EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips are back, and they’re thrilled to be back to something resembling normalcy.
The Tips have begun their preparations for the 2021-22 season, with training camp running from Thursday through Sunday at Angel of the Winds Arena and the Everett Community Ice Rink. A total of 53 players are on hand and split into two teams, with the first practice sessions taking place Thursday evening and scrimmages beginning Friday morning.
And after a coronavirus pandemic-ravaged 2020-21 season in which games didn’t begin until March, the schedule was reduced to 24 games and there was no postseason, the Tips are just happy to be conducting training camp at a normal time of year.
“Yeah, it is (nice to be back to something like normal),” veteran winger Jackson Berezowski said. “Last season we had a good camp with a tight-knit group, but this year we have a lot more new faces. It feels more back to normal, and when you can get that it’s kind of nice.”
Things aren’t 100% back to normal. The start of training camp is a week later than standard, the number of players at camp is smaller than usual (largely because the WHL draft was pushed back from May to December, meaning there are no 2006-born players in attendance) and everyone is still donning masks.
But camp is taking on its regular structure, including masked spectators in attendance.
“It’s real nice,” Everett general manager and head coach Dennis Williams said. “Seeing the camp invites, the returners, the listed players, they were all here (Thursday) for the welcoming meeting. Then getting on the ice for practice and having a full team out there end actually seeing people on the other side of the glass, it did feel good.”
Everett is coming off a campaign in which it finished 19-4-0-0 and claimed its fifth U.S. Division championship in the past seven seasons. The Tips are also in their first season in which Williams is serving as both general manager and head coach, after previous general manager Garry Davidson did not have his contract renewed due to financial fallout from the pandemic.
Everett has plenty of big shoes to fill. Two-time reigning WHL Goaltender of the Year Dustin Wolf is headed to the professional ranks, as is co-leading scorer Gage Goncalves, while high-impact overagers Cole Fonstad, Gianni Fairbrother and Ethan Regnier aged out of the league.
“Every year I’ve been here we’ve had big shoes to fill, it seems like,” said Williams, who first arrived as head coach in 2017. “To me those are problems you want to have. If you don’t have those problems you’re probably not where you want to be in terms of a successful program. So these are good problems to have.”
The Tips do have pieces to work with, starting with 2021 U.S. Division Defenseman of the Year Ronan Seeley, as well as Berezowski, who tallied 21 points in 23 games. The Tips added some players during the offseason who they hope will be to take on major roles, including the selection of Finnish winger Niko Huuhtanen in the CHL import draft and the trade for overage center Alex Swetlikoff from Kelowna.
The first impressions from training camp have been positive ones.
“I think it’s been pretty good,” Berezowski said. “We have a lot of pace coming in, and when you can start with pace like that it’s good for leading up to the rest of the week.”
Said Williams: “I thought all the players, the returners especially, came back stronger and faster, so they really put in the time in the offseason and that has helped elevate the pace out there. But even all the new listed guys we have and free agents, they’ve kept right up. So I’ve really been impressed with the parity of it out there — as well as how good our returning guys have been in working with all the new guys, making them feel comfortable.”
Two prominent veteran players are not at training camp. Defenseman Olen Zellweger, who was selected in the second round of this year’s NHL draft by the Anaheim Ducks, is already in Anaheim preparing for the Ducks’ training camp. Czech center Michal Gut is still awaiting clearance to enter the country amidst COVID travel restrictions. Williams said he remains confident Gut will be able to join the team, and is hoping for clarity on the situation by next week. Also, defenseman Hoyt Stanley, who was the team’s first pick (fourth round) in the 2020 WHL draft, is not attending because of injury. … Everett has five players headed to NHL rookie training camps. Zellweger, Seeley (Carolina) and Huuhtanen (Tampa Bay) are NHL draft picks, while goaltender Braden Holt (Toronto) and center Ryan Hofer (Colorado) received invites.