EVERETT — Ronan Seeley came in to the Western Hockey League with first-round pedigree, but he wasn’t pampered like a top draft pick in his first season in Everett.
There were days the 17-year-old defenseman knew playing time would be scarce when he was headed to the rink. Even with ice time at a premium, growing pains were still prevalent for Seeley, still acclimating to the jump from midget to major junior.
While it’s early in the new season, Seeley is indicating those trials and tribulations are in the past.
The 2002-born blueliner rushed the puck up the ice frequently throughout the first three periods and tethered a backdoor pass to Reece Vitelli for the overtime winner in the Silvertips’ 3-2 win over the Tri-City Americans, opening the Western Hockey League preseason at the annual Labor Day Weekend tournament at Angel of the Winds Arena on Friday.
“I liked Ronan playing with a lot of confidence out there,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said. “(Assistant coach) Louis (Mass) and I were talking about that in between periods. He was going a lot, and we need to rein that in at certain times, because he does get caught. But it’s a whole different look. I love the way he’s approaching the game. He’s breaking pucks out with his head up and with speed and he’s escaping guys.”
Seeley broke Friday’s game open with under a minute left in the three-on-three overtime, emerging out of the left corner like Houdini, skating up to the crease and feeding Vitelli, who tapped in the puck.
“I got the puck out of the corner and I knew there were two guys on me, and I knew if I exploded out I could beat them both,” Seeley said. “I did that and there was one last guy and he slid. He was a couple feet from the net and I just put it around him and luckily the goalie’s stick wasn’t there and Reece finished.”
It’s a testament to Seeley turning the page in the offseason, according to Williams.
“Last year, he probably would have been shoved in the corner,” Seeley said. “But he put in a lot of good hard work in the summer and became stronger and faster and made that backdoor play there.”
The Olds, Alberta confirmed he put in “good hard work in the summer” and went to great lengths to do so. Seeley said he drove an hour each way to Calgary, Alberta six days a week to skate at Crash Conditioning Centre — Edmonton’s Jake Neighbors and Prince Albert’s Ozzy Weisblatt were also there, two players projected to be high picks in the 2020 NHL Draft, along with Seeley.
Seeley said he didn’t pack on many pounds, but feels stouter and more confident heading into the season after his summer workload.
“I think I lost some weight, actually,” Seeley said. “But I got stronger for sure and my cardio is great now. I’m ready for the year and big minutes and whatever role I may have.”
The Spokane semifinal series last season was when Seeley started to garner more ice time, as the then-rookie defenseman forced his way not only into the lineup, but into regular shifts. His speed and playmaking ability came in handy against a deep and talented Chiefs squad.
It was a great jumping off point going into 2019-2020, according to Seeley.
“At the end of last year in the Spokane series there, I got a little more ice time and a little more comfortable,” Seeley said. “I got to learn from some really great players that have moved on now and I think that really helped my game and I’m going to continue to build off that.”
Before that Seeley was the odd-man out many times last year and it wasn’t much of a shock, since he was playing behind six veteran defenseman, all of which skated in the WHL Finals between Everett and Swift Current in 2018 (Wyatte Wylie, Jake Christiansen, Gianni Fairbrother and Ian Walker for the Silvertips, as well as Sahvan Khaira and Artyom Minulin for the Broncos).
The 6-foot defenseman flashed some promise, but they were, just that: flashes. But the coaches still lauded him for his work ethic throughout the season.
Now, Seeley could be primed to make a big jump.
“As the season went on, you could see him getting better, and better and better,” Williams said. “He came to camp ready and prepared, because now he knows what to expect. … If guys just stick to the plan and stick with the course, good things happen. I know there’s a long season ahead of us, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a really great year.”
Gut finds back of net in Everett debut
Michal Gut, Everett’s 2019 import draft pick, scored his first goal since joining the Silvertips, burying a rebound chance after Gianni Fairbrother’s shot was parried away by Boyko and right to his stick to put the Silvertips up 1-0 at 7:47 in the first period. Rookie Olen Zellweger slid a pass over to Fairbrother for the secondary assist.
“I thought Gut played well,” Williams said. “He’s still getting acclimated. The language is a little tough for him on the bench.”
Gut, a native of the Cze arrived in Everett with little grasp of English, but Williams tasked overage forward Bryce Kindopp in guiding him along.
“He’s been awesome, he’s always got a smile on his face,” Kindopp said. “His English isn’t the best, but he watches the game and he watches what Willy says. He knows what he’s doing. I just have to tell him what play it is and what we’re running and he’ll understand.”
Play by play
Jackson Berezowski gave Everett a 2-1 lead at 17:33 in the second period, snapping a one-timer past Tri-City netminder Talyn Boyko off the setup pass from Dawson Butt. Jake Christiansen picked up the secondary assist by starting the rush.
But Edge Lambert scored off the rush on the assist from Nick Bowman to level the score at 2-2.
Bowman scored off the rush to knot the score at 1-1 with 1:01 remaining in the first.
The Silvertips outshot the Americans 61-21.
Dustin Wolf stopped 19 shots for the Silvertips.
—The Silvertips scratches were forwards Martin-Fasko-Rudas, Max Patterson, Justyn Gurney, Jalen Price; defensemen Ty Gibson and Wyatte Wylie; goaltender Keegan Karki. Wylie, a fifth-round pick by the Flyers in 2018, is in Philadelphia in preparation for NHL training camp.
Josh Horton covers the Silvertips for the Herald. Follow him on Twitter, @JoshHortonEDH