The Silvertips’ Olen Zellweger in action during a game against the Winterhawks on Jan. 1 at the Angel of the Winds Arena. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Silvertips’ Olen Zellweger in action during a game against the Winterhawks on Jan. 1 at the Angel of the Winds Arena. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Silvertips expect Zellweger to return for playoffs

The defender suffered a scary injury two weeks ago, but is "set to play" against Vancouver, according to coach Dennis Williams.

EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips are getting their co-MVP back for the start of the playoffs.

Defenseman Olen Zellweger, who suffered a frightening injury two weeks ago, is set to return for the start of the WHL playoffs, Everett coach Dennis Williams said.

“Olen will be set to play,” Williams said when asked about Zellweger’s availability for the postseason, which begins Friday when the Tips host the Vancouver Giants at Angel of the Winds Arena.

Zellweger, Everett’s dynamic 18-year-old blueliner, was injured during a game on April 10 against the Seattle Thunderbirds in Kent. Zellweger was hit into the boards by Seattle’s Samuel Knazko and immediately crumpled. After a 13-minute delay Zellweger was taken off the ice on a stretcher. The nature and severity of the injury, which was listed as upper body, were not disclosed.

Everett was staring at the possibility of beginning the playoffs without arguably its best player. Zellweger, who was selected in the second round of the 2021 NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks, was in the midst of perhaps the best season ever by a Tips defenseman. Through 55 games he had 14 goals and 64 assists, he shared the team’s Most Valuable Player award with winger Jackson Berezowski, and he’s a strong contender for the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the league’s Defenseman of the Year.

Everett lost its last three regular season games while Zellweger was out (including the Seattle game, when Zellweger was injured midway through the first period). So it’s a relief for the Tips that Zellweger has recovered in time for the postseason.

“With his creativity and skill-set he’s a driver out there,” Williams said. “He definitely contributes and helps drastically. On the defensive side he’s one of the best D-men we’ve probably had in my five years here, and he’s probably one of the top D-men we’ve seen in the league over those five years.”

Tips to face Vancouver in first round

Despite losing their final three games, Everett earned the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed to the playoffs. The Tips, who clinched the U.S. Division championship prior to losing their final three, finished 45-13-5-5 for 100 points, which was one point ahead of B.C. Division champion Kamloops. The Tips benefited from the Blazers’ unexpected home loss against Prince George last Friday, which ensured Everett would finish with the conference’s best record.

By finishing first the Tips drew eighth-seeded Vancouver in the first round. The Giants finished in a three-way tie for sixth with Prince George and Spokane with 53 points, but fell to eighth via tiebreakers. Everett and Vancouver finished 2-2 against one another during the regular season, but the Giants won just once in their final 12 games after beating Everett 5-3 at home on March 18.

“They have some pretty dominating players in their lineup in guys like (winger Fabian) Lysell, (winger Zack) Ostapchuk and (defenseman Alex) Cotton,” Williams said about the Giants. “I know they’ve been without their goalie, I don’t know what the situation is with (Jesper) Vikman (who’s been listed as week-to-week with a lower-body injury). But they have a big, strong, heavy team. I know their head coach as well, as I’ve gotten to know Michael Dyck through coaching with Hockey Canada, so I know their team will be well prepared. They have a heavier team, so we’re going to have to be quick on pucks, transition fast and get behind their D. It should be a great series.”

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