EVERETT — There were a lot of positives for the Everett Silvertips in their first week-plus of the 2021-22 WHL season. Everett won both its games, prevailing 4-3 in overtime in its opener Oct. 3 in Spokane, then shutting out Portland 4-0 in its home opener Friday. Star defenseman Olen Zellweger, who didn’t play in either of the first two games, has returned to the team following an extended stay at training camp with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
But there was no better feeling for the Tips than finally getting back in front of their own fans.
Friday’s game was Everett’s first in front of fans at Angel of the Winds Arena in 580 days. The Tips’ previous home game in front of spectators was on March 7, 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the 2019-20 season and forced a shortened 2020-21 campaign to be played in empty arenas.
So a crowd of 5,782 showed up to cheer on Everett for the first time in 19 months, and the Tips were thrilled to have them back.
“It felt really good to have fans back in the building,” goaltender Braden Holt said. “There’s just a different feeling with the fans in. You could feel it in warmups, there were a of of people during warmups and they haven’t been able to come in here in 500-some days now. It’s pretty special just coming out of the tunnel and automatically seeing my parents watching and all the fans. It’s really special to have them back.”
“It was pretty remarkable,” winger Jackson Berezowski added. “Even after warmups there was a pretty good crowd there and you could see guys were getting amped up. We’re thankful for having a season last year, but now we’re getting back to a little bit of normal. It was good to see and it was obviously fun playing out there.”
Everett had eight players in the lineup Friday who had never suited up for a game at Angel of the Winds in front of fans, so for them it was a new experience playing in front of what coach Dennis Williams described as the best atmosphere in the WHL.
“When I was talking to the guys around the room I realized half our team has never played in front of an Everett crowd,” Williams said. “I’m sure they were so excited.
“It was awesome, hearing the cowbells again and seeing people fist-pumping in the stands,” Williams added about being back in front of fans. “It was loud. It’s the first game in a while where we were screaming at players. Last year you didn’t have to because they could hear you across the ice. Tonight you couldn’t talk to a guy 5 feet in front of you without having to yell because it was so loud at times.”
And by winning 4-0 the Tips gave those fans plenty to cheer about.
Three stars of the week
Third star: Holt. The 18-year-old netminder only started one of Everett’s first two games, but he couldn’t have done any better in that one start, pitching a 23-save shutout against a Portland team expected to be the front-runner in the U.S. Division.
Second star: Michal Gut. The 19-year-old center from the Czech Republic tallied two points in each of Everett’s games, illustrating how big a deal it is that the Tips have him back after he missed the 2020-21 season because of COVID travel restrictions.
First star: Ronan Seeley. The 19-year-old defenseman carried a huge role with Zellweger unavailable, and Williams said Seeley may have played his best game as a Tip in the contest against Spokane, which he ended with the game-winning goal in overtime.
The week ahead
Everett’s schedule started slowly, with just one game in each of the first two weeks. This week the Tips ramp it up a bit with their first two-game week, and it’s an intriguing one as Everett plays a home-and-home set against the archrival Seattle Thunderbirds. Friday’s game in Kent and Saturday’s is in Everett.
Seattle (2-1-0-0) hasn’t experienced much success since winning the WHL championship in 2017. However, this could be the year the T-birds have their breakthrough behind a strong 18-year-old group led by forward Connor Roulette (two goals, one assist) and goaltender Thomas Milic (2-1-0-0, 2.36 goals against average, .934 save percentage).
Saturday’s game at Angel of the Winds should be well-attended, as it’s Everett’s annual Pink the Rink game to support the fight against breast cancer.