The 2013-2014 NHL season gets underway in eleven days (Tuesday, October 1, to be exact), but hockey fans here in Western Washington need only wait 24 hours to feed their hockey hunger. That s when the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds launch the Western Hockey League (WHL) season with home openers. The Silvertips welcome the Prince George Cougars to Comcast Arena tomorrow night (Saturday, September 21), while the T-Birds host longtime rivals, the Portland Winterhawks at ShoWare Center. Both games begin at 7:05pm and tickets are still available.

Both teams are adjusting to new coaching staff. Kevin Constantine returns to helm the team he helped launch as an expansion team in 2003 and led to three WHL US Division titles (2004, 2006, 2007), a WHL Western Conference championship (2004) and the WHL Regular Season championship (2007). Joining him behind the bench are former Tips captain Mitch Love, who returns for his third season as Assistant Coach, along with Assistant Coach Mark LaRose (who returns to the Tips after a stint in Everett from 1007-2009) and Goaltending Coach Shane Clifford (who worked w/ the Tips twice before, in 2003-2004 and 2008-2009). Love is very familiar with Constantine s coaching style, having played for him as a Silvertip and in the AHL with the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild affiliate).

T-Birds Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk returns for his third season. Joining him are newcomers Matt O Dette (Assistant Coach), formerly Head Coach of the ECHL Bakersfield Condors, and Ian Gordon (Goaltender Coach), who played the last thirteen years in the German Elite League, but spent his juniors in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos (1992-1994) and Saskatoon Blades (1995). Former T-Birds player Tyler Alos (2009-2012) was also named an Assistant Coach. He retired ten games into the 2012-2013 season because of an injury, but had helped the team with skills coaching. According to the Seattle Thunderbirds General Manager Russ Farwell, Part of his duties will be to focus on individual skill development with our players, with a special focus on our young players.

The T-Birds start the season with four 20-year-olds, eight 19-year-olds, five 18-year-olds, six 17-year-olds and four 16-year-olds on the roster. The 16-year-olds are: Lane Pederson (#12), a center from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Mathew Barzal (#13), a center from Burnaby, BC; Keegan Kolesar (#28) a right wing from Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Ethan Bear (#25) a defenseman from Ochapowace, Saskatchewan.The Silvertips start the season with four 20-year-olds, four 19-year-olds, seven 18-year-olds, seven 17-year-olds and four 16-year-olds. The 16-year-olds are:Patrick Bajkov (#8), a left wing from Nanaimo, BC; Matt Fonteyne (#17), a center from Wetaskiwin, Alberta; Noah Juulsen (#3), a defenseman from Abbotsford, BC; and Kevin Davis (#38), a defenseman from Kamloops, BC.

I spotlight the 16-year-olds to send a gentle reminder to casual hockey fans that the Silvertips and T-Birds are part of a development league, as are the rest of the teams in the WHL. Players range in age from 16 to 20-years-old, all looking to hone their skills and make it to the next level. The 18-year-olds on these teams are eligible for the NHL Entry Draft and a number of former players have carved, or continue to carve careers in the NHL. Currently, the following players are on active NHL rosters: Patrick Marleau/T-Birds San Jose Sharks; Brooks Laich/T-Birds - Washington Capitals; Brenden Dillon/T-Birds Dallas Stars; Thomas Hickey/T-Birds New York Islanders; Ryan Murray/Silvertips Columbus Blue Jackets* (he's doing well in pre-season play but has yet to crack the active roster). A number of other players are active with NHL teams AHL affiliates and have logged playing time in the NHL.

Here s a look at the first week of games for the Silvertips and T-Birds:

Everett Silvertips:

Saturday, September 21 Home Opener vs. Prince George Cougars, 7:05pm at Comcast Arena

Friday, September 27 @ Vancouver Giants, 7:30pm

Wednesday, October 2 vs. Kelowna Rockets, 7:05pm at Comcast Arena

Friday, October 4 vs. Tri City Americans, 7:35pm at Comcast Arena

Saturday, October 5 vs. Spokane Chiefs, 7:05pm at Comcast Arena

Seattle Thunderbirds:

Saturday, September 21 Home Opener vs. Portland Winterhawks, 7:05pm at ShoWare Center

Wednesday, September 25 - @ Vancouver Giants, 7:00pm

Friday, September 27 vs. Tri City Americans, 7:35pm at ShoWare Center

Saturday, September 28 - @ Portland Winterhawks, 7:00pm

Tuesday, October 1 - @ Tri City Americans, 7:05pm

Connect with the Everett Silvertips on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter: @WHLSilvertips

Connect with the Seattle Thunderbirds on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter: @SeattleTBirds & @TBirdsGameDay

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