Everett’s Niko Huuhtanen works a rebound with Portland’s Dante Glannuzzi defending at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett on Jan. 1, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Everett’s Niko Huuhtanen works a rebound with Portland’s Dante Glannuzzi defending at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett on Jan. 1, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Silvertips nearing full strength after abrupt end to World Juniors

Defensemen Olen Zellweger and Ronan Seeley, center Michal Gut and coach Dennis Williams are all back for Everett.

For Ronan Seeley and Olen Zellweger it was a dream come true. Unfortunately for them and the other two members of the Everett Silvertips organization who were involved in the World Junior Hockey Championships, the dream ended earlier than it should have.

Seeley, Zellweger and company are back in Everett after World Juniors was forced to shut down last week because of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among participating teams.

Seeley and Zellweger, both defensemen, were playing for Canada at World Juniors, the premier international tournament for under-20 players which was taking place in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. Center Michal Gut was playing for Czechia, while Everett head coach Dennis Williams was part of Canada’s coaching staff.

“It was everything you dream about as a kid and more,” Seeley said about the abbreviated time at World Juniors. “It was a really incredible experience, I have nothing but good things to say about it. It was just an unfortunate ending.”

Though Zellweger was expected to make the team, Seeley was not considered a lock when the invitations to Canada’s selection camp came in early December. However, both were among the eight defensemen kept by Canada. Seeley ended up playing in a premier role as he was paired with the University of Michigan’s Owen Power, who was the first-overall selection by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021 NHL draft.

“It was really cool (playing with Power),” said Seeley, who tallied a pair of assists in Canada’s two victories before the tournament was shut down. “It’s fun to watch him play on TV. To actually be out there with him and see the way he moves and creates space, it was really fun and I learned a lot from him.”

Unfortunately, the cancellation of the tournament was particularly painful for the Canadians, who were among the gold-medal favorites on home soil.

“I felt really confident in our group,” said Zellweger, who scored a power-play goal with a powerful wrist shot from the left circle in Canada’s first win. “Obviously we had a really good team, but I also think we prepared well. We practiced really hard and focused on the details. I think we prepared ourselves to win the gold. It’s just unfortunate it ended that way.”

The cancellation of World Juniors meant Seeley, Zellweger and Gut were back with the Tips sooner than expected. They didn’t play in Everett’s 6-5 and 4-2 victories at Prince George last Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. However, they did take part in Saturday’s 7-6 shootout loss to Portland on Saturday at Angel of the Winds Arena.

Three stars of the week

Third star: Ryan Hofer. The 19-year-old center had three goals and four assists across Everett’s three games, and he’s now one point away from being a point-a-game player.

Second star: Alex Swetlikoff. The 20-year-old center racked up five goals and two assists, including the game-winning goal in overtime against Prince George on Tuesday. How in the world did he fire off 18 shots on goal against Portland?

First star: Niko Huuhtanen. The 18-year-old winger is on some kind of run, and if anything he picked up the pace even more last week as he piled up 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the three games. He now has 16 goals and 14 assists in his past 17 contests.

The week ahead

Everett — barring any COVID-19 outbreaks — is finally starting to look something like its normal self, now that Seeley, Zellweger and Gut are back, while winger Hunter Campbell and defenseman Aidan Sutter also returned from injury. The Tips are still dealing with some injuries up front, including to leading goal scorer Jackson Berezowski, but for the first time in a month Everett is able to ice something resembling a full lineup.

It would be helpful if Everett could get back to fielding a full 18 skaters as the Tips (23-6-2-2) have a busy three-in-three weekend upcoming. Everett travels to Spokane (10-17-2-1) on Friday and Tri-City (9-16-4-0) on Saturday before returning home to host the Americans on Sunday.

The trade deadline has been pushed back a week this year, meaning it lands on Jan. 17 instead of next Monday. But it’s still possible the week could see some trade activity by Everett as it tries to consolidate its spot as the leader in the Western Conference.

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