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Wellwood's season a story of perseverance

by Derek Jory
What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

Welcome to Kyle Wellwood's fourth season in the NHL.

Tumultuous is the best way to describe the forward's first year with the Vancouver Canucks, and it all started with a swift kick out of Toronto.

Last summer Wellwood was placed on waivers by the Maple Leafs after three seasons with the team. The date was June 24, 2008, to be exact, and he remembers that because on June 25 he signed a one-year deal with the Canucks.

It was a new start for the finesse centerman, but because of an injury over the summer that prevented him from starting training camp in peak physical condition, Wellwood wasn't exactly shown the red carpet upon arrival in British Columbia.

After Canucks coach Alain Vigneault referred to the shape he was in as "not NHL caliber," media headlines like "Wellwood has weighty expectations" and "Wellwood's condition gives coach fits" raced their way around BC and the rest of Canada.

That raised an automatic red flag about Vancouver's off-season acquisition as questions about his commitment and work ethic were everywhere.

"I didn't pay too much attention to it," said Wellwood. "I'm sure a lot of people were definitely being harsh about it, but it's expected because it's pro sports and we know as players when we're going to get ragged on sometimes.

"From my years in Toronto I think I knew that was going to go on, and I was able to put it on the backburner and just focus on getting better everyday."

He responded to his critics by getting himself back in shape, although he was a healthy scratch to start the season with Vancouver icing a very competitive roster.

When Wellwood finally got a chance to play, the one game in October he dressed for, he was a minus-1 in just under 11 minutes of ice time as the Canucks were spanked 5-1 by the Washington Capitals.

Par for the course of how the season started, Wellwood was then placed on waivers, ending up with the AHL's Manitoba Moose. Despite Vancouver's plan to nurture him along on the farm, an injury had Wellwood back on re-entry waivers and with the Canucks three days later.

"It was a tough week for me because I didn't feel like I had a team," he said.

Opportunity doesn't tend to knock a lot, but Wellwood was given a second shot with Vancouver and he seized it.

In his first game back, a 4-2 Canucks loss in Columbus, Wellwood was Vancouver's best player with a goal and an assist. He scored again the next game, added another two contests later and had six goals and seven points in his first seven games.

That gave everyone something to talk about.

"I knew that first game back was an important one for me to show that I can play in this League, so when I got that chance to play again I made sure that I brought my best game and I've tried to do that every game since."

Wellwood finished the season with a career-high 18 goals in 74 games played and was 10th in team scoring with 27 points, but the year was far from rosy as he endured a 21-game goalless drought between January and March and was a healthy scratch for five games in the second half of the season.

Still, Wellwood persevered in the face of adversity and he closed out the season playing a vital role on Vancouver's third line, one that continued in the first round of the playoffs.

He centered a line with Steve Bernier on his right and Mason Raymond to his left, and the trio was too hot for the Blues to handle a lot of times; they were feisty, gritty and determined.

That line also helped out on the score sheet with a few big goals, including Wellwood's first career playoff score in just the fourth postseason outing of his young career.

In true Wellwood style, he worked for it on his own and did everything himself.

Five minutes into Vancouver's 3-2 overtime thriller in Game 4, Wellwood and company were applying pressure to the Blues in their own zone when he intercepted a pass that Carlo Colaiacovo was attempting to thread to Brad Boyes.

"I knew that first game back was an important one for me to show that I can play in this League, so when I got that chance to play again I made sure that I brought my best game and I've tried to do that every game since." -- Kyle Wellwood

Two strides later Wellwood was one-on-one with Chris Mason in tight; a little backhand-forehand dipsy-doodle later, and he was celebrating a sweet goal.

"When I got the puck, the goalie wasn't expecting a breakaway on him, so I knew he'd have to guess and I was able to score," Wellwood said.

From unfit to train with the team to playoff goal scorer, Wellwood has come full circle this season and he's enjoying where he's at now, but certainly isn't forgetting all the turmoil he's been through.

"All that really helped my resiliency and my confidence in that if you keep doing the steps and keep working hard that things have a good chance of working out for you," he said.

"I did what I could all season and it's worked out for me so far heading into the second round."

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