Ethan Werek taking advantage of yet another chance

Author: Steve Dangle, Sportsnet.ca
Date: Nov 29, 2017

BELLEVILLE, Ont. — “Jeez. One… two… Probably around eight or nine,” Ethan Werek said, laughing, when I asked him how many jerseys he’s worn since getting drafted.

The actual answer is he’s worn 14 different jerseys since the New York Rangers picked him in the second round, 47th overall in 2009.

Three in the OHL: The Kingston Frontenacs, the 2009-10 OHL All-Stars, and a jersey in training camp as a Canadian world junior hopeful.

Six in the American Hockey League, including exhibition games with the Toronto Marlies on an unsuccessful tryout deal.

Two in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades and Orlando Solar Bears.

And one in the KHL this past summer, playing exhibition games for Kunlan Red Star.

“I guess I’ve really made the rounds.”

After deciding he didn’t see a role for himself playing in China with Red Star, the Markham, Ont., native opted to try his luck close to home with the Ottawa Senators‘ new AHL affiliate in Belleville. He ended up signing a pro tryout contract.

And then he got cut.

“I didn’t have a contract. My parents are looking at me like ‘What are ya thinkin’? Maybe sign up for some courses, finish up your degree?'”

At just 26 years old, and with the high hopes that come with being a second-round pick in the NHL, Werek was struggling to even stay in the professional hockey picture.

“My trainer Matt Nichol in Toronto, he’s given me some really good advice. A couple years ago, I didn’t get an invite to an AHL camp and I went to the ECHL. The best advice Matt gave me was, ‘You gotta be a rookie.’ You gotta be the last guy on the ice. You gotta pick up pucks. You gotta be appreciative of the opportunity. You can’t go there saying, ‘Why am I here? I shouldn’t be here.'”

Shortly after his release from Belleville, the team reconsidered Werek and gave him another tryout contract. He rewarded the team by being its leading scorer. The result? The Belleville Senators signed Werek to an AHL contract at the beginning of November.

Now nearly a month later, Werek has six goals and seven assists for a team-leading 13 points, two points ahead of Belleville’s second-leading scorer Filip Chlapik.

Did he think he would be the team’s leading scorer through the first quarter of the season?

“That’s what you hope for,” he said, smiling. “I really just wanted to just chase my dream and that’s to play in the NHL. In order to do that you have to be a complete player and you also have to put up some numbers in this league. I’m just trying to be responsible in every end of the rink and when I get my opportunities really bear down on them.”

Hockey players are drafted into the NHL because of a variety of things — their size, their skill, their talent — but it’s hard to tell what kind of people they will be like in three or four years. Werek is practically middle-aged for a professional hockey player. Because of that, and other factors, the seven-year pro wishes he took his “younger” days as a draft pick more seriously.

“To look back on it, like anything, you look back on when you were young and kind of kick yourself in the head a bit,” he said. “I grew to appreciate the opportunities a lot more now and really put in the work. I have a lot more fun with it now. I think when you get drafted and you’re young you put a lot of pressure on yourself and it takes away from the game; kinda fogs you up mentally. This has been a lot of fun – last year in Texas and this year in Belleville.”

There are high expectations and a certain fanfare that comes with being an NHL draftee, especially if you’re one of the first 50 picks. I wondered if the pressure from that experience had gotten to him when he was younger. Werek remembers it a bit differently.

“I was more just pissed off I didn’t go in the first round, to be honest,” he said.

“That just shows I had the wrong mentality about it. I had success in junior and stuff, but just mentally I had tough times. When I got into slumps I got really down on myself and would dwell on it. It really took the fun out of the game for me. When I turned pro and I was dealing with those slumps, it was really hard to go to the rink and hockey just wasn’t fun. When it’s not fun, it’s tough to do anything with it and be a good player. Being a second-round pick, looking back on it now, I’m honoured that I was that. Obviously, I wish I could’ve done more with it, but I’m still trying to make the most of it. I feel young even though I look around and there’s guys who are 19 and 20 here. You can’t change the past. You can dwell on it. Look forward, be appreciative of the opportunity.”

Will the next jersey with Werek on the back have an NHL logo on the front? Only time will tell. After waiting this long – what’s the rush?

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