Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ken Griffey, Senior's Thoughtful Act

Two weeks ago, our sports guys asked me to interview Ken Griffey, Senior for them. He was doing interviews live via satellite to talk about the MLB All Star Game, as well as his battle with prostate cancer. I love interviewing people. Scratch that. I love talking to people, period. I just love learning about their lives; their likes and dislikes; whom they admire. The list goes on.

But I digress.

On this morning, I had 5 minutes to chat with Ken Griffey, Senior about prostate cancer, his baseball career and his son Junior, who, along with his dad, holds a special place in the hearts of Mariners fans. Tall order for a 5 minute satellite window. And I had every intention of zipping through the interview and then getting back to my real job – managing a 4 and a half hour morning newscast.


Anyone who’s ever chatted with me knows that I run off on a lot of tangents. A LOT. You might say something that sends me off in a completely different direction, before eventually circling back to the matter at hand.

Well, let’s just say, that happened. I said “Hi, thank you soooo much for taking time to chat with us.” He smiled a trademark, 1000 watt Griffey smile and said, “No problem, happy to be here with you.” And I found myself telling him that I was most interested in hearing about his battle with prostate cancer because my own dad was fighting his own battle with the same illness. The first thing he said to me (in his warm, reassuring voice) was, “He’ll be okay. He’s getting treatment. Prostate cancer is so treatable and the doctors will take care of him.”

Cue the tissues. I had to pinch myself, HARD, to keep the tears from running down my face. I still had 4 minutes and 40 seconds left in this window and many questions to ask on behalf of Paul Silvi and the guys in Sports. I couldn’t let them down. So… off we went.

By the end of that 5 minute satellite window, I had gotten some great memories from him of his time under the lights at the Kingdome. He shared his favorite Mariners moment alongside his son (if anyone even NEEDS to ask, it’s the back to back homeruns they hit in 1990). I thanked him for the interview. He thanked me for nice questions. And it should have ended there.

It didn’t.

Fast-forward two weeks. I stumbled into the newsroom at 2:20am laden with boxes of hot Starbucks coffee, cakes and donuts (we have treats every Friday. We call it “Coffee Friday”. Very original, I know). After setting up the sweets buffet, I checked my mail and found an 8”x11” envelope addressed to me. Inside were two photos of Ken Griffey, Sr. in the middle of a trademark Griffey swing. The first was autographed to me (with my name spelled correctly). The second was not personalized. The note accompanying it was short and sweet. “Thinking of your dad and sending him my best wishes. “

Some of you may have read that last paragraph and thought, “That’s IT? THAT’s what she thinks is so thoughtful?”

YES. Yes, it is.

This man talked to dozens of people in the course of that one day. And for him to take time to send me that note and the photos, speaks volumes about his character. I’ve always respected Ken Griffey, Senior; if not for his own play, then for the son he helped bring into the world. But on Friday, July 24, Ken Griffey, Senior became one of my favorite people, hands down.

I will cherish the photo he sent me. I’m picking out a frame for it today and will add it to my hockey wall in my office; the only non-hockey related item up there (aside from an autographed poster from Henry Rollins). I will send the other photo to my dad and tell him the story behind it. I know he’ll be touched, but I also know he’ll have a good laugh about the fact that he has a photo from a Cincinnati Red. My dad is a Dodgers fan, hailing back to their days in Brooklyn.

But there is one thing Dad and Ken Griffey, Senior have in common. He’s doing well in his battle against prostate cancer, too.

And that’s worth more than all the autographed baseball pictures in the world.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Face to Face with TJ Oshie

Over the last season, I've had the chance to hone my interviewing skills, mostly via email and on the phone.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hickey, Armstrong & Love

I can honestly say that I now have something in common with former T-Bird Thomas Hickey. We both have been featured on the front page of The site honored 3 of my blogs with front page status. Of course, he's much more high-profile than I am, and if he continues to tear up training camp and pre-season like he did at the LA Kings' prospects camp, his stock is gonna rise even more.

Anyone who's been to a T-Birds game over the last four years has seen this talented guy bloom right before our eyes. We weren't surprised when he was selected to Team Canada for the 2007-2008 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. We weren't surprised when he helped Team Canada bring home their 4th consecutive gold medal. And we really weren't surprised to learn that not only had Thomas been selected to Team Canada for the 2008-2009 WJC in Ottawa, but that Coach Pat Quinn had named him Captain of this talented young team.

And even though Team Canada gave us a couple of heart attacks (who can forget that 6-5 shootout win against Russia in the semi-finals), we knew by the end of the first period in the gold medal game against Sweden that the boys in red were going to pull off their 5th straight championship. The only thing that surprised me was what happened when Captain Thomas Hickey was handed the championship cup. This usually reticent, soft-spoken guy let out a scream that I can still hear to this day. The sound was pure, unadulterated joy.

When the T-Birds fell to the Spokane Chiefs in the first round of the WHL playoffs, Seattle fans felt a deep sense of loss because they knew their captain was gone. Just a couple of days after that heartbreaking Game 5 loss, Thomas was jetting across the country to Manchester, New Hampshire, to join the Kings' AHL team, the Monarchs. And we all remember just what an impact he made right away!

So, just as fans were not surprised at how brightly their star shone all season, they're not fazed that is sitting up and taking notice of the #4 selection in the 2007 NHL Draft. Here's a link to correspondent Eric Stephens' great story about Thomas' NHL quest. Our only question is, what took you so long?

Photo: Fred Trask

Our favorite pugilist... and hockey blogger Mitch Love could find himself dropping the gloves against his former team, the Houston Aeros this season. Last week, Mitch told me he's signed on with the Peoria Rivermen, the St. Louis Blues' AHL affiliate. I know that Houston fans are very disappointed. They grew to love Mitch's gigantic heart and work ethic. Oh, and we can't forget those tilts, set to Mitch's theme song, Thorogood's "Who Do You Love?" Well, time to start boning up on my knowledge of Peoria. I'm sure the team is good. I'm just not too keen on the logo guy. He kinda looks like the Gorton's fisherman.

A couple of weeks ago, Mitch and I chatted about his road along the hockey path, from the time he was a wee lad, to today. I learned some interesting things about this guy. One: he LOVES Motley Crue. Two: his dad REFUSED to let him play goalie. You can find out why by clicking on the link below:

Photo: Scott Berg

Former Silvertip Riley Armstrong is also on the move. After San Jose/Worcester didn't exercise their option to re-sign him or trade him, Riley became a free agent and signed on with Calgary. He's understandably disappointed that the organization to which he gave five years of his hockey life let him go, but he's really excited to test out the ice in Calgary, which is garnering new energy under the tutelage of the Sutter family.

Riley chatted with me last week about the latest changes in his life and career. He's setting his sights on making the Flames lineup and playing closer to his family. But... should he end up spending part of the season with Calgary's AHL team, Silvertips fans wouldn't be disappointed at all, since the team moved from Iowa to Abbotsford, BC. Riley says it wouldn't be too bad to play a few games there, either, since he'd get to see some old friends.

You can read more of my interview with Riley by clicking on the link below.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Interviews with Zach Hamill and Graham Potuer

I love talking to people, but I love talking to people and sharing it with the world even more. Recently, I got to chat with a couple of former Everett Silvertips. Well, one is more "former" than the other. Zach Hamill played this past season with the Providence Bruins (Boston's AHL team) and is at Boston's prospects camp right now. Graham Potuer wrapped up his 5th and final season with the 'Tips this year. He's now working a summer job and waiting to start school in the fall. He's committed to play for the University of Calgary's hockey team and study.

Of the two players, I think I'll miss Graham more, mainly because I didn't start really going to Silvertips games until this past season and Zach was already gone. I did see Graham play each time I went, and he played the same each time: all out, leaving everything on the ice. He and Taylor Ellington made such a great defensive team on the ice, it's sad to see them both go.

Both Zach and Graham were fun interviews, very talkative and extremely nice. I've posted links to the interviews below and as always, welcome your feedback.

Graham Potuer/Photo:

Graham Potuer interview

Zach Hamill/Photo: Providence Bruins

Zach Hamill interview

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Silvertips excited to host NHL preseason game in Everett (and we're excited too!)

The hockey season has been over for several months here in Western Washington, but recently, it seems to be all we're talking about, especially on the Everett Silvertips front. First, the team introducs a new head coach: former NHL player and coach Craig Hartsburg. Then, forwards Cameron Abney and Byron Froese are drafted by the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively. Now, Everett is bursting with pride again, as the Tampa Bay Lightning selects Comcast Arena as one of the stops on a pre-season tour in September.

On Tuesday, September 22, the Lightning, featuring the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and talented defensive prospect Victor Hedman, will take on the Phoenix Coyotes, featuring former Silvertips Peter Mueller and Shaun Heshka in the lineup-- and "The Great One" himself, Wayne Gretzky, behind the bench.

I could go on, but Jon Rosen, the Silvertips' Director of Broadcasting and Public Relations, has written a beautiful news release. You can read it below, then click here to visit the Everett Silvertips homepage for more information, and catch up with all the other happenings in Silvertips country.

The NHL is Coming to Everett!
Lecavalier, Doan, Mueller, Stamkos, Hedman to showcase skills at Comcast Arena
Everett, WA - Everett Silvertips Vice President / General Manager Doug Soetaert announced today that the Everett Silvertips will be hosting a National Hockey League preseason game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning at Comcast Arena on Tuesday, September 22nd at 7:35 pm.

The Phoenix Coyotes, coached by hockey legend and all-time NHL leading scorer Wayne Gretzky, feature former Silvertip and 2005-06 WHL Rookie of the Year Peter Mueller as well as defenseman Shaun Heshka, who appeared in 204 games for the Silvertips from 2003-06 and was recently acquired by the Coyotes in a June trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The Tampa Bay Lightning feature a dynamic core of exciting youth, headlined by center Steven Stamkos, the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, as well as defenseman Victor Hedman, the second overall pick in 2009. Stanley Cup winners and five-time 30 goal scorers Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are also featured on the Lightning roster.

Everett Silvertips season ticket and package holders will have the first opportunity to purchase discounted tickets prior to the Saturday, August 1st public on-sale date. All fans who have purchased season tickets or a ticket package will be receiving an order form that must be turned in to the Silvertips by Thursday, July 23rd to ensure their regular seats.

Tickets will go on sale to the public on Saturday, August 1st at the Comcast Arena box office and via Prices range from $50 to $65, which does not include a one dollar facility charge. Starting Monday, August 3rd, the Silvertips Front Office will also be available to handle all ticketing queries.

For the best possible value, fans are encouraged to purchase one of two packages which will provide access to the NHL preseason game in addition to the Everett Silvertips Preseason Tournament, held from Friday September 4th through Sunday, September 6th. The Peter Mueller Package, priced at $88, includes an upper bowl ticket to the NHL game in addition to a lower bowl ticket to all nine games of the Preseason Tournament. The Wayne Gretzky Package, priced at $99, includes a lower bowl ticket to the NHL game and a lower bowl ticket to all nine games of the Preseason Tournament.

"This is going to be a great experience for hockey fans throughout Everett and greater Seattle," Soetaert said. "We're really excited to be able to provide an NHL game at affordable prices and look forward to packing the building and continuing our great game-night atmosphere."

For all ticketing information, including regular season seats and mini-plans, please call the Silvertips' front office at (425) 252-5100. Further updates can also be found on the social networking site Twitter, where the Silvertips operate under the handle WHLsilvertips, as well as Facebook under "Official Everett Silvertips".

Saturday, July 4, 2009

New Interview: former Tri City D-Man Logan Stephenson

Logan Stephenson/Photo: Tri City Americans

Not too long ago, I emailed the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate) asking to interview Kyle Beach, who had sign an ATO contract with the team. I've been wanting to interview this former Silvertip for the last year, and NOT about the antics that have haunted him for years and turned the focus of his NHL combine experience more on his psychological health than his physical prowess. Earlier in the season, after the 'Tips traded Kyle to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, I contacted them for an interview but we could never settle on a good time.

I had had some great success getting interviews at the AHL and ECHL levels (the Ontario Reign came through with former T-Bird Bud Holloway, the Manchester Monarchs came through with former T-Bird Thomas Hickey, the Worcester Sharks came through with former 'Tip Riley Armstrong, and the Providence Bruins have come through with former 'Tip Zach Hamill, whose interview I will post shortly). So... I had every confidence that Rockford would come through and I would finally get to talk to Kyle Beach about HOCKEY, and not HEADLINES.

No such luck.

Turns out, the IceHogs had sent Kyle back to Lethbridge for a little more seasoning. But the team’s PR guy told me that several other WHL grads were in the IceHogs’ lineup. Was I interested in interviewing any of them?

I thought about it for a few minutes. I write mainly about the Silvertips and Thunderbirds, although I have written a blog or two about other players. For example: I wrote a brief rant about a cheap hit that the Spokane Chiefs' Ryan Lett laid on Tri City Americans’ goalie Chet Pickard (Nashville Predators’ prospect and older brother of T-Birds netminder Calvin Pickard). I figured that writing about another team’s player would give our fans a different perspective about the local teams, so I emailed the PR guy back and said, sure, why not! That email put me on a collision course with one of the most dynamic players I have ever spoken with.

Logan Stephenson manned the blue line in Tri City for four years. He was drafted by Phoenix in 2004 and spent a couple of years with their AHL team, the San Antonio Rampage. The last year, however, saw Logan packing and unpacking twice. First, the Coyotes traded him to Anaheim and he joined their AHL affiliate, the Iowa Chops. A few months later, the Ducks traded Logan to Chicago and he moved again, this time to the Rockford IceHogs, where he teamed up with several WHL opponents (Adam Hobson-Spokane Chiefs, Rob Klinkhammer-many WHL teams, including Seattle) and former Spokane Coach Bill Peters, so maybe it felt a little more like “home.” In any case, he really enjoyed his brief time with the team.

When I looked at the IceHogs’ roster this week, Logan’s name was not on it. I’ll have to either call him, or research to see whether he’s been traded, released, or picked up as a free agent by another team. But one thing’s for sure: wherever Logan Stephenson goes, he will bring 110% commitment to the game, a positive attitude and a great sense of humor.

Click the link below to read more about his hockey history (he comes from a hockey family: dad Bob played NHL and other leagues; brother Shay also plays), his favorite opponent during his WHL years, and why he’s never fought former Silvertips (current Houston Aeros) tough guy Mitch Love.

Silvertips introduce new head coach: Craig Hartsburg

Everett VP/GM Doug Soetaert introduces new head coach Craig Hartsburg
(Photo: Frank Deines III/Everett Silvertips)

The Everett Silvertips have just begun a new era, with a new head coach behind the bench. KING 5 Sports reporter Chris Egan, photographer Laddy Kite and I attended a news conference at Comcast Arena, where the team introduced former NHL All Star Craig Hartsburg as their main man.

Click on the link below to read more about the one thing Hartsburg told Silvertips' Vice President/General Manager Doug Soetaert that helped seal the deal, what Hartsburg says is more important about coaching junior hockey than the game, and why players are so excited to work with their strict new coach.

New Interview with Greg Scott

Greg Scott/Photo Courtesy: Mick White/Kent Valley Sports

Had a great chat with former T-Birds forward Greg Scott not to long ago. He was getting ready to move to Toronto to spend the summer practicing and training with the AHL Marlies and their parent team, the Maple Leafs. We also talked about his four years with Seattle and how his WHL experience has helped him grow as a player... and as a person.

Read on to see what he has to say about the first time he ever laced up a pair of skates, why he has so much love for the Seattle Ronald McDonald House, and how he caught the eye of Toronto's GM without even realizing it.

(Originally posted at

We continue our conversations with Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips players who have graduated out of the WHL, and are taking their next steps on the path to make their hockey dreams come true.  Today, we catch up with T-Birds winger Greg Scott, who is just as well known for his sense of humor and friendliness off the ice, as his ability to not only score goals, but set up scoring chances for his line mates.
Greg wrapped up his fourth year with the T-Birds with a stellar season. He led the in goals (32) and assists (44) for 76 points. His plus/minus rating was a whopping +14. He registered 6 assists in 5 post season games, as Seattle fell to a strong Spokane Chiefs team in the first round.  Immediately after the T-Birds’ season ended, Greg headed to Toronto, to join the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate Marlies. He didn’t play in any games, but practiced and worked out with the team and watched them advance to the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, where they lost in 6 games to eventual Calder Cup finalists, Manitoba Moose.
When I caught up with Greg a couple of weeks ago, he was home in Victoria, BC, preparing to move to Toronto. You see, the Maple Leafs have invited him and several other players to spend the summer training intensively with the Leafs.  However, he jovially took a few minutes to chat about his time with the T-Birds, how he caught the eye of Toronto’s GM without even realizing it, the teammate he says may just be funnier than he is, and the yearly team project he calls a “win-win” situation for players and the children at Seattle’s Ronald McDonald House.
KING:  What’s the difference between the Marlies and Thunderbirds?
GS: Well, the WHL is a lot younger. The WHL is 16 to 20 year olds and the AHL is 20 to however old. The guys are a lot stronger. Everyone was real friendly and the guys were a lot stronger and bigger and faster.  It’s quite a big step but it was good to get experience there.
It’s a big step.  Of course, everyone wants to go to the NHL; that’s their main goal. And the AHL is just one step away.  It takes a lot of hard work and determination to get there. In the end, we want to make it to the NHL, obviously but the step from the WHL to the AHL is still a pretty big step.
KING: I was reading up about you and I did not know that you did not get drafted as a Bantam, nor were you drafted by the NHL, but yet here you are.  How did you end up on the T-Birds?
GS: I was passed up on the Bantam draft. To be honest with you, I didn’t even know what the Bantam draft was.  I wasn’t familiar with it. I was passed up and some person I knew got drafted and I was like, “what’s that? What’s this Bantam draft?”  And when I was 16 and playing for the Peninsula Panthers Junior B team, Bryan Bridges played goalie on the Seattle Thunderbirds. His dad was my coach. So he kinda told the Thunderbirds about me and the Thunderbirds came and scouted me and they listed me when they came and saw me so, it was good. I went and tried out for the Thunderbirds and played four years there so it worked out pretty good.
KING:  I recently interviewed Bud Holloway and he said the most awesome line he was part of (with the T-Birds) was a line with you and Lindsay Nielsen.  I thought you did a great job with Prab Rai and Jim O’Brien last season. I think that rivals it. How do you feel about that?
GS Any line that I play on, I’m just gonna go and work hard, but last year, me, Bud and Nielsen, we had really good chemistry. We got put together and we just took off, I guess. Neely did his job, he was the center on our line and he played really well for us and Bud, he can score anywhere on the ice, it seemed. That was just good chemistry right there, but also with Prab Rai, he’s got unbelievable speed so if I give him the puck and he’s going down the wing, he can make a lot of chances out of nothing.
Me, Jim and Prab only played on a line for about 10 games, roughly.  I think it was right after Jim O’Brien got back from World Juniors. But then we were put on a line with me, Prab and Jon Parker, who’s a rookie and he did really well for us. He’s got a great shot, good hands; a pretty quick little guy. Playing with Prab, he’s so fast, so smart and smooth skating, it’s just an honor to play on his line. He’s such a tremendous player.
KING: Well, you seem like the type of guy who could pretty much adapt to any line and just really make it a lot better.  Bud really misses playing on a line with you.
GS: Me, Bud and Neely definitely had great chemistry. I loved playing with Neely. I loved playing with Bud. Bud’s got such great skill. You give him the puck and he’s gonna do good things. I’m just in the right spot at the right time and got put on a line with him. We just connected and it was awesome.
KING: You didn’t get drafted by the NHL but you got signed by Toronto. How did that come about?
GS: I got passed over in the NHL draft and I was pretty upset, but my first two years I really didn’t have good enough numbers to get drafted. That didn’t really get me down. I kept working and I think it was playoffs against Kelowna when I was 19, the Maple Leafs were there to watch Luke Schenn (current defenseman/Toronto Maple Leafs).  I think me and Schenn, we were going at it pretty good against each other and GM of the Maple Leafs t the time, Cliff Fletcher, was there scouting Schenn and he asked who I was, and that all started from there, so yeah, it worked out.
I had a rookie tournament at the middle of September. We played that then we went to the Toronto Maple Leafs main camp and I got sent down to the AHL team (Toronto Marlies). They kept me all the way until just before their first regular season game, then said I’d probably develop more if I played in the WHL since I’ll get more playing time. It actually worked out good. I think I gained a lot more experience playing in the WHL one more season.
KING: How old were you when you started playing hockey?
GS:  I was 5 years old, I think. My brother started playing first. He’s two years older than me. I guess I looked up to him at the time and I wanted to play hockey too.  I don’t remember this too well but my dad says that the first time I tried on skates, I was the worst skater he’s ever seen. He said it was like I was running on ice. But he said, ‘I’ll keep him in hockey as long he’s having fun.’ And eventually I guess I got it, got how to skate and stuff.
KING: It‘s really is important when you first start that it is about fun, isn’t it?
GS: Yeah, it is. I was just going out there in minor (youth) hockey just because my brother did it, I wanted to do it and met a lot of friends through hockey and then I just kept on doing it. I always dreamed of playing in the NHL but I didn’t know if I could do it. As the years go on, you start gaining a lot of confidence.  I got scouted by Seattle. That was a big step for me and then I got signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s just one step at a time. It is all about fun at the very start but there’s a point where it is fun but it’s also business, too.
KING: How old are you when you moved into a higher skilled league?
GS: When I was 16, I was playing for a Junior B team just outside of Victoria and that was decently competitive and back when I was 16 I thought that was the NHL almost, and just thought that was the best league there is.  I did pretty well there and eventually, Seattle took me and I went to Seattle. I thought Junior B was serious, then I went to Seattle and found out just how serious it was there.  From Junior B to the WHL it’s bigger guys, faster, better players, all that, but you learn to adapt pretty quickly. After the first few games, I wasn’t sure. I was almost doubting myself, wondering if I should have just gone to play Junior A and gotten a scholarship or something. I doubted myself a little bit, but then everything worked out.
KING: How long did it take you to get your feet under you here?
GS: I’d almost say two seasons, in a way.  That’s when I really started to take off. There were games when I’d have good games and I felt like I belonged but it really took me about two years to mentally think I’m good enough to play in this league.  I wish I could have wrapped my mind around it that it’s just hockey, as long as you compete and battle as hard as anyone else competes.
KING: You were also transitioning from living at home and moving to Seattle. It was almost like changing your life.
GS:  That’s actually a pretty big factor in a way.  I tried not to make it that big but you’re still pretty young. You’re 16, 17, moving out into someone else’s house and playing for a different team, meeting all new guys, because I didn’t know one guy coming into the league except for the goalie, Bryan Bridges, who I’d played with my 17 year old year. But when I was 16, you’d get home from school with the guys you’d been going to school with your whole life and it’s just comfort at home. When you move to Seattle it might be awkward for a little bit but the billets are unbelievable, the billets I’ve had over the years.
KING: Did you have one billet family for your four years there?
GS: No, I actually had four billets in all four of my years.  Every year I had a different billet. I think I might have made a record.  I got to meet four families and live in their houses but it was a good experience.  My first year, I had a roommate. His name was Clayton Barthel and he’s playing hockey in Germany right now. He was two years older than me so he knew the ropes of the league.  It was good to have him because he’s been around the league and knew what to expect.  He would kind of take me under his wing and I really appreciated it.  The next two years I went solo and lived on my own, which was nice, but in my fourth year I roomed with Steve Chaffin. He’s a really great guy. He’s young but he was already on the team; he wasn’t a rookie and we got along great.  He’s a pretty funny guy. I enjoy the odd joke here and there.
KING: I interviewed several players and they all say you are the guy who keeps things loose on the bench or is good for a joke or a prank. How does it feel to know you have the reputation for making your buddies laugh when things are tense?
GS: I’ve had that reputation almost my whole life. I was the class clown. But I could say almost the exact thing about Bud Holloway because Bud Holloway is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. He always has a smile on his face. Everyone got along great so it was easy to make the odd joke here and there.
KING: I heard there’s one joker coming up the ranks this year: Calvin Pickard.
GS: Oh yeah, Calvin’s gonna be there, if he isn’t already there. He’s a funny guy. He’s a great guy too.
KING: How did playing all four years of your WHL career with the T-Bird help you develop as a player?
GS: It helped me develop a lot. I owe pretty much all I know to the coaches there: Rob Sumner, Turner Stevenson, all those guys. They coached me for the past four seasons on a pretty high level. There were guys who bounced around here and there were about four or five of us who stuck around since we were rookies: me, David Richard, Thomas Hickey, Lindsay Nielsen and Jeremy Schappert.  I think that’s everyone. We played all our years together so we got pretty close.  At first, we were the younger guys getting helped out, then after a couple of years, you’ve gotta kinda take that role because you’re the older guys. It all happened so quickly.   I think we handled it pretty well. Oh, I can’t forget Bud Holloway! I only played three seasons with him but he was there too.
KING: How is it going to the same school with your teammates?
GS: When I went to Lake Washington High School, I went in not knowing anybody except the guys that I’d just met, like Thomas Hickey, Bud Holloway, David Richard, all those guys. I’d just met them and now I’m going to school with a bunch of random kids that I’ve never seen before and in another country. Even though Canada and the US are almost the same, it’s definitely different.
KING: You’re dealing with so many different things at the same time: a new level of hockey, living with a strange family, going to school with people you don’t know.
GS: It’s a great life experience. How many kids from my hometown can say they went to high school in the US? It’s definitely a great experience and I met a lot of great people along the way.
KING: We’ve kind of touched upon it a little, but how would you say this whole experience has helped you grow as a person?
GS: Well, when you move away at such a young age, it almost makes you grow up a bit faster than everyone else, because not too many kids move out of their parents’ house when they’re 16 or 17 years old.  So, it definitely helps you mature as a person. Along with experiences, you have to deal with a lot of pressure that most people don’t deal with at that age. But it definitely helped me along the way. I probably wouldn’t be the person that I am today without Seattle, without the experience that I gained from there.
KING: The Thunderbirds team up with the Seattle Ronald McDonald House every year for a celebrity hockey classic fundraiser.  But players also take time to visit with the kids living at the Ronald McDonald House.   This year, you were the focal point of the promotion campaign. (The team spoofed the popular “CSI” series, with Greg Scott and Devon LeBlanc in the lead)
GS: I did “GSI: Greg Scott Investigates” with Devon LeBlanc. Ian Henry asked us to do it and we said sure. We went to the Ronald McDonald House to shoot. It was fun to interview little kids but it was tough because they only gave one-word answers, but you expect that from little kids. But it was awesome. The team loves going there. They’re (the children) going through a lot. Their families are going through a lot and anything we can do to put a smile on their face, it brightens our day- it brightens their day. It’s a win-win situation. The kids wear us out a lot of the time, playing tag and stuff. It’s just fun, seeing the smiles on their faces because you know how hard it is for them right now. Anything we can do to help them forget about it is a bonus.
KING: Will go back to Leafs training camp this year?
GS: I’m actually moving there June first. I’m gonna live there and train there this year. They want me to do that. I think that will help me get used to the city and the workouts that they’re doing.  That’s exactly what they want me to do.
KING: How different is Toronto from Seattle?
GS: They’re both huge cities. I hear Toronto gets cold in the winter. I’ve never been there in the winter but I hear it gets pretty cold. I love Toronto, though, it’s big. It’s the “New York” of Canada; I guess you could call it.
KING: It seems that they’re pretty serious about you if they want you to go there and immerse yourself in their culture.
GS: Yeah. I hope so, anyway.  They’ve got six or seven of us that are gonna move there from Boston, Newfoundland, Sweden, all those places.  They’re having us move there and train there with their staff there.
KING: You spent some time with (former Everett Silvertip d-man) Taylor Ellington when the Marlies and Moose met up in the Calder Cup playoffs.
GS: We played Manitoba in the first round. Taylor Ellington and I grew up playing hockey against each other because he’s from Victoria, too. We actually hung out together when we (Toronto & Manitoba) were playing each other, because we both weren’t playing at the time. (Neither was on his team’s playoff roster).
KING: Now for some fun questions:
Favorite movie:  I love comedy and right now it would have to be “Pineapple Express” or “Superbad.”
Favorite player growing up: Joe Sakic. I just loved the Colorado Avalanche growing up. And also Trevor Linden, because I’m a pretty big Canucks fan as well.
Who do you like to watch now? I like to watch the Maple Leafs, of course, and the Canucks. I wish they went further. I like watching Pavel Datsyuk on Detroit. He’s got the best hands I’ve ever seen, or Kovalev on Montreal.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing hockey? I play a lot of video games, but when it’s nice out I like to go to the beach or tubing down this river that’s an hour outside of Victoria.  Just hang out and go to the gym.
Music or bands get you pumped up for a game: Well, me and Steve Chaffin, when we lived together, we’d drive together to the game and we’d always play songs that get us pumped up. We always had a random mix. We’d play Eminem, lots of rock, Nickelback’s pretty big. I like listening to Nickelback before a game. It always gets me pumped up.
KING: So, do you like the music Mitch (Brotherton) plays during the game?
GS: Yeah, I do. Mitch plays pretty good music during the game. I wish he would change my goal song, though, but, it’s over now. I don’t even know what it’s called. I asked him to change it but he wouldn’t. I think I requested a couple of songs but he never put them on.
A lot of the guys on the team like country. We have a lot of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta guys. They all love the country. The guys from the west coast like rap and all that.
KING: Did you guys ever argue in the locker room about music?
GS: Yes. Some guys don’t like country music. Others did. There would be a few fights, I guess. Not fights but arguments.
You should ask Bud about his dancing, by the way. He’s an unbelievable dancer. He’s the best dancer I’ve ever seen. 
So, by now, Greg is firmly ensconced in Toronto, learning the team’s system and working out with the trainers. Seattle fans have no doubt that he will see his NHL dream come true, hopefully sooner rather than later.  The fact that the Maple Leafs invited him to spend the summer working out with the team, is pretty good sign. We’ll check in with him after training camp to see how things are going.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Greg Scott in our short conversation, it’s that he will always do his best, on the ice and off.  And he’ll do it with a smile… and the odd joke.

Youth Hockey: Sticks, Pucks, but most of all, FUN

It's a sight that can be found at ice rinks all over the world: pint-sized hockey players gliding en masse toward the same net. The kids skate at different speeds, many going just a short distance before they fall, seemingly in slow motion, to the ice. And it doesn't matter where the first player falls, you can bet that others will follow suit. I remember watching this scene unfold during the first intermission of every University of Alabama Huntsville home game when I was a student there. My friends and I would wait until the kids had played before rushing to the snack bar.

There's something about the sight of a 5 year old half-skating, half-wobbling on the vast rink that brings out tenderness in almost everyone who attends a hockey game. It's such a stark contrast to the much older players who speed up the ice with skill, deliver crushing hits and maneuver the puck with almost blinding quickness. We forget, as we watch the bruisers, that once upon a time THEY were the little tykes trying to balance on skates wearing what felt like a ton of bulky equipment and trying to shovel a hard rubber disk along a slippery, icy surface with a stick.

But that's exactly how every single player you've ever cheered or booed started out. Gordie Howe wobbled on skates. Bob Probert probably fell quite a lot before he learned to be good with his feet-- and his fists. Sidney Crosby had to work on his hand-eye coordination. Alexander Ovechkin had to learn to stay upright, before learning to launch himself into the boards. In fact, I think only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were actually born knowing how to skate and handle the puck as amazingly as they did (I'm kidding. Well, sorta).

No, every hockey player at every level of the game began his or her career at a very young age, usually with a local skating club or team. Crosby played in the Timbits program in his hometown in Nova Scotia. Gretzky played in Brantford, Ontario. Former Seattle Thunderbird Captain (current Manchester Monarch) Thomas Hickey played with Trails West Hockey Association in Calgary. His teammate, Bud Holloway (currently with the Ontario Reign) played near his hometown of Wapella, Saskatchewan. Former T-Bird (current Toronto Marlie) Greg Scott grew up playing youth hockey in Victoria, BC, alongside former Everett Silvertip (and current Manitoba Moose) D-man Taylor Ellington. I could go on but you get the picture.

I spoke with several people about the benefits of playing youth hockey. Not everyone I spoke with went on to pursue a pro hockey career. But everyone agrees, hitting the ice young helped them develop more than great skating and puck handling skills. It helped them develop determination, concentration and dedication, skills that are crucial to navigating a much tougher game called "Life."

Everett Silvertip Right Wing Shane Harper grew up playing hockey in what would once have been thought a very unlikely place: Southern California. But that was before the Edmonton Oilers turned the NHL on its head by trading "The Great One", Wayne Gretzky, to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988; the stunning trade following ten years of stellar play in Edmonton, including four Stanley Cups.

Once Gretzky donned the (then) black and silver of the LA Kings, hockey exploded in Southern California. But even then, there weren't that many leagues for kids. Harper lives in Valencia (in the San Fernando Valley). He began his hockey career at age 5 on roller blades, playing in a roller hockey league at his neighborhood YMCA. He enjoyed it so much, his parents enrolled him in the West Valley Wolves ice hockey league the next year, putting him on a collision course with "The Great One" himself.

Photo Courtesy: Shane Harper

"I loved playing roller hockey so my parents decided to sign me up for ice hockey," Shane remembers. "That's (the league was) where the Kings practiced, in Van Nuys. I played, actually, with Gretzky's son and daughter. They were on my team, just by chance."
Shane not only played on a team with Gretzky's children, they also came to his 7th birthday party, along with their famous dad. To this day, Shane considers that one of the high points of his life. (Who wouldn't!)

As Shane grew older and his skills increased, he joined higher-level teams filled with players of the same skill set. This team practiced in Orange County, and traveled a lot, which made for some grueling drives. But Shane's parents were always there to make the trip, sometimes leaving work early to make sure he made it to practice on time.

"We would have to drive an hour on a good day and with traffic, sometimes two hours down to Orange County from Valencia and that's rough right after school, doing my homework in the car, driving down and practicing for an hour, an hour and a half and then driving back and going to sleep and then doing it again. We usually practiced 2 to 3 times during the school week and then weekends we had games."

Picture going to school all day, then jumping in the car for a trek, in rush hour, to hockey practice, doing homework or wolfing your dinner in the back seat. But Shane says his commute was nothing, compared to some of his teammates'. "I remember not wanting to do any homework just because I was so tired. It was really tough but a lot of the guys on my team did it as well. There were some guys that commuted from San Jose all the way down to Orange County. They'd fly down on the weekends."

When Shane was 13, he joined the prestigious "California Wave" youth hockey team. (The Wave merged with LA's other top-notch youth team, the Junior Kings, to form one powerhouse program). The Wave travelled all over the US and Canada, winning many tournaments. There's even a documentary chronicling the team's winning reputation ("In the Crease"/Stickmen Pictures). And it's not just lip service. In 2005, the year he joined the Everett Silvertips, 7 of his teammates were also selected by WHL teams.
"It's almost unheard of from a California team turning out 7 top notch WHL players. I know my old coach is pretty proud and California hockey is just going up right now," says Shane.

Along with a winning reputation comes coaches who are tough, sometimes maybe a little too tough on 13 and 14 year olds who are still trying to develop emotionally, even as their physical skills skyrocket. Shane concedes that Wave coach Jack Bowkus was tough behind the bench, but a different person off the ice.

"He's a very hard-nosed guy on the ice. He gets what he wants and he's gonna let you know if you're not bringing it. But off the ice, he's a great guy and that's how coaches are and that's how they should be."
Shane Harper/Photo: Frank Deines III/Everett Silvertips

Shane just wrapped up his second year with the Silvertips. He had a great season, scoring 32 goals and 34 assists in 72 games for 66 points. He and the 'Tips advanced to the first round of the WHL playoffs, where they lost in 5 games to the Tri City Americans. When I caught up with him, he was home in Valencia, but not sitting idle. Shane trains at a local gym in the off-season, hits the rink, and also hits the driveway for games of road hockey with his friends. It's a way for him to hang out with his buddies, but much more than that.

"It's a lot of fun and it keeps you wanting to play but also at the same time, you don't even realize you're getting better. You're improving your hand-eye coordination, you're improving your stick-handling skills, you're better while practicing out in the driveway just having fun with your friends."

Shane Harper/Photo: Frank Deines III/Everett Silvertips

When Shane joined the 'Tips, he had no idea he would run into someone else who had benefitted from the same youth hockey league that helped hone his early skills. Jon Rosen, the team's Director of Broadcasting and Public Relations, also cut his teeth as part of the West Valley Wolves organization in the San Fernando Valley. The hockey bug bit Jon at a young age.

"I was 5 years old when my dad first took me to a game (during the 1986-87 season). It was a Kings/Canucks game, in the Marcel Dionne years with the Kings wearing their purple and gold jerseys. It was just an amazing night that I will never forget. The Kings lost 5-3 to the Canucks and there's been a lot of losing ever since. But ever since that first game, I've been a huge fan."

Jon watched Kings games but didn't learn to skate until he was about 7 or 8 years old. He joined the West Valley program until he was a little older. Jon says the rigors that come with practicing and playing the game, helped him develop in other areas as a child.

"It gave me good tenacity and good commitment because we would regularly have practice times at 4 or 5 in the morning. So we would have to get up at 3am and schlep all the way out to the middle of the Valley. Once I was able to do that, all other extra-curricular (activities) became easy and fun."

Jon says the teams he played with were recreational. But by no means, were they easy. He remembers what happened when, as a 13 year old, he moved up into a mixed Bantam/Midget league.

"There were not enough players in the midget league that year so they combined bantam and Midget. I was the youngest Bantam player (13 - 17 years old). That year, I had the crap beat out of me. It was a full-on contact, full-hitting league and I was the youngest and one of the smallest players there and every game I would go out and just get leveled, get destroyed, get the wind knocked out of me and repeatedly thrashed. I never scored any goals and as like a 4th line guy but it felt like the most important thing to me at that time."

Jon's team went on to win the championship game that year against a team that included some of his friends. He says that rough year at age 13, helped him develop a variety of skills and he started scoring the next year. He continued playing hockey in college (on an intramural team at Michigan), but knew that his road did not lie with pro hockey. He played for the pure joy of the game. He says his experience also helps him understand a little better, the stress and pressure facing players who are coming into the Everett program from various Bantam leagues.

"I remember what it was like to be a little bit younger, to be in a locker room after a loss and a locker room after a win and so, I just kind of step back a little bit and let them have their fun, let them take their lumps a little bit and just know that while I was never really at the same level, at the very high level that they play, I've been through wins and losses before and learn to let the team and let the locker room savor it and learn from it."

Like other players I've interviewed, Jon pays tremendous respect to his parents for helping feed his hockey passion. He urges any parents who are considering signing their kids up for a hockey program to really think about the commitment. Hockey is expensive and a huge commitment not just for kids, but moms and dads, too. Not only do they need to ferry their kids to and from practice at odd hours of the day and night, or travel with them to games and tournaments in other cities, states and countries, but provide a constant stream of positive reinforcement and support. To this day, he remembers something his mother would tell him before every game.

"She always said, right before the last time she would see me before I would go on the ice or go leave for a game, 'Just keep your head up,' which meant a couple of things. She would say 'Keep your head up' while you're skating on the ice and don't keep your head down or else you'll get hit but also 'Keep your head up' in the sense that that if you make a mistake or if there's a goal scored against you, it's fine. Just let it go. Keep your head up."

Photo Courtesy: Jon Rosen (taken at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, NY)

One memory of his youth hockey experience that sticks out in Jon's mind centers around one practice at the old Iceoplex in Van Nuys that turned into an amazing lesson at the hands of a player from the team he grew up idolizing. The Los Angeles Kings also practiced at the Iceoplex and sometimes, the Kings' and Jon's team's schedules overlapped a little, as happened on this one particular day.

"One of the Kings stayed after his own practice and came onto the ice and worked with us and taught us how to take slapshots and taught us how to skate quicker backwards and was there really to just goof around with the kids and just have fun with us. That man was actually Dan Bylsma, who is now the head coach of the (newly crowned Stanley Cup Champions) Pittsburgh Penguins. He was absolutely the most accessible King and one of the friendliest and one of the best LA Kings I can ever remember wearing that jersey."

Dan Bylsma/Pittsburgh Penguins

In addition to doing radio play by play for all Everett Silvertips games and spearheading the team's media and community relations, Jon still plays hockey in an adult league based in Everett. And from what I hear, he's still pretty good on the ice!

So... we've heard from a player who moved up quickly through the youth hockey ranks at high skill levels and is well on the road to an NHL career. And we've heard from a former player who still uses the mental and physical skills he learned playing hockey in his everyday life. Now, it's time to hear from a young lady who's tearing up the ice as part of the Seattle Junior Hockey Association.

Nat Zieroth has been playing hockey for 3 years. In addition to hockey, she takes ice skating lessons. But the first thing she learned had nothing to do with how to move on the ice.

"The first thing they taught us to do was to get up in hockey gear," she said. "There's a different way to get up in hockey gear than regular skating. It's easier when you fall down sometimes on your stomach because you stand up better. It's a lot easier when you fall on your stomach."

Nat Zieroth/Photo Courtesy: Scott Berg

The 8 year old likes to play goalie and defense. As we talked, I learned that her game preparation is different, depending on which position she's playing that day.

As a defenseman: "We get dressed and we have this time that the coach talks to us and then we have time to think about the game. Then we do warm ups, then we start the game."

As a goalie: "You have to put a lot more gear on and you have to focus a little more than all the other players and you have to work harder than everybody else."

Nat Zieroth/Photo Courtesy: Scott Berg

Nat likes everything about goaltending. She says her best move is her glove save, although she also uses the butterfly technique quite a bit. She can use her stick too, but says most goals come a little high so she relies on her reflexes and her glove. She enjoys playing defense because that position helps out the goalie.

Like the other players we've heard from, Nat's schedule is pretty jam-packed as she fits in practice and games, along with school and homework. At the beginning of the season, practices usually fall on Sundays and Mondays. As the year progresses, practice moves to Wednesday to Sunday, with games on Saturdays. Their mornings start bright and early at 4am during the week, 5am on weekends.

"Thursday mornings I go to stick and puck before school. We have to get up early so I can skate a bit. We have a lot of things going on. Mondays we have a lot of homework (practice book page and cursive). Wednesdays we have math and reading to do."

Nat Zieroth/Photo Courtesy: Scott Berg

But Nat has a deal with her mom Natasha. In order to play hockey, she must have her homework completed by the time Mom comes to pick her up from extended care.

Natasha Zieroth is a single mom who works full time. But she has found a way to make sure Nat gets to all of her practices and games. And she is always encouraging her daughter to focus, try hard, and most of all, enjoy herself on the ice. Natasha offers up some advice to parents thinking about signing their kids up for hockey but aren't too sure whether to make such a big commitment.

"There are so many options out there," Natasha says. "Learn to Play programs are relatively inexpensive in the scheme of things. Seattle Junior (Hockey Association) has a rental program where you can rent all the gear for the younger kids for about $75 for the year, which is great because you don't have to invest so much money up front. "

She also likes how Seattle Junior handles the beginner classes, which take place with kids on the ice and parents behind a glass partition.

"They took the kids and put them out on the ice and shut the door. In some ways as a parent that's wonderful because you're not the sideline coach that's yelling and screaming."

But Natasha remembers worrying about her daughter. "She spent the whole hour standing for two seconds then falling on her face. I honestly thought when the hour was up she was going to be like, 'That's it, I never want to do this again.' And she came off and said, 'When can I do it again?'"

One thing that beginner classes do is get kids into hockey gear before taking them out on the ice. So, not only are the youngsters learning to skate with all the extra gear, it doesn't hurt as much when they do fall down.

In addition to extra ice skating lessons, Natasha makes sure Nat gets to take part in community or public skating sessions with her friends. The public skates let kids hang out with their friends, while getting in a skating workout at the same time. It just doesn't feel like a workout.

Natasha confirms that hockey parents are a close-knit community. They become very close during those long hours they spend at rinks, either with practice or traveling to and from games. But she urges any parent who wants to know more about what it takes to have a young hockey player in the family to just come up and start a conversation. Most hockey parents are very friendly and willing to share whatever information or advice they can give. But if you want the answer to the most important question about youth hockey, you have to go to the source, the players themselves.

When I asked Nat what she likes best about hockey, she doesn't hesitate. "The best thing I like about hockey is that it doesn't matter if you win or lose. It just matters that you had fun."

I think she wraps it up pretty perfectly there.

If you're interested in learning more about youth hockey programs around Western Washington, just click on the links below. They'll take you to the home pages of the organizations around the greater Everett-Seattle-Tacoma area.

If you're a hockey player or parent and would like to share your own experience, leave a comment. I'd love to share your stories, too.

Please also email me if you don't find your hockey association in the list below. I'll be happy to add it.

Youth Hockey Organizations
Seattle Junior Hockey Association:
Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association:
Highland Ice Arena, Shoreline:
Everett Youth Hockey League:
Kent Valley Hockey Association:
North Puget Sound Hockey League:
Tacoma Hockey Club:
Whatcom County Amateur Hockey Association:
Kitsap County Hockey Association: