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A New Man

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

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Kyle Wellwood's summer was exhausting, yet rewarding as he upped his strength

For kindergarteners, high schoolers and pre-med students alike, a calendar flip to September means it's back to school time.

Freshly sharpened pencils, notebooks just begging to be scribbled in and one inevitable question that will be asked and answered a gazillion times within the first week of classes: what did you do this summer?

Throw that query at Vancouver Canucks forward Kyle Wellwood and the response will most likely catch you off guard.

"I spent the whole summer in Windsor and I spent a weekend in Saskatoon visiting a friend, that was my only vacation."

I greeted that response with a sheepish smirk. Wellwood knew I wasn't buying it, so he pressed on.

"I really didn't do a whole lot. I did some cycling and a lot of training, and other than that I just hung out with family and friends. Oh and my sister got married too, so that was an event."

That's right, Wellwood spent the summer like you and I did, only with less glitz and glam.

Remember the Kyle Wellwood who won over everyone last season with his everyman approach to hockey? The guy who battled his way through showing up to training camp overweight and out of shape only to record a career-high 18 goals, 10 of which came on the power play with three counting as game-winners?

That Wellwood learned a lot last season, a lot, a lot, a lot. For the first time in his brief NHL career, the Ontario product had to put in a substantial effort every day just to stick with the Canucks.

It was exhausting, yet rewarding and at season's end he finally had a sense of what it takes to do more than just coast in the big leagues. He understood how to be an impactful player that is counted on in a rainbow of situations.

Wellwood doesn't want to ever - and he means ever - experience the hell he went through at the beginning of the 2008-09 campaign. So he made a plan and it started with thinking of summer less as a 24/7 free-for-all and more as a 24/7 workout.

"Last summer I was just happy to get on the ice and be able to skate and make it through practice," admitted Wellwood, who weighed in at nearly 200-pounds during camp last season.

"Now there's definitely a big difference. Hopefully at this year's camp I'll be one of the better players and I'll be able to make the team a lot easier."

Wellwood is down to a lean 180-pounds and is in the best shape of his life. No Bowflex, no pilates, just an unwavering dedication to being the best player he can be.

A marked improvement in strength was Wellwood's primary objective, mainly because he didn't feel up to par compared to other NHLers last year. The Canucks agreed and although they understood that Wellwood wasn't a workout machine last summer because of injury, this off-season it was time to git-r-done.

"My goal was mainly to catch up on the time missed while I was hurt and try to get back to a level that everybody else is at.

"I feel like I've accomplished that, cardio wise and fitness wise I'm feeling great. It takes years to build the kind of strength that you need, but I had some big improvements."

Turns out Wellwood did more this summer than he initially let on. Schwarzeneggering himself certainly makes the list, as does one noteworthy day the 26-year-old spent in court.

No, it wasn't for brawling with cabbies. Wellwood took part in arbitration and to his disbelief, it wasn't the worst thing in the world.

"I would do it again," he laughed. "I don't know if they took it easy on me or what, but it wasn't horrible. As a player it's part of the game and sometimes you need to do it.

"I wanted to be in Vancouver 100 per cent and we knew that would be the case at any rate."

One other minor detail Wellwood forgot to mention from his summer was that his younger brother Eric, a forward who spent the last three seasons with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, got the call he had been dreaming of.

The phone rang early in July and the Philadelphia Flyers told the 19-year-old they had selected him in the sixth round, 172nd overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

"That was definitely an event," said Wellwood with pride. "We had a draft party back at home and it was exciting. It's a hard thing to do to get drafted and he was really excited and our whole family was. He had a great summer so he's trying to go in and impress them at camp."

With the off-season this second-year Canuck had, he's well on his way to doing the same thing.

 
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