Alex Wideman Fuelling Up for the Long-Haul

Author: Thomas Waind, for PHPA.com
Date: Feb 13, 2017

The ECHL’s best and brightest talent could be found in Glens Falls, New York on a mid-January night, in front of a packed Glens Falls Civic Center. The 2017 ECHL All-Star Classic was hosted by the Adirondack Thunder, as they were pitted in a competitive match against a team comprised of ECHL All-Stars.

Indy Fuel forward, Alex Wideman, opened the scoring at the 17:41 mark converting on a pass from Matt Garbowsky. While he may be relatively unknown to some, Wideman has certainly been a bright spot on a last-place Indy Fuel team that could definitely use one. The younger brother of Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Wideman, Alex has a had a strong season, leading his team in goals (17), assists (22) and points (39).

Often an overlooked player, Wideman was honored to be recognized among the ECHL’s best players. “It was really cool. It was my first ever nomination for something like this. I had a blast and all of the guys on the team were great. Some I’ve played against, some I haven’t. It’s fun to meet some of the guys from around the league.”

His selection to play in the All Star Game is great validation for the hard work Wideman has put in at this point in his career. Listed as 5’7”, Wideman has always had to battle to stand out. In his major junior draft year, the St. Louis-born Wideman found himself overlooked when he wasn’t selected. “When it was my turn to get drafted—the St. Louis guys usually get drafted into the OHL—I wasn’t even 100 pounds at that age, so I never had a chance to play major junior.”

While this snub was certainly discouraging, Wideman made the best of his situation. Following his OHL draft year, Wideman would spend the next two seasons with the Indiana Ice of the USHL. A standout 2010-11 season saw him tally 32 points in 56 games. This performance drew the attention from some NCAA programs. Alex eventually committed to Miami University in Ohio where he would become teammates with his older brother Chris.

“The college route was the best fit for me by far because I was able to play a few extra years of junior, while getting stronger and gaining experience.”

Alex spent four years at Miami playing and working out with the Redhawks hockey program while balancing the classwork necessary for his degree in Sports Leadership and Management. In Wideman’s sophomore season, the Redhawks would win the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season championship due to the league folding the following season. In his senior year they, captured the National Collegiate Hockey Conference championship. This was Miami’s first time winning the championship in just their second season playing in the conference.

While those seasons will always be part of Miami University history, Alex’s freshman season was one of his favourites, in-part because of the opportunity to share the ice with his brother Chris who was playing in his senior season.

“Playing at the Division 1 level with my older brother was really, really cool. Besides one season of high school hockey, Chris and I hadn’t played on the same team before. It was fun for our friends and family. We had games where our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, were watching in the stands.”

Following his senior season in 2014-15, Alex got another chance to play with his brother Chris. In the midst of a mediocre 34-34-0-8 season, the AHL’s Binghamton Senators were looking to find some diamonds in the rough to help retool their roster. The Senators, already familiar with Chris who was second on the team in scoring, gave Alex his shot. He managed to work his way into four games in the final three weeks of the season.

This sudden jump into the world of professional hockey definitely took some getting used to. “I had never worn a half shield before that,” Alex joked. “Every level of hockey up to that point I had to wear a cage.”

“Obviously the jump from college to pro hockey was pretty big adjustment,” Alex elaborated. “College is 35 to 40 games per season, so every game is like a playoff game every single night no matter what. Everyone is flying around at all times. Guys are throwing massive hits and it’s just a run and gun type of game.”

Surprisingly, Wideman found that the pro game was easier to adapt to. “Binghamton was out of the playoffs, so it was a little more relaxed,” Wideman remembers. “I was on a tryout so I was going balls to the wall at all times. The way the pro game is, I find that it has really helped me come along. I like to slow the game down with the puck and I feel like there’s a lot of plays to be made out there. The pro game fits my style of hockey more than college did.”

When describing his style of play, Alex says that he tries to play an offensive game while consciously making an effort on defense. Given his stature and skill-set, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that Wideman has modelled his game after Buffalo Sabres forward, Tyler Ennis. “He’s also not a very big guy, but he knows how to use his body against bigger opponents. It’s all about protecting the puck in the corners.”

As a smaller forward, Wideman acknowledges that puck-battles along the boards are a necessity to survival on the ice. “That’s where I credit my coaches in college, because I had to do that type of stuff every day in practice,” Wideman recalls. “In freshman year I had to face these big, strong guys and at the time I thought it was a punishment. But I soon realized that that’s what you have to do to play at the next level, especially at my size.”

Alex’s AHL stint lasted 11 games before he was reassigned to the Ottawa Senators’ ECHL affiliate, the Evansville Icemen. After a strong 2015-16 season, one which saw Wideman score 39 points in 58 games with the Icemen, Wideman’s contract with the Senators had expired. His next contract came from the Indy Fuel who have been rewarded with a very skilled and useful player.

At this point in his young career, Wideman has experienced three very different styles of high-level hockey in the NCAA, AHL, and now the ECHL. But while the ECHL is certainly the least talked about of the three leagues, Alex believes the league doesn’t get enough credit.

“The game has evolved a lot in the last 5 to 10 years. There are some really good hockey players in this league. I could give you two or three guys on each team that are on NHL deals that are playing in the ECHL. Personally I’ve gotten a lot better since I started playing here. There’s only 10 forwards on each team that can dress every night so there’s a lot of playing time. There’s a lot of areas that I need to get better at. In my opinion, getting a chance in all of these different situations in games is how you’re going to get that experience and get better.”

Just like the fast and hectic style of ECHL hockey, the structure of their All Star game also defies convention. The game was comprised of one 25-minute first period of five-on-five hockey, a skills competition during the intermission where the winner of each event is rewarded with one goal for their team, followed by one final 25-minute period which was split into three segments of five-on-five, four-on-four, and three-on-three play.

This format led to an exciting 8-7 2017 All Star Game victory for the ECHL All Stars. The players seemed to enjoy this just as much as the fans. “We were up 4-1 at the end of the first half and by the end of the skills competition it was 5-3. It became a tighter game,” Wideman reflects. “The format was pretty fun. Towards the end of the game it started to heat up a bit. For the other team, it was their home rink in Adirondack so they wanted to win it for their fans. It was pretty intense.”

Wideman’s All Star recognition is hopefully just the beginning of things to come. With the ECHL season in the final stretch, Alex can’t afford to take his foot off of the gas pedal. “As far as this year, I need to keep playing my game, working hard. I want to finish the season as strong as I started it.”

Even though the Fuel are well out of the playoff picture, Wideman is still working his tail off both on and off of the ice. The ultimate goal of cracking the NHL may seem out of reach, but Alex need not look further than his brother Chris for a template on how to get to hockey’s brightest stage.

“Chris played in the ECHL, then the American League and now the NHL. He’s seen all three leagues and he knows what it takes. He never gave up. It took him a bit longer than others to make it to the NHL. He got there and he’s proving that he belongs. He hasn’t looked back since. He’s undersized too. He’s not the biggest defenseman but he’s gotten to be very good at moving his feet and using his body for positioning. That’s why he survives out there.”

As a guy who seems to constantly be moving his feet, don’t be surprised when Alex starts moving his way up the professional hockey ladder. Wideman’s strong performance this season has garnered some NHL interest. Not one to rest on the laurels of his All Star selection, Wideman looks at the bigger picture when assessing his career goals.

“In the long-term I want to be the best teammate I can be and continue to work hard. Someday I hope to be on the same NHL ice as my brother. I just want to get there one day.”

 

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