Does rebuilding even exist?

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Hockey

The Everett Silvertips are in a rebuilding phase.  In their first eight seasons they were almost always expected to be at or near the top.  Well, with the obvious exception of their inaugural season in 2003-04.  But, then again, they wound up there anyway.  However, after two straight first round playoff exits they have gone green.  With inexperience running deep within this season’s roster.  It’s the core concept of rebuilding.  So then what exactly is rebuilding?

Does it mean the season is an automatic write-off?  Does it mean the team won’t settle for anything less than the playoffs, but a first round annihilation is okay?  Does it even take a full season?  Does the team still have a chance to turn the corner around the time of Christmas break and challenge for the division down the stretch?  Wait.  Isn’t every season a rebuilding season when your team is composed of 16-20 year olds?  Don’t all of these same questions apply to every team in a sense?

What it truly comes down to is this is a team sport.  Teams that are made up of teenagers.  Many of these young men are thousands of miles away from home.  They have to live and go to school in strange surroundings with limited guidance from family and close friends.  They’re essentially alone when it comes to enduring the always brutal teen years of your life.  Oh yeah, they also have to eat, sleep and breathe hockey at an elite level; one step below the pros for some, below the NHL for an even more select few.

Every year you can never know what to expect.  A saying I like to keep in mind is, “expect the unexpected when you least expect it.”  The prime example of that for this topic can be illustrated by looking at this same Silvertips franchise in its first season.  All they did was shock the hockey world by winning the U.S. Division and then run through the playoffs by sweeping Spokane, rocking Vancouver in six and then completing one of the absolute greatest, most intense, fantasy produced thrilling upsets in seven games against Kelowna.  No, seriously it is still looked back upon in awe by many people to this day (I get chills every time I recall the series).  They did all of that and who were those players?  Basically the rejects that no other teams wanted.  For an expansion draft, teams select the dozen or so players they want to keep and the others are up for grabs by the new team.

A lot of people associated with the team (players, coaches, personnel, fans) point to the early November road trip to Alberta that season as when the team clicked together and hit their stride.  Granted it was a highly unusual trip as the Tips only played three Alberta teams on the six game trek (the other’s came on a trip in January).  Nonetheless, it was still a great test and they went 3-3 including the team’s first ever shutout victory.

I take you through all of that because this year’s team that is in a somewhat similar scenario is at a near identical spot in their season path.  I will say one thing up front: yes, that 03-04 squad had more experience than this current one, but they too were fresh to the franchise and most of one another.  The Tips that year were 5-6-3 (back in the good ol’ days when ties weren’t viewed as a sin) for 13 points through 14 games as they embarked on that journey east.

This year’s Tips have played one fewer game and are five points lower with a 3-8-2 record for 8 points.  The last column in the record represents overtime and shootout losses (in this case both SOLs) as oppose to ties, but they both are similar in that they represent one point.  So, at first glance this season looks to fall quite short of the example it’s being compared to.  However, it may all workout fairly even in the end.

There are no split road trips to the Eastern Conference.  Tomorrow night the Tips begin six straight games in the Central Division over a ten-day span (seven in twelve if you count a stop in Spokane on the way home).  If that inaugural team was able to bond and grow in three games, imagine the potential for this team to explode with twice the opportunity.  Getting on the road is always a huge team building experience.  Plus, a lot of these kids will get the chance to play near home – if not in their hometown – in front of friends and family.  There’s no substitute for that morale boost which is one I’m sure a lot of players on the Canadian teams take for granted over time.

So, what exactly again is rebuilding?  Is this season suppose to already be written-off?  Just like that first season was supposed to be?  Well, as we learned that year you never know when the rebuilding phase will come to a conclusion.  It could be a couple of months, it could be a couple of years.  As we learned in the past though this team is embarking on a major chapter.  Sure they aren’t as decorated on paper, but as I said it could all end up being relative.  We can’t forget these are kids playing junior hockey.  A very elite level at which we just need to be super thankful we get to witness and be part of the incredible journey.

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