It was a winter night 12 years ago. The Everett Silvertips were playing their first season in the Western Hockey League and they were at Toyota Center for the Tri-City Americans’ annual Teddy Bear Toss game.
Everett assistant coach Mitch Love, 31, was a veteran defenseman for the Silvertips that year, but that Dec. 6 game is a little fuzzy in his memory.
“I’ve been hit in the head so many times that I don’t really remember,” Love said before Friday’s game. “Seems like every time of the year right about now that we are in this building, it’s the Teddy Bear Toss game. As a player and as a coach, we have never done well in this building (20-26-6-2). It’s hard to play here. They have passionate fans and they are right on top of you.”
Friday, the Silvertips faced the Americans for the fourth time in the teddy bear game. They were 0-3 coming into the game. Now, they are 1-3 after a 3-2 victory.
In the 2003 game, Tri-City defenseman Clayton Stoner scored the teddy bear goal just 1:48 into the game short-handed, beating Everett goalie Mike Wall.
The Americans had a 4-0 lead when Love scored on the power play at 14:23 of the third period. Tri-City would go on to win the game 4-2.
Back in the day, Stoner and Love were enemies on the ice. They had their share of scuffles. To be honest, they did not like each other.
“Definitely not,” Love said. “When Don (Nachbaur) was coaching here in the early 2000s, they had some tough hockey clubs here. You knew there were going to be some fights and you knew you were going to have to work hard to come away with two points. But time changes, maturity changes, life changes.”
During the 2008-09 season, Love and Stoner were teammates with the Houston Aeros (AHL), coached by Kevin Constantine, who coached Love in Everett. Now, the two are good friends, as are their wives and daughters.
“My pro career was short-lived,” Love said. “But it’s a small world. My first two years, I lived with two ex-Portland Winterhawks — Dan DaSilva and Cody McLeod. Playing with Clayton in Houston we became friends. He is a salt-of-the-earth guy. Without a doubt, that’s what this game is about — the people — whether you are teammates or opponents.”