How are they doing it?
The Everett Silvertips are the closest thing the Western Hockey League has seen to the 2015-16 Victoria Royals, who came out of nowhere with a mostly unheralded roster, to win the Scotty Munro Trophy as WHL regular season champions.
“We have had great team bonding and buy-in,” said Silvertips defenceman Ty Gibson from Victoria.
Gibson returns to his hometown tonight with undefeated Everett (16-0-1) to take on the Royals (2-11-2) at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in a match-up of the team with the best winning percentage in the WHL and the team with the worst.
It is the first game for the Royals against a U.S. Division team since March 8, 2020, in Portland and the first at home since playing Tri-City on Jan. 15, 2020. This is the first visit to Victoria for the Silvertips since Oct. 9, 2019.
“It’s so cool to be back home and it’s going to be a special moment in front of my family and friends,” Gibson said.
The five-foot-nine, 18-year-old played in the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association with Vancouver Giants forward Payton Mount and New York Rangers prospect and Canada world junior championship silver-medallist goaltender Dylan Garand of the Kamloops Blazers.
Gibson is instructive when looking at how the Silvertips were built, in unspectacular but steady fashion, and not with first or second rounders out of the WHL prospects draft. Taken in the third round of the 2018 WHL prospects draft, the Islander is among six third-rounders on the Silvertips roster and five players taken in the fourth through eighth rounds. This organization knows how to find solid value.
“We have great coaching and a real team approach,” said Gibson.
Everett has only one high-end NHL draft pick in Anaheim Ducks second-round blue-line selection Olen Zellweger. Forward Nico Huuhtanen (Tampa Bay) and defenceman Ronan Seeley (Carolina) are seventh rounders.
Silvertips forwards Austin Roest and Ben Hemmerling and goaltender Braden Holt are ranked for the 2022 NHL draft, but all at the C level for the fourth through seventh rounds. That’s just one more than the Royals — who the ’Tips lead by 27 points in the standings — with Victoria having two at the C level in forwards Brayden Schuurman and Marcus Almquist.
Everett is ranked No. 2 in the Canadian Hockey League top-10 poll, sandwiched between fellow WHL teams Winnipeg Ice at No. 1 and Kamloops Blazers at No. 3. Yet, consider that the Ice have two players at the A level projected for the first round of the 2022 NHL draft and the Blazers two players at the B level projected for the second or third rounds.
It’s not that head coach Dennis Williams, in his fifth season behind the Everett bench and first with the GM title added, hasn’t had starrier players in the past. It’s just that his job this year in extracting the most from this group has been extraordinary.
The Silvertips have reached these heady heights this season with a staunch blue line and lights-out goaltending with Koen MacInnes second in the WHL with a 1.62 goal-against average and Holt third at 1.64.
Gibson is indicative of the Everett approach. Everything starts from the back.
“I’m a two-way defenceman who takes pride in the defensive zone and helps out offensively when I can,” said the former South Island Royals Triple-A U-18 player, who has an assist in 17 games and is a robust plus-9.
“My ultimate goal is pro hockey,” added Gibson, an all-rounder who also starred in Triangle youth baseball.
Everett is riding a franchise record 17-game point streak. The bottom-dwelling Royals, meanwhile, know they can create league-wide headlines tonight with an upset victory to hand Everett its first loss. Victoria comes in on the boil with points in three of its past four games.