Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wiercioch Readies Himself For Hockey Career

(above) Incoming Freshman Patrick Wiercioch has spent his life preparing for a shot in the NHL

From: Maple Ridge News
by Jeremy Shepard

It was a slash. Just one motion. A hockey stick ripped into his hand, and at only 16 years old, defenseman Patrick Wiercioch wondered if his career had just been taken away from him.

Wiercioch had never been sure he was going to make it to the NHL, but he knew it wasn’t supposed to end playing for the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League.

Craig Millin, the man who taught Wiercioch how to skate when he was five years old, had always told Wiercioch that his outlet passes were going to make him $10 million a year someday. But Millin had also talked about the hockey clock, that limited amount of time a player has to harness all his skills and make a run for the NHL.

In that moment, Wiercioch wondered if his time was up.

Besides taking him out of the Lancers’ lineup for 20 games, the injury also furthered his sense of isolation.

“I had just moved away from home, and the only people I knew were the 23 guys I played with,” Wiercioch said.

He considered playing through the pain, but when a doctor told him that any further damage to the tendon in his thumb would leave him without full use of his hand, Wiercioch opted for surgery.

A year later, sitting in a Maple Ridge Tim Horton’s and reminiscing with Millin about draft day in Ottawa, the scar on his hand was the only reminder of the future that almost escaped him.

With a screw in his thumb, Wiercioch rejoined the Lancers and helped them earn the best regular-season record in the USHL. The defenceman then notched nine assists in a playoff run that ended with Omaha hoisting the Clarke Cup trophy after a 4-3 overtime victory over the Waterloo Black Hawks. Wiercioch netted third star honours in the game for setting up two goals and scoring another.

Three months later, the Ottawa Senators selected the 17-year-old Maple Ridge native 42nd overall.

“It was surreal,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for it.”

The draft weekend was full of moments no sane person could be ready for. The Florida Panthers met with Wiercioch, and immediately tried to engage him in macho head games.

“They said, ‘We don’t think you’re much of a skater, so when we ask you what your best at, we don’t want to hear skating,’ ” Wiercioch said, doing his best bad cop impersonation. Wiercioch said the interrogation also included the gem: “‘We don’t think you’re much of a hockey player.’”

There was also a strange moment after he was drafted when a representative from Upper Deck hockey cards insisted Wiercioch take off his Ottawa Senators jersey and put on their Ottawa Senators jersey.

“It’s just so they can say it’s a draft day worn jersey,” said Wiercioch.

For Craig Millin, the owner of RPM hockey and an instructor for more than 25 years, none of it was too surprising.

“He’s the most receptive, most committed kid I’ve ever coached,” said Millin.

With a near father-son bond, Millin and Wiercioch are joined by a love of hockey and a competitive nature as relentless as the villain in a horror movie.

“We used to skate lengths for hours,” Millin recalled. “And one time he put a cut on the bridge of my nose,” he said, laughing.

“I hate to lose,” Wiercioch said, a small smile lurking on his normally businesslike face.

Besides that competitive drive, Wiercioch attributes his success to his willingness to give everything to hockey.

“Not too many other kids sacrificed what I did,” Wiercioch said, as close to boastful as he seems to get.

“There’s hockey, academics, and a social life,” Millin agreed. “If you want to make it to the NHL, you have to choose two out of the three.”

When Wiercioch was 13, Millin took him on a five-day fishing trip to the Interior. It’s the only time in Wiercioch’s life he’s ever taken a trip without packing his skates.

“He would work on his weaknesses over and over,” said Millin. “Because in the end, it’s your weaknesses that get you.”

Wiercioch said his biggest deficiency is a lack of physical strength.

Two years ago, the defenceman showed up for his first year of junior hockey standing 6-1 and weighing 147 pounds. Because of his slight build, Wiercioch was forced to become more agile in order to cope with bigger, more physical players.

After watching Wiercioch being knocked around on the ice, Millin came up with an innovative training strategy to teach him how to shrug off hits.

While Wiercioch skated behind the net Millin would stand in the slot, ready to whip a soccer ball at his shoulder.

The moment the ball hit him Wiercioch would roll with the impact of the shot, brushing the soccer ball off.

“Then the soccer ball was too slow,” Wiercioch said.

Before long, Millin was hurling tennis balls at Wiercioch, and soon after Millin said Wiercioch became one of the most elusive players on the ice, even though at 6-4 and an only slightly gangly 187 pounds, Weircioch has now developed into a towering, if humble presence.

Last January, Wiercioch made a non-binding commitment to play for the University of Wisconsin Badgers in the elite NCAA first division, but a glut of blue line talent on the team meant he would likely not be a starter next season.

With the hockey clock ticking, Wiercioch decided instead to commit to the Badgers’ Western Collegiate Hockey Association rivals, the University of Denver Pioneers, this fall, where he’ll study business.

With the departure of defenceman David Carle, who was forced to retire from the game of hockey with a heart ailment, chances are good Wiercioch will net a ton of ice-time with the team.

However, Wiercioch only plans to stay for two years, to best take advantage of the window he’s earned into the NHL.

“If I stay for three years, I’ll be tempted to stay and finish my degree,” he said.

That leaves him just two years to get ready for the NHL, and Wiercioch is counting every second.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

memo to wiercioch....dont predict how long your going to be at school...carle stayed 3 butler 3 caldwell 4 dont think your already in those class of players....bad move by him imho...