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Werenskis celebrate family, brotherhood over fathers' weekend

Zach and his father, Ken, look back at the CBJ defenseman's journey

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Saturday night was First Responders Night at Nationwide Arena, which law enforcement officers honored by the Blue Jackets in a variety of ways throughout the evening. 

It was also the second game of this year's fathers' trip, with a number of team dads accompanying the team to Chicago for Friday's contest before taking in the return game in Columbus. 

For Lt. Ken Werenski of the Grosse Pointe Shores Department of Public Safety, as well as the father of CBJ defenseman Zach Werenski, it was an evening to celebrate both. 

If there's two things close to his heart, it's family and it's his job, and pride in each was on display as he prepared to watch Saturday's game from a suite at Nationwide Arena. 

"I Ubered here with my older son (Brad)," the elder Werenski said. "They dropped us off and I saw the motorcycle guys, I saw the bike patrol, the mounted division -- my cousin ran that for Detroit -- and I felt like I was at work.  

"It's a brotherhood, and I was just happy to everyone serving here and they pride they were showing. I'm proud to be one of them." 

There are some parallels between the life of a professional athlete and that of a public safety officer. Teamwork, brotherhood, dedication and accountability are all traits that serve as keys to success in both, even if one line of work is significantly more important to society than the other. 

Ken said that of his two sons, older brother Brad is more like his wife, Kristen, while Zach inherited many of the same qualities as his father. As he looks back, Zach can see some of the similarities between his personality and that of his dad.  

"I think a lot of it is details, honestly," Zach said. "He's a pretty detail-oriented type of guy, how he keeps our household. It's very clean, very neat. It's all him. I think that has a lot to do with his job, and I picked up on that quite a bit. Being at the rink on time, doing things certain ways, even on the ice, being as assertive as I can and trying to learn as much as I can. I think I learned a lot of those qualities from him." 

That answer would likely bring a smile to Ken's face. Unlike many of the dads who were in town for fathers' weekend, there is no NHL tie to the Werenski family, with Zach's major advantage that he grew up in hockey-mad suburban Detroit. Grosse Pointe is a lakeside community just north of the city, and Zach was hooked from the second he went to his cousin's first peewee game as a child.  

As his hockey career quickly gained steam, there was never a push from the family to dedicate his life to it. If Zach was going to pursue a career, it was because he enjoyed it, and the youngster never burned out on the sport because of it.  

"I think the main thing he told me from a young age is you have to love and enjoy doing what you're doing," Zach said. "He never pushed hockey on me, never pushed me to practice. It was always if I wanted to go or if I wanted to do it. I think that's huge." 

The only stipulation, as Zach said, was that if he was going to do it, he was going to have to do it the right way.  

"We didn't put a lot of pressure on him when he was young," Ken said. "We wouldn't talk about the NHL. We would talk about things like your routine. On gameday, you get up in the morning, you have a pregame skate, you have your lunch, you have your nap. When he would call, it was, 'How was your routine?' (He'd say), 'I feel good. I got a nap in, I had a good lunch.' 

"It wasn't about the money. It wasn't about trying to score goals. It was about taking pressure off yourself. If you take care of yourself and your routine, that's all you can control." 

From the family's view, simply using hockey to get a college education would have been a victory, but it's fair to say it's all worked out better than that. Werenski shot up through the ranks, playing for the prestigious Belle Tire and Little Caesars junior teams before joining the U.S. National Team Development Program in nearby Ann Arbor. From there, he starred immediately at the University of Michigan when he arrived as a 17-year-old. By 19, the first-round pick was a full-time NHLer, and by 20, he was an All-Star.  

The success has come quickly, then, but it hasn't seemed to change Werenski. Older brother Brad moved in with him in Columbus a season ago, and despite Werenski's new contract signed last month, the two will continue to live together even as Zach upgrades his accommodations. He's just as likely to spend a night playing NHL 20 with his brother and friends as he is to hit the town in Columbus.  

It's all a nod to the blue-collar roots of the family and the way the brothers were raised. For one weekend in Columbus, it was the perfect chance to celebrate that. 

"It's been awesome," Zach said of growing up with his dad. "Just him being a role model, not only in our household but I think in society as he serves everybody out there and tries to do his job the best he can, I think it's really rubbed off on me and my family." 

"I think what's really cool as a parent is saying, 'Yeah, they got it. They heard the message and reached their potential.' I think that's what is so special," Ken said of his son's success. "Is there a word for that? No. Maybe lucky." 

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