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An Emotional 48 Hours

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
On Thursday night, Jeremy Welsh’s Union College played Ferris State in the Frozen Four semifinals. Two days later, he will make his National Hockey League debut with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Michael Smith
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Talk about a bittersweet weekend.

“It’s a lot of emotion, I’m sure,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “I’m sure he’s going through an emotional roller coaster of being a good team guy and going through that, being excited about it and then all of a sudden losing out. That was a close game yesterday. All that heartbreak there, and then all of a sudden you turn around and then realize, hey, I’m a couple days away from playing my first NHL game.”

“A wide range of emotions. Pretty disappointed with that,” Welsh said of losing in the Frozen Four. “But then I was able to sign a contract with Carolina. I’m super excited.”

Welsh, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound forward, recorded an assist on Union’s lone goal Thursday, ending a season that fell minutes short of the national championship game. Welsh had 27 goals and 17 assists (44 points) in 40 games for Union this season and ended his three-year collegiate career with 100 points (53g, 47a).

Surrounded by Ron Francis and Rod Brind’Amour, Welsh signed a professional contract with the Hurricanes on Thursday night. Already in Tampa Bay for the Frozen Four, he’ll hop over to Fort Lauderdale to join the Canes when they land on Friday.

Twenty-four hours later, he’ll be in the Hurricanes’ lineup.

“Yeah, oh yeah. He’ll be in,” Muller said. “I want to see him play, and I’m sure he’ll get some good ice time tomorrow.”

“I don’t have to wait around all summer worrying about [my first game] and getting nervous,” Welsh said. “I’m in playoff mode right now, so I’m just excited to go out there and experience it.”

That will be Muller’s first live look at the 23-year-old Bayfield, Ontario native. Just from looking at video and talking to the Canes’ front office, Muller likes Welsh’s potential.

“He’s a big forward. He plays a power game,” Muller said. “He plays a game where he wants to be physical. I like that he wants to be on the puck, he’s aggressive, he wants it. And when he gets it, he was able to make important plays with it and good plays. He quarterbacked the power play on the point. What I like is his size and physical presence.”

Though Welsh won’t quarterback the Canes’ power play on Saturday, Muller said he could use Welsh as a big body in front of the net. That sounds like the right fit for a guy who said he was a two-way center in college.

“I can be a physical, rugged guy,” he said. “But I also have some playmaking and a good shot.”

A highly-coveted college free agent, Welsh said the decision to sign with Carolina was “a no-brainer,” considering guys like Muller, John MacLean, Brind’Amour and Francis.

“As a center trying to develop trying to develop into an NHL player, just to learn from those guys, be around them and try to soak up some of their knowledge, it’s a great opportunity for me to develop,” he said.

Around this same time a year ago, Canes’ defenseman Justin Faulk left college to play professional hockey. He joined the Charlotte Checkers in the Calder Cup playoffs after winning the national title with Minnesota-Duluth.

A little different situation, sure, but he can relate.

“It’s probably bittersweet for him that his season ended and couldn’t get to that last game,” Faulk said. “But on the other hand, he’s probably pretty pumped for himself that he gets to play his first NHL game tomorrow.”

Any advice for him?

“Just try to have fun with it. It’s his first game. I don’t know what you can do to calm a guy down. I think no matter what you say, the guy’s going to be pretty nervous, at least that’s the case with me,” Faulk said. “Enjoy it. You only get one first game, so have fun with it.”

Welsh's first game will be the Hurricanes’ final game of the 2011-12 regular season. Though they won’t be able to knock Florida out of the playoffs, they will potentially have the chance to prevent the Panthers from winning the Southeast Division, sending them down from third place into eighth.

“It’s been a tough week. I was afraid of the Jersey game, but I’ve been really happy with these last two games with the way these guys have responded,” Muller said. “It’s always nice to win, so I’m hoping they walk into Florida tomorrow and play the same way.”

Muller said that Brian Boucher will get the start in net, as he will attempt to cap off an admittedly frustrating season. Andreas Nodl is also expected to return to the lineup, so there will be some line adjustments with two forwards entering the mix.

Following the Hurricanes’ game in Florida on Saturday, Welsh will not be eligible to report to the Charlotte Checkers. He signed a professional contract with Carolina, as opposed to an amateur try-out with Charlotte. Carolina could have loaned him to Charlotte, but the team has already exhausted its post-trade deadline four-player return limit.

Still, it’s 48 hours that Welsh won’t soon forget. As he said, "So far, so good."

“You tie it all in, and that’s an emotional weekend for anybody,” Muller said.

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