Dennis Williams, head coach of the Everett Silvertips, during a game against the Saskatoon Blades at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett on Nov. 22, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Dennis Williams, head coach of the Everett Silvertips, during a game against the Saskatoon Blades at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett on Nov. 22, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Williams, Zellweger depart for World Juniors; Tips near break severely short-handed

Everett’s head coach and top player are likely to miss significant time while representing Canada.

The Everett Silvertips had already been playing severely short-handed for more than a month. Now the Tips have entered the portion of their schedule where they’ll also be without their head coach and top player.

Last week Everett temporarily bid adieu to coach Dennis Williams and defenseman Olen Zellweger for what will likely be a month as they joined up with Canada’s team for the 2023 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Williams and Zellweger were on hand when the Tips beat Prince George 5-2 at home last Tuesday. They departed Wednesday morning for Canada’s selection camp, which concluded Monday. The tournament takes place Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Moncton, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Both Williams and Zellweger will be gone for the duration. Williams is serving as Canada’s head coach. Zellweger, who starred as Canada claimed the gold medal at the pandemic-delayed 2022 tournament that took place in August in Edmonton, Alberta, was officially named to the roster Monday afternoon.

Should Canada progress to the end of the tournament, as expected, then Williams and Zellweger would miss a minimum of nine of Everett’s games, and likely a handful more as they recover from the tournament. But Everett associate coach David Struch believes the team should be able to handle their absences.

“Nothing changes,” Struch said. “We all have the same philosophy, so the day-to-day routine as far as how we practice and how we coach all stays the same. The players have played incredibly hard, I don’t think they’ve taken a night off from day one, and that’s a credit to the older guys like (Ryan) Hofer and (Jackson) Berezowski. Those guys are veteran players and elite workers, they play and practice the same way no matter what, and because of that energy I don’t think we’ve missed a beat.”

Overcoming the loss of a coach and a star player is one thing. Overcoming an injury crisis is another. Everett got it’s first taste of life without Williams and Zellweger over the weekend, falling 3-2 at home to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Friday and 4-2 on the road against the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday. While the Tips missed Williams and Zellweger, they probably missed the seven players out injured more.

“I think under the circumstances the week went well,” Struch said. “You can go back five weeks where we’ve had anywhere from five to nine players out of the lineup who are high-minute players. Younger guys have gotten a lot more ice time and been put in positions to develop, but it’s a lot more difficult to win games. Guys reacted well. The two games we lost were to elite hockey teams, and I really felt good about the second and third periods of both games. Both teams came at us hard, we weathered the storm, and we competed well. Obviously the losses were not what we wanted, but the success comes in the development and in learning how to play the right way a little more. Hopefully it pays dividends for us down the stretch.”

Struch said he does not expect any of Everett’s injured players to return prior to the holiday break, which begins after this weekend.

Three stars of the week

Third star: Aidan Sutter. The 20-year-old defenseman had two assists across the three games, and he’s had to take on a heavy load with the Tips missing four defensemen during the weekend’s two games because of injuries and World Juniors.

Second star: Austin Roest. The 18-year-old forward had three goals and an assist, and he scored the all-important teddy-bear goal during Everett’s teddy bear toss Friday against Seattle. The Tips collected 15,023 stuffed animals that will go to charity.

First star: Berezowski. The 20-year-old forward is known best for his prowess at scoring goals in tight to the net. However, this week he was Everett’s primary provider, dishing out five assists to go along with one goal.

The week ahead

Everett plays three games this week before taking a nine-day break for the holidays. The first of those is Wednesday when the Tips play host to the Tri-City Americans (14-13-0-0). Tri-City is on a roll, having won six straight to pull within three points of Everett for third place in the U.S. Division, though all six of those victories were at home. The Americans are led by 17-year-old defenseman Lukas Dragicevic (eight goals, 29 assists), who’s tied for the league lead in scoring among d-men.

The first half concludes with a home-and-home set against Seattle, with Friday’s game in Kent and Saturday’s in Everett. The T-birds (20-4-1-1) are in a virtual dead heat with Portland atop the U.S. Division. Seattle is 3-0 against the Tips this season, but will be without four players who made Canada’s team for World Juniors. The T-birds are still deep up front, however, led by 20-year-old forward Jared Davidson (16 goals, 18 assists).

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