With the NHL lockout under way, Carolina Hurricanes prospect Jeremy Welsh needed a place to work out and stay sharp.
He found a place rather easily, and it’s one he’s very familiar with.
Welsh is spending this week at Union College, skating with his former teammates. Welsh will then head to Charlotte, N.C., for training camp with the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate.
“It’s strange and a little different,” the 23-year-old Welsh said Tuesday at Messa Rink. “I kind of feel like the old guy popping in. It’s different vibes and stuff, but it’s good to see all the guys and catch up a little bit.”
Welsh signed a two-year deal with the Hurricanes on Sept. 11, and was all set to attend his first training camp with them this weekend. But knowing that the NHL lockout was looming, Welsh started to make alternative plans. Those plans were finalized when the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and NHL Players Association expired at midnight Saturday, starting the lockout.
“I haven’t worried about [the lockout] too much at all,” the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Welsh said. “It’s outside of my control. I’m looking at the positive of it. It’s a pretty good thing for me. I’m going to go to Charlotte and play there, whether it’s for two or three months before NHL camp kicks off. I feel like I’ll be more prepared after being there and learning the pro system and getting into their system, so when camp kicks off, I’ll be more ready than I would be this Friday.”
Welsh is enjoying working out with his ex-teammates. He wore his red Hurricanes helmet, with No. 23 on the back, red pants and a Union hockey practice jersey.
“I had to come home [to Bayfield, Ontario] from Calgary, where I was training, just to be ready just in case NHL camp started this Friday,” Welsh said. “When that wasn’t going to happen, I was home and it was a little slow. There weren’t too many guys skating. It’s awesome to get here. I did skate in practice yesterday, some one-on-one battles and stuff. To get that in before camp, I’ll have a bit of a head start on some of the other guys.”
Welsh was one of the big reasons Union had a memorable 2011-12 season. He scored a team-record 27 goals and had 17 assists for a team-leading 44 points as the Dutchmen won their second straight ECAC Hockey regular-season title.
He was named to the All-ECACH second team, and was then Most Outstanding Player of the ECACH tournament in leading the Dutchmen to their first tourney championship. Welsh earned another Most Outstanding Player honor, this time after helping the Dutch-
men win the NCAA tournament East Regional title to earn a berth in the Frozen Four for the first time at the Division I level.
A few hours after the Dutchmen lost to Ferris State, 3-1, in the semifinal, Welsh gave up his senior season to sign with the Hurricanes. Welsh finished his three-year Union career with 100 points on 53 goals and 47 assists.
He played in the Hurricanes’ final game of the season, collecting two penalties. Welsh returned to Union and he finished his course work in order to get his degree. He also attended the Hurricanes’ summer prospects camp.
“The main focus was training for next season,” Welsh said. “When I came back to school, it was to bear down so I could get my thesis done so, in the summer, I could train full time. Then I was home for two weeks [and] getting on the ice, and then it was off to camp and then back to Calgary to train.”
Union coach Rick Bennett is happy to have Welsh join the team’s skill-session practices this week.
“It’s always good to see him,” Bennett said. “He’s such a phenomenal guy. Anytime you’ve got a guy who’s out there who loves the game and loves to be in the locker room and part of the guys, it’s always a positive. To have that positive influence, along with the type of player he is to help out the others, it’s just a positive.”
One disappointment for Welsh is that the Checkers won’t be playing games at Albany or Adirondack during the regular season.
“Obviously, it would be good to get back and play and have the guys come to the game,” Welsh said. “But [the Checkers] play in the South, and there will be some good places to see [like] San Antonio and Houston.”
DUTCHMEN GET RINGS
Welsh picked the right time to come back to Union.
The Dutchmen were given their ECAC Hockey tournament championship rings Tuesday. It also has the Frozen Four logo and the statement, “Stick to the process,” engraved on it.
“It’s pretty snazzy,” Welsh said.
Bennett was happy to present the rings to the players.
“It was a great feeling,” Bennett said. “To shake each guy’s hand and say congratulations, it means a lot to our staff. It’s one of those times [when] you don’t know if you’ll ever do that again. To do that, especially for a first-year staff, it’s very important for us.”
But Bennett doesn’t want the Dutchmen resting on their laurels.
“I made a joke, ‘Let’s not get soft now.’ There was a little joking to it, but we’re pretty serious about it,” Bennett said.