Kamloops’ Ryan Hofer (10) and Silvertips’ Beau Courtney (10) fight for the puck during a game between the Silvertips and Kamloops Blazers at the Angel of the Winds Arena on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. The Silvertips fell to the Kamloops, 3-6. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Kamloops’ Ryan Hofer (10) and Silvertips’ Beau Courtney (10) fight for the puck during a game between the Silvertips and Kamloops Blazers at the Angel of the Winds Arena on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. The Silvertips fell to the Kamloops, 3-6. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Zellweger, Hofer return to Everett, react to blockbuster trade

The standout pair returned to face the Silvertips on Friday night for the first time since being acquired by Kamloops.

EVERETT — The first player on the Angel of the Winds Arena ice Friday evening, more than two hours before opening puck drop, of course was Olen Zellweger. It was no different from any other Everett Silvertips home game the past four seasons as Zellweger, clad in sneakers, flashed his lightning-quick hands while working on his stickhandling.

But the difference this time? He was in front of the visitors’ bench.

Former Everett stalwarts Zellweger and Ryan Hofer were back at their former haunt for the first time as members of the Kamloops Blazers, and in a coincidence of scheduling it happened just five days after the trade that rocked the WHL world.

“I was thinking about how I’ve only been (in the visitor’s locker room) during training camp,” Zellweger said before Friday’s game. “It’s going to be different warming up on this side.”

Zellweger and Hofer were the central figures in one of the biggest trades in WHL history. On Sunday the Tips sent the 19-year-old Zellweger, who’s the WHL’s reining Defenseman of the Year, and the 20-year-old Hofer, one of the best two-way centers in the league, to Kamloops in exchange for a huge package that included four players and 10 WHL prospects draft picks.

For Kamloops, which is hosting this year’s Memorial Cup, it was about loading up in order to compete with the top teams in the CHL. For Everett it was about getting a cornucopia of assets during a season in which the Tips aren’t considered contenders for any banners.

And for Zellweger and Hofer it was an unexpected change, but one that will allow them to play in major junior hockey’s premier event.

“Obviously it was mixed emotions,” Zellweger said about his reaction to the trade. “It was both surprising and exciting. I think at the end of the day it’s hockey and trades happen all the time. It’s good for Everett, it’s good for Ryan and I, so it’s exciting.”

“It was surprising, I didn’t really expect it to go down,” Hofer said. “I just kind of heard the rumors before, and then it was trying not to think about it, it’s out of my control at the end of the day. I’m happy to be in a great spot like Kamloops and I’m excited for the future here.”

Zellweger and Hofer were central figures in Everett winning the past two U.S. Division championships. Zellweger, a native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, who was second-round pick by Everett in the 2018 prospects draft, racked up 29 goals and 103 assists in 149 games with the Tips. Hofer, an undrafted player from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who was listed by the Tips in 2020, had 54 goals and 49 assists in 125 contests with Everett over three seasons.

Their return was met with aplomb. During warmups Hofer signed one of his Everett jerseys that was tossed over the glass by a fan, while Zellweger posed for a photo with his former Everett teammate Austin Roest. Both Zellweger and Hofer started for the Blazers and received raucous cowbell-ringing ovations from the crowd when they were announced.

For Zellweger it was his second game with Kamloops, as he scored a goal and was plus-3 in Wednesday’s 6-3 home victory over Vancouver. For Hofer it was his first game with the team, as he served a one-game suspension Wednesday for a match penalty picked up in Everett’s 3-1 loss at Prince George last Saturday.

Zellweger has the added benefit of having been teammates with Kamloops’ Logan Stankoven and Caedan Bankier on Canada’s team that just won the gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships.

“The first few days have been really good,” Hofer said about joining the Blazers. “Everyone welcomed me in right away, I felt right at home. Everyone is super nice from my teammates to the staff to the billets.”

Zellweger and Hofer also appreciate the fact that they’ll be playing in the Memorial Cup, regardless of how Kamloops does in the playoffs.

“I think that’s in the back of our minds that we’re the host,” Zellweger said. “The goal of the team is to earn our way there and compete for the league championship. That’s a far time from now, but that’s where we want to head toward. It all starts now, so we’re excited.”

But even though they’ll both end their WHL careers with Kamloops, they appreciate the time they had in Everett.

“It’s been an amazing four years, maybe even five if you include my first training camp,” Zellweger said. “They helped turn me into the player I am. I wouldn’t have achieved World Juniors and all that growth maybe without Everett. It’s exciting to be back here.”

“I’m the person I am today because of (the Silvertips), and I’m the player I am because of them, too,” Hofer said. “They’re all about the development and the character side of it, and I’m happy to say I was a Silvertip.”

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