Duluth East defenseman and Minnesota Duluth recruit Andy Welinski will spend the 2010-11 school year with the Green Bay Gamblers in the U.S. Hockey League, as a senior. High school beat reporter Rick Weegman has that story in Friday’s News Tribune and is below:
Duluth East’s best defenseman, an NHL draft-caliber player, has decided to leave the program before his senior year in order to hone his game at a higher level.
A year after Derek Forbort bypassed the Greyhounds to play with the U.S. Under-18 national development team, senior-to-be Andy Welinski announced he is leaving to play with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.
“If hockey’s what you want to do, then you have to make a couple decisions based on hockey,” Welinski said earlier this week. “And hockey, right now, is what I want to do.”
Welinski, a 2009 USHL Futures draft pick, returned a week ago Wednesday from a tryout in Green Bay with a commitment in hand.
“Either way, if I was going to go or stay, if I was going to get better I would need to motivate myself and improve that way,” said Welinski, who has committed to play college hockey at Minnesota Duluth. “Having other players with the same capability as me, working with them and having them challenge me, will make me that much better than staying here.”
Though his father, Mark, for months had said his son wouldn’t return to East if longtime coach Mike Randolph was retained when the school district reopened its coaching positions, Andy said that was a nonfactor.
“I like Randolph as a coach,” he said. “He’s had tough times with some people in the past, but I’ve never had any troubles with him. He’s a great coach who knows hockey. I guess his coaching style is to be strict, and sometimes it turns out against him.
“Personally, (his return) did not influence my decision.”
When contacted Wednesday night, Randolph, who was brought back for a 22nd season, said it was the first he had heard of the younger Welinski’s plans. Randolph said Welinski had not shown up for East’s summer camp and he had not heard from the player, but assumed he would leave if he made the Gamblers’ team.
“I guess we move on; we’re kind of used to it,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of players leave early for what they think are better opportunities. We’ve learned not to worry about it because there’s not much you can do about it.”
Gamblers coaches say they are excited to bring in a player the caliber of the 6-foot-1 Welinski, who had five goals and 19 assists as a junior.
“We like the way he plays; he’s a hard worker and a big kid,” Gamblers assistant Jon Rogger said. “He still has to work a little on his skating, but we fully expect him to be among our top four (defensemen) and perhaps run one of our two power plays. He should be an NHL draft pick, and with a year or two here he’ll be fine. He’s going to be a heck of a player.”
The Gamblers played 74 games last season, far more than the 31 the Greyhounds played in finishing fifth in the Class AA state tournament. More ice time is one reason why some claim junior hockey is the best route to go for premier players.
“USHL hockey is better than high school hockey,” Rogger said. “It’s going to prepare you more for college and you’re playing against older and stronger kids like they will be in college. At the end of the day, it’s in the kid’s best interest — if they are good enough to leave high school early, then they should do it.”
Welinski will attend Ashwaubenon High School during the hockey season but plans to return next spring and graduate from East.