Sports

Wiercioch notches first NHL point

Patrick Wiercioch in action for the Ottawa Senators - Ottawa Senators
Patrick Wiercioch in action for the Ottawa Senators
— image credit: Ottawa Senators

It’s been a long road to the NHL for Patrick Wiercioch. But after stops in the BCHL, U.S. junior leagues, the NCAA, and the AHL, the Maple Ridge defenceman stepped onto the ice for the first time as an NHL hockey player last Tuesday in Carolina, wearing No. 46 for the Ottawa Senators.

Wiercioch, 20, was called up last week after a concussion to Sergei Gonchar created an opening in the Sens’ roster. In four appearances with Ottawa so far, Wiercioch has managed to earn a plus-one rating, and registered his first NHL point in a 5-4 shoot-out loss to the Atlanta Thrashers Sunday night.

“If someone had told me 14 years ago this would happen, I’d never believe it,” says Wiercioch’s father, Andrew.

He and Wiercioch’s mother, Ewa, tried to fly to Carolina to witness their son’s first game. After racing to Seattle on the off chance a seat might be available, they had to settle instead for a 3 a.m. flight to New York to see his second game, Thursday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Gardens.

“It was probably a good thing,” says Andrew. “He was nervous, and he did not play very good.”

Wiercioch finished the game in Carolina with a minus-two rating after 10 minutes of ice time.

Things improved over Wiercioch’s next three games, as he earned a plus-three rating and was rewarded with more ice time.

At six-foot-four and 185 pounds, Wiercioch still has some filling out to do, but his speed, size, and his passing ability appear to be serving him well.

For Andrew, to see his son play professional hockey is a reminder why he and Ewa both immigrated to Canada from communist Poland in 1988, with just $30 in their pocket.

Andrew never played hockey, and still doesn’t know how to skate. In communist Poland, ice skates were a luxury his family couldn’t afford, costing two months of his father’s wages.

So, wanting a better life for their children, Andrew and Ewa came to Canada.

“You can get anything you want here,” says Andrew. “It just depends how bad you want it.”

Everything his family has accomplished has been a product of their own hard work, he says.

Andrew’s daughter Gabriella is studying to be a nurse, and just arrived home from volunteering in Zambia. The family’s eldest son Christopher now runs the family’s gas and welding supply company.

“I am proud of all my children,” Andrew says.

This summer Wiercioch plans to head back to Denver to finish some of his remaining credits to get his degree in business management. However, his focus has always been playing NHL hockey.

“He’s happy to be playing in the big league,” says Andrew. “He’s very excited. There have been low points, but he has worked very hard to get to where he is.”

Wiercioch got his start with the Ridge Meadows Rockets, before moving to the Burnaby Winter Club and the North Shore Winter Club.

After playing junior A with the Coquitlam Express of the BCHL, Wiercioch headed south of the border to the Omaha Lancers of the USHL in the hopes of attracting the attention of US college scouts.

The move paid off as Wiercioch was rewarded for his efforts on the ice with a full-ride scholarship to the University of Denver, where he played two seasons for the Division 1 Pioneers hockey team. Wiercioch was picked up by Ottawa in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and he opted to turn pro and suit up for the Binghampton Senators, Ottawa’s AHL affiliate.

But there were low points, as Andrew notes. Injuries, like a broken finger that cost Wiercioch half a season with Omaha going into his draft year. The adjustment to the AHL has also been difficult for Wiercioch, who had to get used to playing fewer minutes than he has been accustomed to. After notching 62 points in 75 games at the NCAA-level, Wiercioch struggled to adapt to the faster pace of the AHL game. He scored in his first game in the AHL, and then proceeded to register just a single point in the next 24 games.

“Life is tough, and it is not always fair,” says Andrew. “Patrick has been on his own since he was 16, and it hasn’t always been good.”

But after scoring just five points in his first 43 games with the B-Sens, Wiercioch found his game in February and March, scoring 11 points in 20 games. When Gonchar recieved a concussion last week, knocking him out for the remainder of the season, Ottawa decided to give the young defenceman his shot. As a result Wiercioch is now one of four local products currently playing in the NHL, along with Brendan Morrison, Andrew Ladd, and Brandon Yip. Wiercioch faced Ladd Sunday night in Atlanta, where he registered is first NHL point, an assist on a goal by Chris Neil.

Wiercioch remained with the team on their road trip and was slated to play Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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