From: The Oregonian
by Jim Beseda
Four months ago, William Wrenn was not happy with the direction his hockey career was headed with the University of Denver Pioneers.
The Pioneers, with many NHL draft choices on their roster, dressed and used seven defensemen in games, and that was unwieldy. Although Wrenn was a second-round choice of the NHL's San Jose Sharks in 2009, his ice time at DU this season was modest.
Wrenn came to believe his game wasn't developing fast enough, and neither DU coach George Gwozdecky nor his staff would guarantee that his time would increase.
So, 18 games into his sophomore season, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenseman from Anchorage, Alaska, walked away from one of the nation's top Division I hockey programs -- and from a prestigious private university education -- to play major junior hockey, with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks.
This week, he said it was one of the best moves he's ever made.
Wrenn has been a steadying force on Portland's back end, helping lead the U.S. Division-champion Winterhawks into the Western Conference semifinals against the Kelowna Rockets following last week's opening-round sweep of the Everett Silvertips.
"Right now, I'm trying to be the best shut-down defenseman that I can be," said Wrenn. "I do have some offensive skill, but we've got plenty of guys who can score.
"We need hard-nosed defensemen that can keep the other team from scoring, so that's basically what I'm focusing on right now."
The Winterhawks have been using Wrenn and defensive partner Taylor Aronson against most other teams' top forward lines, which means Wrenn is likely to see his share of action against Kelowna's Evan Bloodoff-Colton Sissons-Geordie Wudrick line over the next few games.
"If you're a forward and you're going to play against William Wrenn, you're going to have to really compete hard, because he battles hard and he's got a competitive edge to him," Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston said. "We were very fortunate that we got him when we did from Denver."
Wrenn, who turned 20 three weeks ago, was 14 when the Winterhawks added him to their 50-player protected list in May 2006. He had told everybody at the time that he intended to play college hockey, but the Hawks still put him on their list.
Players abandoning college programs to switch to major junior is rare, but not unprecedented. Sometimes, an NHL team holding a player's draft rights lets the player know he might develop quicker in major junior, with its pro-length schedules and NHL-style rules.
It's one of the ongoing issues in the rivalry between major junior leagues and NCAA programs as NHL feeders. The potential negative to abandoning college for major junior is the decision to lessen the chances of obtaining a college degree to fall back on if a player doesn't reach the NHL.
In Wrenn's case, his freshman season at DU was cut short by a left hip injury that required surgery last April. He made a full recovery, but found himself near the bottom of a seven-man rotation on defense this season that wasn't to his liking.
"I just wasn't fitting back in the lineup, no matter how hard I tried," Wrenn said. "The coaches were trying to work everybody in, but it's hard to flow as a team with seven defensemen. I just felt I'd hit a block and I wasn't going to move anytime soon."
Wrenn played his final game for the Pioneers on Jan. 1.
Wrenn adjusted quickly to the WHL’s more demanding schedule, playing as many as four games a week instead of the typical two in college, not to mention the long bus rides. For the most part, though, he said the two games -- U.S. college vs. WHL -- are virtually the same.
"The top two lines on each side have about the same skill level," Wrenn said. "The WHL probably has a little bit more 'raw' skill, just because everyone's a lot younger. I also believe the back lines in college are a little bit stronger, but that's because you've got a lot of college guys who are 22 and 23 playing."
Wrenn finished the regular season with two goals, 11 assists, and 17 penalty minutes in 29 games, and was named the team's co-defensive player or the year in voting by the players.
"This team welcomed me right away and put me in a position where I could play a lot," Wrenn said. "It's been an unbelievable experience ever since I've been here. I feel as if my game is actually progressing again and I'm slowly moving forward instead of just idling like I felt I had been at Denver.
"It was tough to leave a school like that and the academic opportunity I had there, but I want to be a hockey player. That's what I've always wanted, so I decided to take a chance and go for it. You know, I can always go back to school, but the window of opportunity to play hockey stays open for only so long."