|(above) Former DU star Patrick Wiercioch's production is on the rise|
by James Gordon
When Ottawa Senators training camp opened last autumn, few prospects came as highly touted as the University of Denver’s Patrick Wiercioch. So it was somewhat disappointing to both the young, puck-moving defenceman and the organization as a whole when his first professional season got off to such a slow start.
Wiercioch notched 62 points in 75 games over two years in college — garnering a 2009 invite to Canada’s world junior championship team in the process — only to struggle to 12 points in 55 games with the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators.
The good news is that seven of those points came in 10 February games, and if you ask both the player and the team, his hard work is finally starting to pay off.
“Yeah, definitely, I mean over the last 10, 15, 20 games here, it’s been noticeable for me and hopefully my teammates,” Wiercioch said in an interview here. “I’ve been able to get a little more confidence, and I think that’s the hardest part.
“Once you lose your confidence a little a bit, you start struggling. It’s a tough thing to gain backquickly.”
Wiercioch may have been somewhat guilty of believing his own press clippings, most of which projected him as a dark horse to crack the Ottawa Senators’ lineup out of training camp.
It didn’t help that he suddenly morphed from go-to guy into a role player when he arrived in New York State’s Southern Tier, either.
“I was never the guy who wasn’t out there in the last couple of minutes of a game and … not starting the first five, six minutes of a period, when the games is getting going,” he explained. “It’s an adjustment. I think that’s probably what I wasn’t expecting.”
It fell to coach Kurt Kleinendorst to convince Wiercioch that he wasn’t there yet, but would be soon if he was willing to do the work.
“I think that the early expectations that were placed on him were a little bit unfair,” Kleinendorst said. “I just feel like, once I got to know Patty a little bit, it wasn’t really fair. I saw what it had done to him. It built him up and he thought he was so close.”
Since then, the coach said, Wiercioch has delivered on and off the ice.
“The challenge was to be the best player you can be at the rink and away from the rink, that you make good choices in what you do socially and how you take care of yourself — view your body as your temple so to speak,” Kleinendorst said.
“You come in early every day, stay late every day and whatever we’re selling, you’re buying. He has done everything asked.”
Binghamton general manager Tim Murray said it’s too early to say whether Wiercioch will be in the running for an NHL roster spot next year, adding he’ll need to have a big summer.
He believes the talent level is there, though.
“He’s a tall, lean guy (and) it just takes time to get muscle on,” Murray said Tuesday. “He’s got all the tools.”
With his mind in the right place, Wiercioch is turning the attention to his body. At a lanky 6-4, 185 pounds, and without breakaway speed, he needs more strength to succeed at the next level.
“I don’t think you can ever get too strong or too fast,” he said. “Those are just the things that, if you get better at those and you improve in those, making decisions and making plays might be easier because you have that time and space. I think that’s my biggest focus.”
So where does he see himself 365 days from now?
“That’s hopefully in a Sens uniform,” he said, chuckling. “It’s a beautiful country up there (with) great fans.”