Everett Silvertips defensemen Olen Zellweger and Ronan Seeley were given about the highest honor possible for a junior hockey player, as they were selected to represent Canada at the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships.
But as big an honor as it is for that pair, their selections are going to make the Tips’ holiday season that much more challenging.
Zellweger and Seeley were among the 25 players named to Canada’s roster for World Juniors on Sunday evening, meaning they will be part of the squad hoping to bring home gold from the tournament that takes place Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.
Zellweger, an 18-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Seeley, a 19-year-old from Olds, Alberta, were just the fifth and sixth players in Everett’s 19-season history to receive the summons from Hockey Canada for World Juniors, joining goaltender Leland Irving (2007), defenseman Ryan Murray (2012), defenseman Noah Juulsen (2017) and goaltender Carter Hart (2017 and 2018).
“It’s awesome,” said Everett associate coach Louis Mass, who’s taken the reins behind the Tips’ bench while head coach Dennis Williams serves as an assistant for Canada’s team at World Juniors. “We’re very proud of those guys.”
However, their selections mean Zellweger and Seeley will be unavailable for Everett for at least seven more games (they would have returned to Everett immediately had they been cut), and possibly more should they be given time off following the tournament. Not only will the Tips be missing two of their best players during this stretch, their absences will be felt that much more profoundly because they play the same position.
Everett experienced what life is like without Zellweger and Seeley over the weekend. The pair’s final game was Wednesday’s 5-3 home victory over Kelowna, which improved the Tips’ record to 19-3-1-1. However, they departed after the game to attend Canada’s selection camp, and Everett proceeded to allow 12 goals in two games on the road against struggling Tri-City, falling 7-5 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday.
“The last thing we’re going to do is sit around here and make excuses about guys not being in the lineup, because we had good enough players in the lineup to win games with the guys we have, so there’s no complaining here,” Mass said. “We do need to be better defensively as a group, but if you just looked at the scoreboard I think you’d be pulled in a direction that is not an accurate picture of what the games were. We were consistent in the way we competed all the way through, and our older guys did a great job picking up their games and leading in the room.”
Everett will be losing another player to World Juniors this week. Playmaking center Michal Gut was selected to play for the Czech Republic, and he’ll be leaving after Tuesday’s game at Portland. So the Tips will face that much more of a challenge in the coming weeks.
Three stars of the week
Third star: Dexter Whittle. The 17-year-old defenseman, who’s taking on a heightened role with Zellweger and Seeley gone, had a goal, an assist and was a plus-4 across Everett’s three games. His goal, which came in Friday’s game against Tri-City, was his first in the WHL.
Second star: Ben Hemmerling. The 17-year-old winger tallied five assists as he served as Everett’s key set-up man, particularly in the victory against Kelowna in which he handed out three helpers.
First star: Jackson Berezowski. The 19-year-old winger is captaining the team alone with his co-captain Seeley away, and he did everything he could to drag Everett to success, scoring goals in all three games and adding two assists. Somehow he was a plus-5 in the game the Tips lost 7-5.
The week ahead
Everett has a busy final week prior to the Christmas break. The Tips play four games, three of which are against the two teams chasing Everett in the U.S. Division standings. Everett opens the week Tuesday at third-place Portland (11-10-3-1), plays a home-and-home with second-place Seattle (16-6-3-0) on Friday (in Kent) and Saturday (in Everett), then finishes up Sunday with a home game against last-place Spokane (6-14-2-1).
Neither Seattle nor Portland are losing any players to World Juniors — with the exception of Seattle defenseman Samuel Knazko playing for Slovakia, and he deserves an asterisk because he just joined the T-birds and has yet to play a game for Seattle. Therefore, with Everett severely shorthanded, not only because of the absence of Zellweger, Seeley and Gut for World Juniors, but also because of injuries to winger Hunter Campbell and defenseman Aidan Sutter, this could be a week that sees the division race tighten.
Following Sunday’s game the Tips are off for eight days before resuming play with a pair of games at Prince George on Dec. 28 and 29.