Without many of the key players from last year's best season in team history, the Silvertips will try to maintain a high level in 2018-19.
Everett Silvertips coach Dennis Williams gave himself a tough act to follow.
Last year, in his first season as coach of the Silvertips, he led the team to the U.S. Division title in the Western Hockey League and into the WHL Finals, losing to Swift Curent in six games in the best-of-seven series.
It was the best season in Silvertips history, but the team enters this season without many of the top players from last season, including outstanding goaltender Carter Hart, a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, along with their top two scorers, Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne.
“We want to continue to build a strong program here in Everett,” said Williams, whose team opens the season Friday night at Vancouver (B.C.). “I believe a lot of the guys returning from last year’s team will take those steps we need to be a competitive hockey team. And I have great confidence in our GM, Garry Davidson, in his ability to fill those holes.”
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Perhaps the biggest hole to fill is that left by the departure of Hart, who was a standout for the Silvertips the past four seasons.
“When you look at guy like Hartsy, he was a phenomenal goalie, a great teammate and a great player and gave us an opportunity to win a hockey game every night,” Williams said. “But I do think you are more than a one-player team. In order for teams to be successful – and last year we had the opportunity to get all the way to the Memorial Cup — you just can’t do it with one or two guys.
“It was a collective group effort and that is what we are going to need out of this group as well.”
Dustin Wolf, who backed up Hart last season and had a 13-6 record and a very good .928 save percentage, is back this season.
“We are relying on him to be our No. 1 goalie this year and I feel very comfortable with him,” Williams said. “When you have a goaltender of his caliber back there it allows the guys to play a little more loosely and take some chances.”
Also returning are center Connor Dewar, third on the team in scoring last season, and who was drafted in the third round of this year’s NHL draft by Minnesota. Right winger Riley Sutter was drafted in the third round by Washington.
“We want to play an up-tempo fast game,” Williams said. “I didn’t know coming in last year that Pat Baykov would have 100 points and Matt Fonteyne would have (88). But a guy like Connor Dewar is back and he had 38 goals last year. We need to obviously continue to develop our young players and work on their confidence and skill set.”
The challenge will be to maintain last year’s level.
“What you try to do is reload,” Williams said. “Will we have another 90-point season (Everett had 99 last season)? Time will tell. Our goal is to get better each game and each weekend.”