Sports News: Key defenseman out with injury as Silvertips continue drive for 1st

 Ronan Seeley is week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Everett squares off with 2nd-place Portland on Saturday.

The Everett Silvertips’ biggest strength this season has been having two elite defensemen at their disposal. But for at least a couple weeks the Tips will have to get by without one of them.

Everett lost defenseman Ronan Seeley to an upper-body injury during Friday’s 5-3 road loss to the Vancouver Giants. Everett coach Dennis Williams described Seeley as week-to-week, meaning the Tips will have to navigate at least a chunk of the final drive for first place in the WHL’s U.S. Division without one of their most important players.

“Obviously it’s difficult, given what he brings to the back end in terms of being a 200-foot two-way defenseman,” Williams said. “He plays probably 28-30 minutes a game. Whether it’s the penalty kill, power play, we’re up one, down one, he’s on the ice for us. Losing that has an impact and takes a toll on the back end.”

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The 19-year-old Seeley, who along with Olen Zellweger gives Everett a dynamic duo on the blue line, suffered the injury early in the second period of Friday’s game when he was hit into the boards by Vancouver’s Adam Hall. Hall received a minor penalty for boarding during the game, but was later suspended three games by the league under supplemental discipline.

Seeley was a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, he was named the U.S. Division Defenseman of the Year during the coronavirus pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, and he was part of Canada’s team for the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships. So filling his skates — including his 41 points in 48 games — won’t be easy.

“Because of the injuries we’ve battled, all our defensemen have been playing,” Williams said. “Dexter Whittle has probably played the least amount of games, but in the past 15 he’s probably played in 13 of them. Injuries and suspensions have allowed guys to get in and get reps. We’re not going to ask one guy to fill the void, I think it’s going to be a collective effort.”

The good news for Seeley and Everett is that Williams said he’s fully confident Seeley will be back in time for the start of the playoffs, which begin around April 22.

Also good for Everett is they managed to bounce back from the injury. Seeley’s absence for nearly 40 minutes was a factor in the loss to Vancouver. However, the Tips responded the following night to beat the Giants 5-2 at home, then won 6-3 at home against Spokane on Sunday. In total Everett (41-10-3-5) finished 3-1 during its busiest stretch of the season’s final five weeks, and the Tips maintained a two-point lead over Kamloops for the Western Conference’s top playoff seed.

Three stars of the week

Third star: Austin Roest. The winger in his 17-year-old season had solid numbers during the week’s four games — two goals, two assists — but Williams praised Roest for doing things like going hard to the net and finishing his checks.

Second star: Alex Swetlikoff. The overage center has been perhaps Everett’s steadiest performer throughout the season, and it was more of the same last week has he tallied three goals and three assists. He has points in 14 consecutive games, the Tips’ longest streak of the season.

First star: Zellweger. What more can be said of the 18-year-old defenseman? He dished out eight assists as he was named the WHL Player of the Week. He now has 67 points in 48 contests, breaking Kevin Davis’ Silvertips record for points by a defenseman in a season (65 in 2017-18), and is taking on an even bigger role with Seeley out.

The week ahead

This weekend contains the first of three games over the final four weeks that will likely determine the outcome of the U.S. Division race. Everett welcomes the Portland Winterhawks to Angel of the Winds Arena on Saturday, the first of three games against Portland in the Tips’ last nine contests.

Portland (40-15-3-2) swept two games from Seattle over the weekend, likely eliminating the T-birds from the race for first. Everett still holds a five-point lead over the Winterhawks, with the Tips having played one fewer game, so Everett has the advantage. However, Portland can all but eliminate the gap by winning the head-to-head games, and the Winterhawks prevailed the previous four times the teams met, including a 4-2 victory at Everett on March 4.

Everett warms up for the showdown with a third game in 11 days against Spokane (19-35-4-1) on Friday night at Angel of the Winds. The Tips are a perfect 11-0 against Spokane so far this season.

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