Regular PITB readers (the ones we call Bulies) know that we’ve been following the adventures of adorable ex-Canuck Kyle Wellwood all season. It’s been quite the ride. When we began the Wellwood’s World feature, we expected innocuous monthly updates on Wellwood’s time abroad. Instead, we’ve been blessed with a full fledged international saga — one that’s now come full circle, as Wellwood’s Sharks get set to face off against the Canucks in the Western Conference finals.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: after being let go by Vancouver in the offseason, Wellwood would spend the entire summer waiting on a contract, eventually having to settle for a tryout invitation to Phoenix Coyotes training camp. After being cut, he would wind up signing a one-year deal with the KHL’s Atlant Moscow Oblant.
Expecting to find Europe more amenable to his style of play, Wellwood would soon discover that Russia was not for him. In a National Post interview, he explains how things soured in a hurry:
“Over there it’s different,” he said. “Players change teams quite often and they usually go with their coach. Coaches will change quite often, too. A coach will come in and he’ll want to bring in players that he knows from his years of coaching. So if he doesn’t know you, he doesn’t care.”
“By our third game we were on our third coach and I played one minute — one minute of ice time — so I’m sitting there going, I already had three or four goals in four games. At that point, there’s nothing other to do than sit around.”
Thanks to some of our excellent readers, we were able to track down a number of Russian Wellwood interviews. They painted a picture of a lonely, unhappy man enduring maybe the worst year of his life. It was a melancholy tale we were telling.
Wellwood would eventually be released from his contract, and while this originally appeared to be rock bottom for the diminutive forward, the decision turned out to be mutually reached. We learned Wellwood’s fiance, Bianca, was expecting a baby, and that he would rather be with her than sit around in Russia. Good call. Wellwood’s first son, Roman, was born on Monday, March 28, 9 weeks premature, weighing in at just over 3 lbs. But he was healthy.
On top of this, after enduring a summer where nobody wanted him, Wellwood would suddenly find himself in high demand, signing a contract with the St. Louis Blues, then being claimed off re-entry waivers by the San Jose Sharks.
San Jose was a perfect fit. With the Sharks’ depth at centre, Wellwood would eventually be moved to Joe Pavelski’s wing on a potent third line that included Torrey Mitchell. He would turn out to be one of the best midseason acquisitions in the league — the Sharks went 25-6-4 with him in the lineup, the 7th-best individual win-loss record in the NHL.
The late season surge catapulted San Jose back up the Western Conference standings. They would eventually finish second in the West to Vancouver. Now they find themselves in the Western Conference final for the second straight year. Welly’s been integral to the SHarks’ playoff push. He’s a plus-7, best on the team, with 7 points (a goal and six assists).
It’s an incredible story, this. A season that began with Wellwood unwanted and exiled may end with a brand-new father hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head. And we, as Canucks fans, find ourselves in the unpleasant position of hoping it ends badly. How can you want anything but the best for Welly?
Because he plays for the enemy. Also, he criticized our team. Send him back to Russia!
Wellwood finally gave us a reason to sneer when he criticized his former team just prior to the postseason, claiming they were “scared to lose”, and that the Sharks would be more successful come playoff time. Granted, Wellwood was referring to last year’s team, and would later admit he didn’t really get a chance to watch this year’s team until the Nashville series, but still, them’s fighting words. And now, the Canucks have been granted the opportunity to make Wellwood eat them. I imagine they’re the one thing Wellwood would rather not.
When asked by Jason Botchford about Wellwood’s comments yesterday, Kevin Bieksa responded, “I don’t even remember what that weasel said.” When Botchford jogged his memory, Bieksa replied, ”When we had him on our squad, we were afraid to lose. He was the smallest third-line centre in the league at that point.”
Zing. Yet another reason Kevin Bieksa needs a Twitter account. If you haven’t already, sign the Twitition to support our efforts to make this happen.
The media brought Bieksa’s comments back to Welly, who responded, with his trademark unassuming self-awareness, “Guys on the ice talk a lot worse than that. It’s not really insulting to me.”
No surprise there. After the year Wellwood’s had, there probably isn’t much that can rattle him.
I. Wellwood’s World
II. The Oppressive Angst of Waiting
III. To Russia With Love
IV. Wellwood Speaks!
V. Farewell Russia
VI. A Surprise Ending
VII. Back From Exile
VIII. Meet Me in San Jose
IV. Happy Times Are Here Again
X. Welly’s Not Right, But He’s Not Wrong
XI. You Can’t Spell “Weaselly” Without “Welly”