By Adam Brady
|Welinski (third from left) was honored with the Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year award at a USA Hockey awards ceremony in Colorado Springs on Wednesday night.
Since he was drafted in the third round (83rd overall) of last year’s NHL Entry Draft, defenseman Andy Welinksi has done all he can to prove to the Ducks they made the right choice.
The 19-year-old Welinski had a breakout year in his second campaign with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. He totaled 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 54 regular season games, ranking first among league defensemen in goals. An alternate captain, he also helped lead the Gamblers – who ranked first in the league in giving up just 2.30 goals per game – to a Clark Cup championship.
For his work, Welinski was named USHL Defenseman of the Year, while also being named to the All-USHL first team. He later received the Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year award from USA Hockey, for which he was honored with others at the organization’s awards dinner on Wednesday in Colorado Springs. (Another Ducks prospect drafted in 2011, John Gibson, won USA Hockey’s Goalie of the Year award last year.)
Welinksi, a native of Duluth, Minnesota, will play for his hometown school -- University of Minnesota-Duluth –- this fall. Before that, he will be working out at home and join other Ducks prospects in the annual Conditioning Camp in Anaheim later this month.
Welinski took some time to reflect on his past season and what’s ahead for him.
What’s it like being the best defenseman in the USHL?
It is an individual award, but it helped having the team that we did. Being able to be offensive as well as strong defensively, it really did help to have that team around me and have the confidence to go out and play my best.
|On winning the Clark Cup with the Green Bay Gamblers: " Everybody bought in and we had a full team going, and I think it really showed in the playoffs. We had an unreal finish to the season." |
What was your reaction to being honored by USA Hockey?
That one was kind of a surprise. I didn’t know about that until after the season. It’s a big honor. There are a lot of people up for that award, and to win that is very cool.
Welinski after winning the award
The highlight of your year had to be winning the Clark Cup though.
Definitely. The year before we went all the way to the finals and ended up losing. The group of veterans that we had this season was huge. We had three guys on the team who had won a Clark Cup two years before, and those guys had been through winning it. We had a number of guys who came so close last year and had it slip away. We talked to the younger guys early in the season about what our main goal was and we had an unreal season. Once we got to the playoffs, we set our goal to win the Clark Cup and everybody knew that. Everybody bought in and we had a full team going, and I think it really showed in the playoffs. We had an unreal finish to the season.
Welinski interviewed after winning Clark Cup
What’s it like playing hockey in Green Bay?
It was an absolutely great place to live and I had a fantastic two years there. Living away from home for the first time can be tough, but Green Bay was a very welcoming place. The facilities there were second-to-none, and it was definitely one of the best venues to play in. The whole organization and the staff was a tight-knit group. Everybody was on the same page.
Was it tough being a Vikings fan in Packers country?
Well, it’s tough to be a Vikings fan these days anyway, but I would never convert to being a Packers fan. But they definitely do live and die by it here.
What made you decide to go back home for college?
Since I was a little kid I went to the UMD games and always wanted to play there. It was an easy decision for me to choose to go there.
|On getting drafted: So it was kind of a surreal day, just living the dream. It’s something I’ll never forget. Being drafted in the NHL is a very cool thing, and it was kind of a priceless day with all the family and friends there, and being that close to home." |
What was your draft experience like last year?
It was very cool, especially since the draft was in St. Paul. I was able to drive down and I have a lot of family in that area. So it was kind of a surreal day, just living the dream. It’s something I’ll never forget. Being drafted in the NHL is a very cool thing, and it was kind of a priceless day with all the family and friends there, and being that close to home.
For fans who haven’t seen you play, how would you describe your game?
I like to be as offensive as I can, but it’s always preached to me to play defensively first, and offense will come off of that. With that mindset, it’s worked really well. I think I’m a good skater, so I can play defense, but if I need to get up in the play, I can do that too.
Is there a player in the league you model yourself after?
I get that question a lot, and I really like the way Jack Johnson plays, where he is able to play strongly in his own zone as well as come up and get points as well.
Now that he’s not a King, that’s okay to say.
[Laughs] That’s true.
What are your plans for the rest of the offseason?
I’ll be working out here in Duluth all summer, but I’ll be coming out to Anaheim for conditioning camp from June 27 through the third of July. I’m looking forward to it.