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T-Birds hire former Everett Director of Player Personnel Bil La Forge as new GM

Russ Farwell guided Seattle to their only WHL Championship in 2017 (T-Birds photo)

In a move that was not a huge surprise but came perhaps a year sooner than expected, the Thunderbirds hired their new general manager.

They didn’t have to look far.

On Wednesday, the team announced that Bil La Forge, who has been the Everett Silvertips’ Director of Player Personnel for the past four years, would be succeeding Russ Farwell, who had been in his position for 23 seasons.

Last November, Farwell hinted that the end of his tenure as T-Birds GM was nearing its end, but said that he planned to stay on through this coming season.

Farwell will remain with the team as the Vice President of Hockey Operations.

“I’m really excited about it. Being in Everett, I’ve gotten to see how well this team has played over the last few years. There’s an exciting future ahead,” said La Forge about where he sees this team currently standing. “Having the opportunity to work with Russ and Colin Campbell is really going to be beneficial to me, and with what I can add, hopefully we can get the team back to the place they were two years ago when they won a Championship.”

La Forge will be fortunate to have the opportunity to continue working with Farwell, who he says he’ll turn to for advice for as long as he’s able.

“Any time you come into a situation like this, where I’ll have the opportunity to work with Russ, I’d be foolish not to take his advice and learn from his experience,” La Forge said of the former T-Birds GM. “I believe that communication is essential in this business and the fact that him and I are going to be able to work closely together will be beneficial for both the team and me moving forward. I couldn’t have envisioned a better situation to come into as general manager than to be working with someone who has so much experience.”

The T-Birds were eliminated by the Silvertips in the first round of last year’s WHL Playoffs following back-to-back Western Conference Championships. After losing multiple players to the professional ranks, many saw last season as a rebuilding year. La Forge, who began talks with the team shortly after the Bantam Draft concluded in early May, likes the foundation that has been established and looks forward to continuing to build through the draft.

“I like to think we’re on the upswing,” said La Forge, who currently resides in Edmonton. “We have some really exciting young prospects coming aboard. The job that the scouting staff did this year at the draft was, in my opinion, very strong. There’s a lot of talent coming in and we’re going to use that to get back to the top.”

Prior to Everett’s Western Conference Championship last season, they made some major changes as they chose not to renew head coach Kevin Constantine’s contract and instead brought in Dennis Williams in an effort to promote a more open and offensively aggressive style of play.

“The way we played last year in Everett is the way I want to see a team play. You want the puck as much as possible. You play fast, you play smart, and you play hard. Those are the type of players I’ll look to make sure we bring in,” La Forge said, adding that he believes that’s the direction the game is moving. “We want to be competitive, fast, and skilled all at the same time. Those will be key attributes for future Thunderbirds. The guys the scouting department drafted this year all play that way.”

La Forge’s first order of business will be the CHL’s annual Import Draft, which takes place this year on June 28. With the departure of Sami Moilanen back to his native Finland, Seattle knows they’ll have at least one pick to make in the draft that Farwell has previously described as a bit of a crapshoot.

“Russ and I don’t disagree on that,” La Forge said, agreeing that there is quite a bit of uncertainty in drafting young players who you may have only had the chance to scout once or twice. “As recently as today I was going over some of the names available and trying to cross-reference what I’ve heard with what he’s heard because sometimes different teams, even with as close as Seattle and Everett are, get different information. It’s something Russ and I will sit down with the coaches and come up with a game plan for.”

The past year has seen numerous changes across the Seattle organization.

It was just about one year ago that former head coach Steve Konowalchuk accepted a position as an assistant with the Anaheim Ducks. Matt O’Dette was hired to replace him behind the Seattle bench a couple of weeks later.

In September, it was announced that Dan and Lindsey Leckelt had purchased the team from Farwell’s ownership group. Shortly after, Farwell announced he was on the lookout for his replacement.

Today, that replacement was found as La Forge ushers in a new era of Thunderbirds hockey.