Recently, the 5-11, 179-pound left wing scored what turned out to be the winning goal as the Windsor Spitfires routed the Brandon Wheat Kings, 9-1, in the Memorial Cup title game. It marks the second straight year that the Spitfires have captured the Canadian Hockey League crown, a feat only eight other teams have accomplished.
"I guess it puts us in very elite company," said Wellwood. "But, honestly, [the importance of the accomplishment] hasn't sunk in yet. My emotions are still running wild, and it's already been a few days since we won it.
|Eric Wellwood looks for a loose puck in front of the net during the Flyers-Capitals rookie game at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone last season. (Jack Cassidy/Flyers Photos) |
"We had such a great group of guys, great coaching, and we were so driven to get it done. In a way, it's kind of sad that this run has come to an end, because I'm going to miss my teammates more than I can even say."
The Spitfires' lineup could easily have doubled as a major junior all-star team, with the much-heralded Taylor Hall leading the way. Hall, who took home Memorial Cup tournament MVP honors, and Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers are locks to go 1-2 in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Left winger Justin Shugg also figures to be a top pick, while center Greg Nemisz (Calgary Flames), defenseman Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators) were first round selections last year.
In all, eight Spitfires averaged at least one point per game during the regular season. Wellwood, though not necessarily known for his offense and not expected to be a top point producer in the pros, was one of them.
"You have to look at the numbers very carefully," said Spitfires general manager and co-owner, former NHLer Warren Rychel. "The bottom line is that Eric was an integral member of our team, and a major contributor in helping us win two straight Memorial Cups.
"Over four years here, he improved so much, to the point where he helped us in every area of the game. He became a terrific defensive forward and penalty killer, and as he matured, he contributed offensively."
Rychel recalled Wellwood weighing "about 139 pounds, soaking wet" when he drafted him out of the midget ranks in 2006.
"I was a scrawny little 15-year-old, but Warren and [Spitfires head coach and co-owner Bob] Boughner saw something in me," said Wellwood. "I knew very little then about off-ice training, bulking up, how to make myself a better player. But, I learned so much during my time in Windsor."
Wellwood performed in a limited checking line role in his first two seasons, notching a combined 23 points (11g, 12a) in 91 games. He assumed more responsibility as a junior, excelling on the penalty kill while displaying an ability to play effectively on scoring lines when needed.
In 61 regular season games in 2009-10, Wellwood notched 34 points (16g, 18a). But, he proved to be a revelation in the postseason, exploding for 21 points (10g, 11a) in 20 games while helping the Spitfires to their first ever Memorial Cup title.
His play last spring opened the eyes of many scouts.
"Honestly, I was kind of surprised I was drafted [last summer]," he noted. "When I saw my name on the board next to the Flyers, I was thrilled. I couldn't believe it. I had a good playoffs last year, and I'm sure that helped raise my profile, but I still wasn't expecting that."
In July, Wellwood attended and turned some heads at the Flyers' annual summer rookie camp, even working out at times on the blue line. He credited his brother, Vancouver Canucks forward and six-year NHL veteran Kyle Wellwood, with helping him prepare for the experience.
"Not everyone has an older sibling they can lean on and ask questions, coming into something like that," Eric said. "Kyle has always been there for me, and been very supportive of my desire, like his, to play in the NHL. Hopefully, we'll both be there soon."
Upon returning to Windsor for his final season at the major junior level in September, Wellwood assumed even more responsibility, ice time, and a natural role as a veteran leader.
A steady, two-way force throughout the campaign, Wellwood would finish fifth on the OHL's top offensive team with 68 points (31g, 37a) in 65 games. His postseason numbers were much more modest than last year's - 10 points (4g, 6a) in 19 games - but his overall contributions to the team were just as significant.
"I can't say enough about the attitude Eric brought to the rink every day, in practice and in the game," said Rychel. "He always has a smile on his face and is upbeat, no matter how things are going. He's a terrific young man and a real credit to our organization.
"When I arrive at [rookie camp] this July, I will be a better player. Whatever their plans are for me, I will do anything they ask and compete to the best of my abilities. I want to make it so bad." - Eric Wellwood
"Eric is going to play in the NHL, I have no doubt. He has the right mindset and the tools, maybe the fastest skater in the CHL this year. He's a hard worker, and I think the fans in Philly are going to love watching him play."
Wellwood's dream of making it to big leagues was bolstered when he was signed by the Flyers in early March.
"Like when I was drafted, it came as a surprise that I was signed so quickly," he said. "It was a huge boost for me. Most of all, I think it says a lot about the organization's confidence in my abilities. And that only inspired me to work even harder to get to where I want to be.
"When I arrive at [rookie camp] this July, I will be a better player. Whatever their plans are for me, I will do anything they ask and compete to the best of my abilities. I want to make it so bad."
Looking back, it's difficult to imagine the 2009-10 season panning out any better for Wellwood. This time last year, the Oldcastle, Ontario native was riding the high of Windsor's first Memorial Cup win, but he was uncertain as to what the future would hold.
"Now, here I am, drafted, signed, and we took back-to-back titles, which was incredible. What more can I ask for, really?"