EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips begin their preparations for the 2022-23 WHL season Thursday morning when they hit the ice for the first time, and when they do it will be business as usual for the first time in three years.
Everett’s training camp opens at 8 a.m. Thursday at Angel of the Winds Arena, and for the first time since 2019 camp will revert to its normal format.
The coronavirus pandemic had major impacts on each of the past three WHL seasons, and training camp is one of the elements that was affected. There was no training camp for the 2020-21 developmental season, and last year’s training camp was attended by fewer players because the 2021 prospects draft was moved from May to December, meaning there were no 15-year-olds at camp.
But this year’s training camp resembles its regular self. Approximately 70 players are expected to attend camp, which takes place all day Thursday, Friday and Saturday before concluding with the annual Green vs. Grey game at 10 a.m. Sunday. All sessions are open to the public and free of charge.
“I think what’s really nice this year is that we’re starting to get back to normality,” Everett general manager and head coach Dennis Williams said. “To be able to have four teams and have everyone around for the introduction meeting and for social events, that’s stuff we haven’t been able to do for three years. It feels good to be back in the thick of it and I look forward to seeing all the players.”
Everett heads into camp looking to replace a number of key contributors to the team that finished 45-13-5-5 during the regular season and captured the U.S. Division championship, but was upset by the Vancouver Giants in the first round of the playoffs. However, two players who will be camp participants are last season’s co-MVPs.
Overage winger Jackson Berezowski, who scored a team-leading 46 goals, missed the playoffs because of a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. Williams said Berezowski is 100% and will be a full participant at camp.
“Obviously he was a tough loss for us last year, he’s important both in what he brings on the ice and in his leadership,” Williams said about Berezowski. “He’s a big piece of our puzzle and to our success last year. Since the first day he was with our program he’s been a Silvertip through and through, and we’ll rely heavily on him in a leadership role. He sets a high bar each and every day.”
Defenseman Olen Zellweger will also be present. Zellweger is coming off an 18-year-old season in which he tallied 14 goals and 64 assists in 55 games en route to being named the WHL’s Defenseman of the Year. Zellweger followed up with a starring performance for the Canadian team that claimed the gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships in August, and there’s talk of Zellweger potentially sticking with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks as a 19-year-old. Nevertheless, Zellweger is attending Everett’s camp rather than heading straight to Anaheim.
“I would never bet against (Zellweger making the Ducks),” Williams said. “I think like a lot of things he’s accomplished, he’s always defied the odds. We’re a league of development, and if we lose five guys to the NHL it’s a great year. That’s what we’re here to do, and he’s put himself in a great position. His great World Juniors will only give him more confidence as he prepares to head to Anaheim in a few weeks.”
Everett won’t have any European players attending camp. Czech center Michal Gut has elected to play professionally in his home country this season rather than return as an overager. Meanwhile, import draft selections Dominik Rymon, an 18-year-old forward from Czechia, and Tim Metzger, a 17-year-old goaltender from Switzerland, have both signed with the Tips, but are still having paperwork sorted out.
There will be plenty of new faces, as this will be the first training camp for both the 2006- and 2007-born players. Another new face is associate coach Dave Struch. Struch, who was hired to replace the departed Louis Mass and will run Everett’s defense, brings 17 years of WHL experience to the table, including spending 2018-21 as head coach of the Regina Pats.
“He brings an outside perspective, which is good,” Williams said of Struch. “You can’t put a price tag on experience, and you can tell how much he cares about the game. He’s been here the last week, so we’ve gotten to spend some time together, and his big thing is his passion for developing players.”
Everett’s exhibition schedule begins when it hosts its preseason tournament Sept. 9-11. The regular season opener is Sept. 24 at home against Vancouver.