared losing my wallet. It was left on the bus, and stayed in the same seat. Crisis averted. Once the wheels began to spin at 70 miles per hour, the ride was routine: electronics for work with the staff, and electronics for work with the team (“Dark Knight” was the movie of choice).

NIGHT: Into Calgary, where the façade of downtown hits you right in the face like an oasis as you emerge from the Alberta plains. For guys who’ve never played in the Saddledome (longtime home of the Flames), it’s like a revelation. For guys returning, it’s a carrot in front of the nose that gets larger (get to the show and this could be your stop for a long time … or home). No surprise that 25 players converged on the visiting team bench for photos while Flames game entertainment rolled through their elaborate opening night introductions, for Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did we mention that there was a Jaromir Jagr sighting? No pics, sorry, for you “Instagram or it didn’t happen” crowd. Better to give the man his space. But as the Tips loaded bags into their dressing room for the Friday morning skate, it was pretty hard to miss an athletically built 45-year old male decked out in a brown leather jacket, jeans, and causal kicks while sporting a man bun and silver lined beard, opening the door to the Flames dressing room. That’s the fun you get while involved in this league and these kind of road stops. The guy debuted in the NHL when I was in fifth grade. He’s an epic human being.

Dinner. Bed. Showtime on Friday vs. the Hitmen coming (5:30pm PT pregame on 1520 AM / Tips App).

Did we also mention some of your favorite Tips alum are hanging around town?

 

 

 

 

 

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

26 Players On the Roster


Earlier today the Everett Silvertips proceeded with necessary roster reductions, with the opener for the season just 12 days away.

GM Garry Davidson announced four players were assigned to their midget level teams:

  • Blake Lyda – goaltender
  • Alex Moar – defenseman
  • Dylan Anderson – defenseman
  • Conrad Mitchell – forward

As all four players are signed to WHL standard player agreements, each are eligible to be listed as affiliated players (“AP” as the term we throw around a lot) and return to the roster at some point this season on recall. They can play at a maximum of five games, unless their midget season has ended.

All four players delivered impressive moments during training camp and pre-season, suggesting more ice time with their clubs to start the season. Mitchell and Moar are from the Tips ’01 draft class, while Lyda and Anderson are both from the ’02 class, suggesting  plenty of development opportunities ahead.

Today was a day off from practice after back-to-back games in Langley. The Tips are expected to resume practice tomorrow at XFINITY Arena, tuning up for the last back-to-back set of pre-season games against the Seattle Thunderbirds (home on Friday, in Kent on Saturday).

RADIO UPDATE: We’ve had a few requests come in (great – it’s appreciated, and means you’re fired up!) about the Silvertips Hockey Show. A few loose ends with the schedule are still being tied down, but plan on TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 for the season debut at Sporty’s Beef and Brew on Fox Sports 1380 / FM 95.3. Plan on the usual 6-7pm time slot, plan on the same amazing Taco Tuesday, and plan on hearing who will be on the show later this week. It’s coming. I’m getting all the elements ready to go (not to mention a few new “broadcast toys” being rolled out behind the scenes, which fires me up).

We’ll be on air again for game broadcasts starting Opening Night, Sept. 23.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

 

CAMP ENTRY: Breaking Out of the Shell


[** Update: we’ve been informed the Rookie Game will now start at 5:30pm. Plan accordingly. Admission is free.**]

FRIDAY: By the time [*goal*] you finish [*goal*] reading this [*goal*], our hope is [*goal*] you’ll be more [*goal*] informed [*goal*] and entertained.

[*goal*]

Sorry, had that 3pm Blue vs Grey scrimmage stuck in my head.

Blue won, 8-5. Spoiler alert: Matt Fonteyne and Orrin Centazzo (10 points in camp) each had three points.

More nuggets coming along from Friday, but for now, here is where everything stands for the scrimmage chapter of training camp:

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 6.13.51 PM

The Tips Rookie Game is 5pm on Saturday, followed by the 1:30pm Green vs. Grey Game on Sunday. As a reminder, for games at XFINITY Arena, admission is free. It may be said “the best things in life aren’t free,” but you can never go wrong with free hockey.

Among the developments from today:

  • Team Blue leads with a +5 goal differential and has buried 18 goals in 3 games. While you can’t place 100 percent stock into training camp, like a baked good that’s only been in the oven for 30 seconds, the names down the line bear little to no surprise this is happening: Fonteyne, Centazzo (as articulated above with a whopping 10 points), Dawson Butt, ’17 second rounder Jackson Berezowski, Conrad Mitchell, and former Red Deer Rebel Quinn Martin. Jake Christiansen is the elder statesman on the blueline.
  • Team Grey isn’t too far behind with 16 goals in the 3 games. Patrick Bajkov, Ethan Browne, Connor Dewar, prospect Brayden Morrison, and defenseman Montana Onyebuchi are among the notables still in the hunt for the prospect round robin title. There really hasn’t been one shift I’ve seen, involving Bajkov/Dewar/Browne where something HASN’T happened.
  • We had more conversations with notable Tips prospects that you could be hearing from in the future. One fun did you know: BC native (and ’17 draftee) Kent Johnson goes back as family friends with Ryan Johansen (Portland) and Lucas Johansen (Kelowna). The games of shinny have been few and far between recently, for obvious reasons, but a strong WHL connection still remains intact.

 

Browne stopped gracefully to say a few words into the recorders of mine and (Everett Herald) Jesse Geleynse:

  1. QUESTION: How productive was this summer?

BROWNE: Really good, I got stronger, that helps. It’s good to be back with the boys.

  1. QUESTION: You were up and down with the team a couple of times last year. How did that help heading into this year?

BROWNE: It showed me how to play systems, the league, and it’s a lot different compared to midget.

  1. QUESTION: What’s the biggest difference from midget to this level?

BROWNE: It’s more passive with regards to the forechecks: there’s only one guy forechecking so you have a lot of time when you’re in your own zone. (Reporter: patience with the puck, the better) Yes, that’s my skill – patience with the puck.

  1. QUESTION: How was the summer with regards to getting ready for your rookie year?

BROWNE: Just working out every day, I went to morning shinny at 5am (Reporter: you’re a morning person!) Sometimes.

  1. QUESTION: Have you talked with Dennis Williams as far as your role for this year, or is it too early for that?

BROWNE: It’s too early for that. I still haven’t talked to him because we’re still early in camp.

  1. QUESTION: How often do you keep in contact with fellow members of your draft class, like Mark Liwiski?

BROWNE: I’m actually very good friends with Liwiski. I talk to him every good day, we’re good pals.

  1. QUESTION: What do you like most about his game?

BROWNE: Oh – he’s physical, aggressive, likes to get in your face. He can probably fight too.

  1. QUESTION: Anybody else you watched last year or seen this year that you’re looking forward to playing with?

BROWNE: Well, I went to school with Conrad Mitchell in eighth grade. He’s crazy good now. He’s fast, it amazed me seeing him play. We went to school at Vimy Ridge Academy (in Edmonton, Alberta).

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

CAMP ENTRY: Day 2, Painting the Canvas.


START PAINTING THAT CANVAS

There are three games, nearly 100 players, and about roughly 12 hours to cover in a full day.

Welcome to training camp, the most wonderful time of the year.

What’s appreciated is seeing the rapid progression and evolution of the developing human frame that’s suited to fit in major junior hockey equipment.

Connor Dewar’s bigger. Orrin Centazzo is bigger (and faster). Conrad Mitchell, signed but yet to play in a WHL game, looks as tall as a light post on skates (and he can move).

Ethan Browne, another Tips blue chipper, is more slick. Bajkov, Davis, and Fonteyne are up to their old tricks.

It’s enough progression to make any hockey centric mind salivate. Proof: the Tips typically bring in catered goods from Major League Pizza, El Paraiso, and Jersey Mike’s for the world class wrecking crew of hockey scouts. All the leftovers were cleaned out today by 11:30am.

Other observations that stuck out, from the moments where I could relax and lay eyes on the developing play:

  • Browne, as mentioned above, never missed a tape-to-tape pass. He had one goal in the morning session that was a complete roof job, and his decision making off the rush (read: patience with the puck) resembled a savvy vet.
  • This year’s first rounder, Ronan Seeley: also looking like a solid gem on the blueline, using his skating ability to deliver pucks out of his own zone in rapid fashion. Also chipped in with a goal that was deflected off traffic from the point. Some point to his skill foundation and mutter, “Kevin Davis.” That’s good.
  • There were three plays by Centazzo that made me drop my jaw. First was a breakaway goal, backhand deke, executed from a high rate of speed off the rush. Then there was the thread-the-needle pass to Quinn Martin on a 2-on-1 goal, then there was a low snapper off the rush from the right circle. Centazzo is fully healed, and ready to go.
  • Brendan Morrison (NHL vet, with plenty of stories to share) and son, Brayden (Tips prospect, in camp) are both extremely articulate. We’re putting this story and conversation into video form. Look for more soon.

Before shuffling off to Everett Memorial Stadium to get a tutorial from Dennis Williams and Mitch Love on how to appropriate throw a baseball (yours truly had a little league career high of 3-for-23 one season), I caught up with Connor Dewar.

He’s fresh off Toronto Maple Leafs development camp, too.

  1. MIKE BENTON: How was the summer?

CONNOR DEWAR: Very good, hung out with buddies and family. Spent a lot of time training.

  1. MB: How much more compared to years past?

CD: I took it more seriously I think. Going into camp with Toronto there were a few things I picked up and applied to how I’m training today.

  1. MB: How faster is the game in that environment?

CD: It was pretty fast, scrambled. Different game than what I’m used to.

  1. MB: How much did you understand what it takes to be on the right track to the pro level?

CD: Just that everything matters. You have to take care of yourself, work hard every day, and do something every day to get better.

  1. MB: What kind of goals have you set for this year, and how much weight have you put on?

CD: Just play one game at a time, and do the best I can. Officially I put on 5-6 pounds.

5a. MB: Is there really such thing as putting on too much weight (like 20 pounds)?

CD: I think so. It’s really hard for your body to move, and four months (of an offseason) is a really short time for your body to get adjusted to learning how to move again. It’s about pace, you have to be quick.

  1. MB: What makes you excited about this season?

CD: Change is always exciting. There’s more opportunity and a great chance to learn from someone else.

FYI: the Tips were at the AquaSox game spreading hockey (and, really, PNW) love. Both coaches delivered some solid tosses.

 

Reminder: training camp moves to the big ice inside XFINITY Arena on Friday. First matchup: a little past 8am.

Get your coffee ready.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

CAMP ENTRY: Hello, Next Chapter.


Check-in day is almost like the first day of school.

There are smiles, handshakes, “bro hugs,” and endless “how was your summer” chat.

It’s not so awkward when you see familiar faces. It’s even more energizing when you see a new face you’ve been told about, or you hear about.

Beginning Thursday, the pieces will be in place for everything to start coming together on the 15th season of Everett Silvertips hockey.

Setting out to defend their U.S. Division title with deeper goals in mind (see below interview), the Silvertips have a fresh approach at the top of the coaching chain in newcomer Dennis Williams. There will be a familiar, deep, and convincing voice in assistant coach Mitch Love.

How will things line up for this season? It’s unfair in late August to make a prediction. But when you have a bulk of your lineup returning (older, bigger, and wiser) and goaltender Carter Hart back, you always have a chance.

So, here’s to the clean sheet of ice and clean sheet of artistic design that begins to receive texture on day 1 of training camp.

Observations:

  • Defenseman Kyle Walker, signed as a listed player last fall, has bulked up to roughly “6-foot-3 and 210 pounds” by his own accord.
  • Connor Dewar, energized off a trip to Toronto Maple Leafs development camp, added 10 more pounds of muscle.
  • Orrin Centazzo is back on ice and 100 percent after Kolby Johnson’s high hit in Prince Albert ended his season in February.
  • There are now two players with NHL father-son bloodlines either in camp as signed, or drafted with the Tips: Riley Sutter (Ron), and prospect Brayden Morrison (Brendan). FYI: Brendan, a great chat in the hallway, is now 42 and still looks like he can center an NHL top line.
  • If you’re coming to Tips training camp: 1) expect to see rosters around the rink by the first scrimmage at 11am. There’s continuous shuffling, reason we’re told they aren’t available until the 11th hour. 2) Head to XFINITY Community Ice Rink for the Thursday scrimmages. As of now, the rest of camp will be hosted inside XFINITY Arena starting Friday.

Expected to play a critical role as a 20-year old, Matt Fonteyne is as “homegrown” as they come. I stopped him in the hallway:

  1. MIKE BENTON: Talk to me, how was your summer?

MATT FONTEYNE: Really good, had a good summer back home (in Wetaskawin, Alberta). Hung out with family and friends. It’s good to be back.

  1. MB: How bigger are you and how stronger are you?

MF: I changed up my workout routines this year and tried focusing on quickness, speed, and explosiveness. I feel good.

  1. MB: How much does that provide a renewed feeling with you, Patrick Bajkov, and Kevin Davis returning?

MF: We had one of the youngest teams in the league last year – third youngest in the west. So we have a good core group back and a lot of young guys who looked good today. When you have Carter Hart in net it helps  you win games. Coming back this year, we’re really excited for what the season holds.

  1. MB: What made you excited about what you saw out of Bajkov?

MF: He had a breakout year last year – then Dominic Zwerger helped both of us from on the ice and off the ice. We tried to pick up as much from him, because he’s like a pro on and off the ice. Patty and I will try to build on that this season.

  1. MB: What is it about Zwerger’s habits in detail that help you?

MF: I’d say that he was in the league for so long. And now he’s playing with pros in Europe. He loves what he’s doing. He has fun on the ice which leads to being creative. Whenever you get to play with a guy like that it really helps you and he’s a friend of mine now.

  1. MB: What kind of goals have you set this year?

MF: I’d say going further than the second round and building to the Conference Final or WHL Finals. When you build for team goals, individuals are going to have success. When the team does well, all of our young guys and veterans will do well.

  1. MB: Who has better hair on this team other than Montana Onyebuchi?

MF: I’d say Wyatte (Wylie). He’s been grooming it all summer and preparing for team pictures today. But it’s pretty hard to beat (Onyebuchi). He’s got a pretty good head of hair going on.

Day 1, training camp. ⚠️ Montana Onyebuchi swag alert. ⚠️

A post shared by Mike Benton 🎙 (@bentononthemic) on

 

  1. What was the first chat like with Dennis Williams?

MF: Really good and casual. He’s great and easy to talk to. So I’m excited to see more of his kind of coaching style and how we’ll play with it this year.

Let’s get it going.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently is entering his third season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 13th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

The Nashville Predators and Their Fans Are Supposed to Bring Us Joy.


I start out with this disclaimer: aside from a mentor in the broadcast booth and a friend in the front office, I have no stake in the horse race.

That being said, let’s face it: the Nashville Predators have fans. And they don’t just have fans. They have rowdy fans.

They have creative fans.

They have fans designed to bring us joy.

They have fans to inspire us.

They are here to get people, who usually don’t talk about the game, to talk about it.

So, what joy we’re experiencing in this Stanley Cup Final, because of Nashville.

Do they have 50 years of history? A conga line of “Who’s Who?” A place in two of the longest games in hockey history?

Nope. But they’ve been around for nearly 20 years, have one of the game’s most electrifying and recognizable stars (who understands the word, “spotlight”), and play in the entertainment capital of “country.” There’s a reason people in the business refer to it as, “Nash Vegas.”

Bottom line, ladies and gentlemen, sporting events are “entertainment.” They get it.

Please, let’s spare the dreaded “B” word for them (it ends with something that rhymes with “lagon”). A decade ago, they saved the franchise from relocation.

Their chants are part creativity, part savage, part volume. They are a gas. It sounds like a college basketball game, where student sections are in your ear from start to finish and so ruthlessly do their homework on the opposing players for taunt material. Quite frankly, it’s neat.

“But are they hitching up the ol’ bandwagon? But do other teams have outdoor gatherings like nearby Bridgestone Arena? But, but don’t they have any ‘respect’?”

Answers: no, yes, and definitely yes. Their moment has been nearly brewing for 20 years (think of where teams like the Kings, Blues, and Penguins were around 1986-87). What Nashville is doing along it’s row of establishments is like a block party that doesn’t know what time it ends. And as far as “respect”? The only thing that has breached the ice surface was a former aquatic life form thrown from human hands. I think we’ve seen this movie before.

They have the country music and entertainment world in their face, and talking about them. They have a Hall of Famer and TV analyst from another sport crashing their party and talking about them (and the sport in general).

And in general, people outside of the diehard hockey bubble are finding hockey “interesting.”

It’s time to embrace their dialect on the game, if they haven’t been embraced already.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently completed his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

 

The Dennis Williams Era Started With a Lot of Coffee. And Soundbytes.


At approximately 6:35 a.m., I walked into XFINITY Arena prepared to embrace the launch of the Everett Silvertips / Dennis Williams era. Dan Todoroff, the organization’s big wheel in charge of day-to-day operations, just sat down at his desk as we eventually tag teamed a helping hand for King 5’s unfolding of the Tips 17-18 story (guest starring Mitch Love, and Lincoln).

Ask me how it was like after that? A blur. Coffee (a ton of it, too), station-to-station duties, testing of a radio line to make sure Fox Sports 1380 had no “gremlins” interfering with live coverage, and a cordial hello to Jesse Geleynse, Nick Patterson, Jose Moreno, Q13 Fox,  loyal Tips ticket buyers, etc …

Flash forward to 2:35pm: news conference over. The whirlwind slowed down to 3rd gear.

Flash forward to 4:35pm: the Dennis Williams / Mike Benton / Fish “official exclusive first conversation” was over. The whirlwind officially came to a state of calm.

After going home to play Dad and enjoy dinner with family, you bet there was a 15-minute nap involved.

In between, I had my first words with Dennis Williams, aka “Willie” (still need a refresher? click here and here). As the 5th “full time” head coach in Tips history, he enters with a win percentage a shade below .700 in the last seven seasons, an NAHL championship, and the torch taker which includes a burning flame of five U.S. Division titles.

The first five questions, in what will be a part of many conversations between us:

  1. MIKE BENTON: What defines your core values?

    DENNIS WILLIAMS: When you’re trying to build a championship hockey club, you have to put emphasis on character of each player. Knowing the players coming back from this past season, and what Garry Davidson and his staff has done, it’s set the table for a successful season.

  2. MB: What excites you about taking a job like this?

    DW: It’s been a job, when I joined CSH seven years ago, (that’s categorized as) a dream job. Now to have the opportunity to come to Everett, bring family, and be a part of the Pacific Northwest – knowing it’s absolutely gorgeous – my kids are excited. I’m excited to get going and give the fans a great product to cheer for.

  3. MB: Is it fair to start defining goals yet for this season?

    DW: I think right now i’m just trying to grasp everything and get a handle on all the faces and names I’ve met over the last few days. First thing’s first, I want to reach out to all the returning players and draft picks. From there, we’ll get planning going for the summer.

  4. MB: What’s it mean to coach the Silvertips and coach in the WHL?

    DW: It’s a great honor. I said this year is a gem and it’s a jewel program to coach. And to be the coach here, it doesn’t come lightly. It comes with high expectations and i’m looking forward to coming in and helping do our best to win not only championships, but get this club to the Memorial Cup and eventually hoist it.

  5. MB: Playing style – what do you like, what do you prefer, what do you see out of this team moving ahead?

    DW: Like anything in this day, it’s an evolution and (signaling) a change in hockey. We want to focus on playing the game with speed, playing with intensity, and generating as much offense as possible. It’s getting harder and harder.

    But our focus is working on the skill sets of our players, helping them continue to get better, and bring the intensity. That has to come from us as a coaching staff. We have to set the bar each day. I’m looking forward to it. I have to wait 90 days until these guys get here again. Every day will be like the 24th of December – I’ll have to keep waiting and waiting. Then we can get on the ice here.

Williams is still technically transitioning from Bloomington, where his family is still packing up an old house and his daughters are completing their year of school. Look out for more on Monday’s big day in The Everett Herald, Q13 Fox, KOMO, King5, and The Barbershop Show (KJR).

“The 25th of December” is one day closer.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently completed his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

Phone Call, It’s Mirco Mueller


As a first round pick by the San Jose Sharks in the 2013 National Hockey League Entry Draft, defenseman Mirco Mueller is part of a master plan.

That master plan: successfully hand off the torch from the bearers such as Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Paul Martin – all who have left their 20’s in the rear view mirror.

As recently as today, Sharks assistant general manager Joe Will told CSN Bay Area of the master plan to accumulate players as early as 2013, when Mueller (who’s furnished 20 points in 62 games for the young San Jose Barracuda followed by four assists in 10 AHL playoff games) was the Sharks first pick off the board. Since then, the Sharks drafted 24 players in the span of three drafts (2013-15).

Mueller put himself in position by blossoming his game on the Silvertips blueline under the watchful eye of assistant coach Mitch Love, who handles the Tips d-men. Mueller’s transition from Switzerland, his draft year, delivered 31 points in 63 games, followed up by a 27 point campaign in 60 games in 2013-14.

Mueller is one of 17 ‘Tips who have made their NHL debut since Everett’s inaugural season in 2003-04.

Mueller still texts with Love, engages in conversation with WHL alumni, and misses Everett. Mueller spoke on Wednesday afternoon over the phone, with the Barracuda preparing for their Conference Final showdown against the Grand Rapids Griffins:

  1. MIKE BENTON: What surprised you about this season?

MIRCO MUELLER: I don’t know. It was a season that I really didn’t know what to expect. We had a lot of new and young guys come in. nobody knew what to expect but I think we’ve been playing good hockey all season long and carry it into the playoffs and into our first two rounds. Hopefully we can keep going.

  1. MB: What kind of a player has (San Jose head coach) Roy Sommer made you?

MM: Tough to say. I think I’m still the same player as I was back in Everett. I just got better. My whole game kind of evolved and obviously more this year with the team having success, especially in the playoffs. But we’re not content.

  1. MB: How tough is Grand Rapids?

MM: We’ve only played them twice this year but they’re a similar team like us. They play with a lot of speed, a lot of skill and it’ll be a great series between two great teams. I’m excited for it to start.

  1. MB: You get a kick out of seeing WHL faces now in the AHL?

MM: Yeah, definitely.  We’ve had a lot of new guys this year and a lot of more WHL guys – more than what I’ve seen before in San Jose – guys like (Adam) Helewka, (Rourke) Chartier, (Jon) Martin – there are some guys I remember from the U.S. Division and B.C. Division. It’s definitely fun and we talk about the junior days and see which guys know which coaches. It’s funny how small the hockey world is.

  1. MB: What did playing in the WHL do to prepare you for the pros?

MM: The biggest thing is the amount of games and the intensity you play with in the WHL. The travel makes you be able to handle it much better, once you move on. So much where you can just worry about your game and nothing else going on. It was a great experience for me playing (in Everett) for two years.

  1. MB: Person from Everett you text from the most?

MM: Probably Brayden Low and Ben Betker. With Ben, we played against each other (Betker in Bakersfield) quite a bit.

  1. MB: How much of a difference did Mitch Love make in your game as a defenseman?

MM: He made a big difference. He is a coach who hasn’t been retired that long and has been around the modern day era, playing in the AHL previously. We’ve always had a good relationship and nowadays we shoot texts back and forth.

  1. MB: What do you miss most about Everett?

MM: The whole area. I really enjoyed living there. The guys around the rink, the fans, the great atmosphere to play in, even my billets. We try to check in every now and then. The whole place is really comfortable and it’s a great place to play in the Western Hockey League.

The Barracuda, aiming for their first trip to the Calder Cup Final, open Game 1 of the Conference Finals this Saturday against Grand Rapids at SAP Center (6:00 p.m.).

 

 

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently completed his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game.  Tweet at him here.

Hot Hot Heat


The Stockton Heat delivered a pulsating win for the ages – granted, it even kind of felt like first round vs. Las Vegas, 2013 – Sunday night in a 5-3 victory over San Jose in Game 4 of their first round series which included a blitz of three unanswered goals in the third period (sound familiar?).

Tuesday night will be the “do or die” game 5 at SAP Center, with the winner advancing to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs against the winner of the Ontario Reign / San Diego Gulls tilt. That’s the beauty of playoff hockey: the thrill of the “clean slate” in elimination games brings on all the feels/goosebumps/anxiety we embrace.

Everett Silvertips stick tap: alumnus and defenseman Mirco Mueller, with a pair of assists and a +1 rating in four games from the blue line for the Cuda. Trainer Marc Paquet is currently in his second season managing the bumps and bruises of the Heat, and in his third season as a part of the Calgary Flames organization. Considering he’s the king of all care-taking in a space no more than a center ice dump-in length from my old office space, that’s a cool six degrees of separation.

I’ve got a lot of ties back to the Northern California area. As my career began in Stockton with the genesis of professional hockey in the Thunder, my eight years there (2005-13) tied to the meeting of my wife, Amy in nearby Modesto. A cornucopia of family and friends still reside in Stockton, and in surrounding areas. So, it’s hard to ignore a series that’s brewing to be a classic.

While the players change, perhaps the mystique remains? The Thunder went 7-3 all-time in games where they forced elimination, and 2-1 on the Game 7 stage (the first round is a best-of-five, so we treat it like a “Game 7”).

Their last game 7? The year of 2013 A.D. … Stockton 5 – Las Vegas 3. First round. That was one game after the Thunder forced Game 7 with five electrifying third period goals to complete a game 6 comeback at home.

We remember how far they got in that playoff run.

Stick taps for you and cheers to more history in the making, 209.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton recently completed his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game.  Tweet at him here.