He’d skate end-to-end down the ice as Mario Lemieux, dangling his way past every opponent in sight before using a magnificent deke in close to twist the goalie into a mangled pretzel.
It was all fun and games at the time, but when Wellwood was drafted into the NHL in 2001, his dream of making an impact in the playoffs seemed to be within reach.
Two ninth place finishes and a 12th place debacle later and Wellwood was on his way out of Toronto without ever experiencing the NHL’s second season, although the Maple Leafs were close to getting an invite as they missed the playoffs by a mere two points in 2005-06, and one in 2006-07.
“It was really hard, especially being a rookie and missing by only a few points two years in a row," said Wellwood.
"In a city like that you kind of have a tough summer thinking about it."
Because of Wellwood’s strong play and the solid season the Canucks have had this year, the 25-year-old will finally get the chance to strut his stuff in the post-season; it’s a graduation of sorts with four years of hard work resulting in the chance to finally compete for Lord Stanley's Mug.
If he appears in Vancouver’s remaining three games, Wellwood will have played 263 regular season contests before his first taste of playoff hockey, a wicked streak he’s happy to be parting ways with.
“There’s lots of guys that get stuck not making the playoffs for a lot of years, so I was fortunate to come to this team where we end up making it in my first year here,” Wellwood said, adding that he’s had playoff fever since the Canucks officially RSVPd yes to the big show.
“It’s a 10 out of 10 for excitement, it’s probably one of the top times of my life getting ready for playoffs and it’s exciting to be part of a good team too.”
Wellwood may be one of only four Canucks without a post-season game at the NHL level to their credit (Mason Raymond
, Rick Rypien and Jason LaBarbera are the others), yet he isn’t without playoff experience.
In his junior years in the Ontario Hockey League, Wellwood played in 49 playoff games split between the Belleville Bulls and the Windsor Spitfires and the scoring sensation picking up 67 points along the way.
Everything is on the line in the post-season so Wellwood is familiar with that aspect of it; he’s also prepared for the grind that comes with facing the same opponent up to seven times in a short span of time.
“A lot of times you play teams eight times in a season, but it feels like you’re never playing them. When you’re facing the same centreman for what feels like 100 draws in the playoffs, there’s no tricks to it anymore, it’s just kind of a battle that you’ve got to do every time you’re out there.”
That experience will help the playoff newbie a little, so will the knowledge he picked up on one of the game’s biggest stages as a member of the Team Canada World Junior team that snagged silver in 2003.
“Yeah, I think that will definitely help. Every game you play that means something, you take something from it and you go into the first game knowing that you’re going to compete and you want to feel confident about yourself.”
Before making the leap to the NHL in Toronto, Wellwood spent time on the farm with the St. John's Maple Leafs, but he isn’t banking on those playoff memories helping him very much.
“That’s a different level and guys in here are prepared and in St. John’s I don’t think everybody was that excited to extend the season,” laughed Wellwood, who had four points in five playoff games with the baby buds in 2004-05.
For the Canucks, stretching this season out to the wee end is the only goal, one that Wellwood is already getting into form for. He has two goals in his last three games and is hoping that will carry over into the post-season and he can return to his playoff glory days from junior and be a constant producer for Vancouver.
“You need to have the dark horses that provide some timely goals if you’re going to win and certainly we have guys in here that want to be contributing in the playoffs and that’s something you hope your game is ready to do.”
Wellwood will be sporting No. 42 this post-season, but he’ll be channeling his inner No. 66 and if everything goes according to plan for the playoff rookie, he’ll score a clutch goal or two reminiscent of Super Mario’s playoff heroics.