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.

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Halloween Things, Ranked


CANDY!

Sometimes, it will float around in the office. Sometimes, it’ll float in the press box. Looks like Halloween claimed my gut again (hello, tomorrow’s cardio):

  1. 100 Grand
  2. Milky Way
  3. Heath
  4. Nestle Crunch
  5. M&M’s (pretzel)
  6. Twix
  7. Starburst
  8. Sugar Babies

851. Mr. Goodbar (allergies)

COSTUMES!

The non-practice day version:

  1. Any character from an 80’s movie / TV show
  2. The Beatles
  3. Any character from The Simpsons
  4. Super Mario Bros.
  5. Paw Patrol (ok, I have a son, so I’m biased).

Talk with you tomorrow.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in 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.

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 

Carter Hart Deserves This.

Consider this an ode.

The WHL Goaltender of the Year award is a celebration of many things:

  • Carter Hart is not just good, he’s scary good.
  • Carter Hart plays on a good team, who excel at defense.
  • Carter Hart’s bursting resume gets even bigger for the NHL Entry Draft.
  • The validation of a strong foundation in the Silvertips crease.

Amazingly, it’s the first time a Silvertip goaltender has claimed the WHL Goaltender of the Year award. But it comes with stiff competition each year, and much of that competition paves the way to NHL careers. Consider the names who have won the award in WHL history:

Darcy Kuemper

Martin Jones

Carey Price

Cam Ward

Josh Harding

Brian Boucher

Corey Hirsch

Jamie McLennan

Trevor Kidd

Mark Fitzpatrick

Ken Wregget

Mike Vernon

Grant Fuhr

Glen Hanlon

John Davidson

That’s a lot of NHL coin those goaltenders earned. And that’s a lot of fine company he’s joining.

In just his second year, and with the understanding he would need to shoulder an incredible load of minutes between the pipes, you never heard any public complaints about Carter Hart being “fatigued.” Nobody in the WHL, except Adin Hill, played more minutes (3,693) than he did. Nobody in the WHL, except 20-year old Landon Bow (who notched most of them when upgrading to the Seattle Thunderbirds defense) had more shutouts.

Consider the fact that Carter Hart is:

  • 17 years old
  • Is just reaching eligibility status for the NHL Entry Draft
  • Accomplished this season that was light years ahead of most 17-year olds
  • Now has a WHL Goaltender of the Year award under his belt

My first year behind the mic often involved unfolding the story of this well-mannered, ice-cold focused, insanely-skilled talent. As goaltenders operate interpersonally and psychologically in a different realm than their skating brethren, getting to know Carter Hart was a tale of youth embracing “the moment,” “being real” in every conversation, and refusing to accept false hype of what could be around the corner (another fancy way of saying “doesn’t get too up, doesn’t get too down”).

It’s a pleasure to witness his resume continue to build. Carter Hart, his family, and everyone in the Silvertips dressing room/seats should be proud.

Enjoy the moment and enjoy future, Silvertip Country.

A lot of people seem to be (pretty cool, of the Seahawks).

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

Photo credit: WHL.ca 

10 Defining Moments: 2015-16 Silvertips hockey

At some point this season, if these guys didn’t make your circulatory system race, check your pulse.

 

The 2015-16 season, delivering the 13th in downtown Everett, was my first in the broadcast booth and therefore a preliminary experience to unfold the story of a band containing 20 men whose sole purpose: the path of highest resistance.

 

(Up until the last week of the season, they led the CHL in fewest goals allowed per game.)

 

I am, however, still behind compared to many who’ve filled a seat at XFINITY Arena in a green jersey based on their association with this team’s remarkable history. They’ve seen a lot from Harvey to Lotz, from Armstrong to Scherbak. Underneath the sheer entertainment value, they welcomed a grass-roots start-up now boasting an around-the-clock youth hockey agenda, and resident nurtured talent cracking the Silvertips lineup (see: Wylie, Wyatte).

 

Now, they bear witness to the only team IN THE LEAGUE – since they entered the WHL 13 years ago – to never miss the playoffs.

 

All things considered, you can’t leave the Everett Silvertips as a hockey afterthought, an “opening act,” an outpost.

 

The span of 13 years is a lot. We’re now entering the years of talking about serious tradition being built. We’re now talking about winning no matter what personnel (think the 2014-15 team that locked down at 2.7 goals against, but cracked top 10 for offense at 3.3 per game). They can win.

 

They can draw the fans. They can deliver timeless moments that remain with us forever.

 

Here is what you should never forget:

 

10) Outstanding in OT: It started opening night vs. the Spokane Chiefs. Delivering opening night theatrics, the Silvertips went an incredible 8-0 in their first eight games that ended in the extra session, designed to revolutionize the first five minutes past regulation. The new concept of “3-on-3 in OT,” according to many pundits, was slanted to favor more high-octane teams and manufacture unpredictable and edge-of-your seat OT winners. It turned out that this year’s team, was among the first across the game to master it based on control and intelligence. Not to mention: they still have guys who could finish. Laurencelle led the Silvertips with five game winners. Connor Dewar was tied among a select group of Tips, who had four.

 

9) Good night, Kelowna. Good night, 2015: The boys in green last recorded a win in the Okanagan on Jan. 18, 2012. I think back then: the iPhone 4 was just rolling off the conveyor belt. That’s a lot of time to pass between wins in a tough barn like Prospera Place. But facing a championship proven goaltender in Jackson Whistle (unfortunate circumstances leading this game to the last in his Rockets career), Carter Hart one-upped him and Dawson Leedahl’s game-winner at 2:27 of OT extinguished a nine-game win streak for Kelowna. More so: it proved the Silvertips recent success to open the season was no fluke. They could hang with virtually every projected “big boy” powerhouse in this league.

 

 

8) Charity begins at home: Two games tied into one moment: everyone packed downtown Everett in pink, and teddy bears rained down. In October, the Tips drew nearly 8,000 into XFINITY Arena for the annual “Pink The Rink” game. Think about how many tickets were purchased, then think about the percentages that were flipped to breast cancer treatment. A total of $87,000 went to that cause. Come the holidays, there would be no controversy over any manufactured “Teddy Bear Toss Goal” jinx. Connor Dewar took care of that pretty early. Plus, a ton of children in need got to enjoy an amazing holiday. In a sense, “everybody wins.”

 

 

7) Fit to be tied with Brandon: The only Silvertips loss that makes this list – and for justifiable reasons. The final: 3-2 in a shootout to the Brandon Wheat Kings, a team supposed to win the title last year (until a blazing Kelowna team routed them in four games) and is on an inside track to complete that mission this year. They were simply dominant in the first period’s opening few minutes, and Al Kinisky and I marveled at the near NHL pace encompassing the Wheat Kings cycle. It was sharp, crisp, quick and near-robotic. The Silvertips gutted their way through it: Carter Hart was on top of his game with 38 saves. Dario Winkler (ex Wheat Kings forward) scored in his Silvertips debut. And equipment manager James Stucky worked the 1,500th game of his illustrious career. Not too bad.

 

 

6) Bow, Down: 1:50 left in regulation – that’s all the time that remained as Graham Millar jumped on a rebound and parked it over the blocker of newly acquired late-game winner. XFINITY Arena, which seats nearly 9,000 people, was packed that night. It was a night where the Silvertips delivered yet another stunning blow to their U.S. Division rivals, in a series many expected to be so lopsided to the dwellers from Kent. It was proof the Silvertips could grind out one-goal wins in a challenging series (won handily by the Tips, 6-2-1-1). Not to mention: I nearly missed the call.

 

* Story time. If this bores you, just skip ahead to more nuts and bolts below. I have severe allergies to seafood (fish, shellfish, etc. Bottom line: if it swims, I can’t eat it). A press room meal misunderstanding between chicken alfredo and salmon alfredo left me realizing that I ate the wrong thing, after the fact. Dropping my fork and knife – and fearing my life – I ran to the Silvertips locker room. Luckily, trainer Wayne Duncan saw my sprint, walking the other way, and made a U-turn to follow me. He and a team of medical on-site professionals caught me in time. Administering an epipen along with sharp antibodies, I made a 180-degree turn for the better within 45 minutes (it was the sharpest recovery time I ever had from a bout with seafood allergies). It was also 15 minutes before puck drop, with Al Kinisky sweating bullets – fearing he’d have to call play-by-play on short notice. I winged the pregame show. Tips won before a boisterous crowd. The night almost had a heart stopping moment, or two. Also happened the day after my 35th birthday. I don’t remember asking for an adventure as a belated present.

 

 

5) By any means necessary: that one time where the Silvertips needed a win, or at least a point, to stave off the hard-charging Thunderbirds and keep their grip on first place. What we witnessed in the third period was nothing short of magic. Down 3-1, the Tips willed back with two goals, including Remi Laurencelle’s stunner with less than a minute left in regulation. Bedlam took over XFINITY Arena, and the Tips settled for a point in a 4-3 OT loss to Kamloops.

 

 

4) Hart-rob: the Kamloops Blazers were in the way. Matt Revel tried to force his way. Carter Hart said “no way.” Save of the year, folks.

 

 

3) Sweep dreams, Portland: For the first time since Mitch Love was patrolling the Tips blueline and George W. Bush was in office, the Tips blitzed their way through the first round in four games. For the first time since William J. Clinton was in office, the Winterhawks were hammered out of the playoffs with a whimper. It ushered payback for 2015, when the Tips were bounced from the second round against Portland. Let’s just say the bus wasn’t exactly quiet that night.

 

 

2) The biggest T-Bird Takedown: the stakes elevated in late February, and the Silvertips fending off a two-goal rally by the Thunderbirds in the third period meant a 3-3 tie was in the hands of the veterans. They didn’t disappoint, taking advantage of a turnover by the Thunderbirds in the neutral zone: another moment where downtown Everett turned into bedlam.

 

 

1) Dewar’s goal vs. Kelowna: just consider this. When you’re down 5-1, and need four goals in the last 20 minutes to stand a chance against the defending WHL champs, did you really expect anyone to pull this kind of goal out of their back pocket? You know you just can’t stop watching it. And it’s now getting talk in the same breath as Zach Hamill’s “the goal” against the Thunderbirds in 2007.

 

 

 

We’ll always remember those plays. Now it’s time to remember some guys. They aren’t just any guys: they’ll forever be a part of Silvertips Alumni:

 

  • Cole MacDonald (D): 266 games, 98 points and 29 additional games in the postseason. He led the Silvertips d-men in points this season. His shot didn’t come racing off the blade with the highest degree of velocity, but with as close to an assurance of getting to the net. If it wasn’t going in, it was producing a grade-A chance. He was a quiet leader, and was in the middle of several of the timeless moments listed above.
  • Remi Laurencelle (C): Consider how much the famous trade from Lethbridge in 2013-14 delivered his fortunes with a U-turn. Before trade: 100 games, 26 points. After trade, with Silvertips: 160 games, 104 points. He had the only hat trick and was the Silvertips leading scorer this season. Yeah, pretty certain to say he polished his resume to diamond-shiny levels, whether he carves the minor pro or CIS route.
  • Carson Stadnyk (RW): What else can you say about the one of the last Doug Soetaert era holdovers, family to a hockey namesake (see: Federko, Bernie) and the elder statesman on the Silvertips roster? He didn’t produce leading scorer numbers, but consistently busted the 20-goal plateau. By this season, he was nearly irreplaceable on the top line. I can’t speak for what was observed inside the room at 6:30pm each night, but his poise, savvy and dignity were an incredible set of traits delivering influence.

 

They will be missed. But they pass the torch, for great moments still to come.

 

Lasting words: this season was my first in the Silvertips broadcast booth. Since season #1 is in the books, only appropriate the thank-yous formally go out in bunches to many people for helping me and family get settled in. For starters, a great deal of gratitude goes to the front office powers that be for presenting me with the opportunity to work here — and excel:

  • Thank you Zoran Rajcic, Garry Davidson, and Bill Yuill. To Jon Rosen (esteemed Tips broadcast alumnus now working in the NHL), who told me about the job when it opened (without him, I wouldn’t be here), thank you.
  • To Al Kinisky and Kellan Tochkin, who are not just pros for the words they articulate in the booth to all listening ears, but great people to build relationships with, thank you.
  • To Kevin Constantine, Mitch Love, Brennan Sonne: thanks for sharing your wisdom, insight, and more to open to door to a great relationship we’re building.
  • To James Stucky, thanks for being a great bus seat neighbor with your professionalism and relaxed approach to work. And life in general.
  • To the fans, who have made me feel welcome online, inside XFINITY Arena, at Sporty’s, and on the street, thank you. They’ve also made my wife and family feel welcome and our embrace of the Pacific Northwest has accelerated rapidly. Feels like “home.”

 

Here’s to many more years together! This is a great place to live, work, play, grow, and to thrive.

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Lasting image (thanks, Chris Mast): very top of this post. It still gives me chills to look at a packed building in Downtown Everett. At its peak, it sounds like a miniature NHL environment.

 

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his first season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here

 

Brett Kemp: “It’s a First Class Organization”

On Monday, the Silvertips officially locked up ’15 second round pick and 2000-born forward Brett Kemp to a WHL SPA deal, continuing to stock the cupboard with pieces designed to build a solid foundation for the future.

What you need to know about Kemp: he’s had a history of putting up big numbers. Take for instance: 79 points in 31 games at the Bantam level last year. This season, he ranks 5th in scoring at the SMHL level with Yorkton: 41 points in 36 games are the current output.

He’s earned the remarks of Bil La Forge as a guy who can play a 200-foot game and is “offensively gifted.”

For Kemp, step 1: draft. Step 2: sign. Now for step 3: make the Silvertips squad out of training camp. He’s already had one kick at that can, scoring four points in this year’s training camp games and participating in the rookie game.

Below are Kemp’s recorded comments from signing day:

AUDIO: Brett Kemp radio conversation

MORE: 

 

Aftermath: Has the levee broken?

We certainly hope so.

They hadn’t scored more than two per game since Oct. 11 vs Prince Albert.

The more this went on, it seemed the likelier scenario than a 3-4 goal Silvertips game would be:

a. The Seahawks trading Russell Wilson
b. The frequent visit of Halley’s Comet
c. Elvis returns alive

Thank goodness for that second period, beginning on Josh Thrower’s penalty. Three goals in 10:55. Hey, it’s progress from two in a span of the final 23 minutes, Friday.

As Kevin Constantine said, the effort was there. The battle level was there. You had to imagine: the results would soon be there. Tonight, it was enough.

LISTEN: Kevin Constantine pregame 
LISTEN: Silvertips Replay segment, postgame (Fox Sports 1380) 

Takeaways:

  1. Use your timeout wisely. With 53.1 seconds left and the Silvertips nursing a one-goal lead, Kevin Constantine manufactured a lengthy break for five players on the verge of fatigue with a timeout following an icing call, and a face-off in their own zone. Why not use it? The strategy worked to perfection. The Tips, rested enough for the ensuing face-off, got the puck down ice at the opportune time (Dawson Leedahl barely missed on an empty netter from center ice). They sealed victory. It was a smart decision befitting a coach who’s been through plenty of these battles, all the way to the NHL level. Great call.
  2. If there was ever an “honorable mention” star, Noah Juulsen deserved it. Because Carter Hart, Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne were outstanding. But Juulsen engineered the Silvertips power play, who connected on their only two opportunities, and “introduced” himself to a few Giants tonight with hits along the boards. If it moved, Juulsen hit it.
  3. This space reserved for the incredible feats of Carter Hart. Getting to that point where we start running out of supleratives. Hart had 31 saves, a garden variety point-blank stop on Ben Thomas’ hat trick bid (hello, diving stick-side save) and turned in a win boosting his total to 4-2-1 in seven games: .953 save percentage and 1.27 GAA. #nbd

PRESS ROOM MEAL: Beef stroganoff (the certified “clubhouse leader” of Al Kinisky this season), sautéed veggies, dinner roll and brownie platter.

LASTING IMAGE: Let’s hug it out.