DENVER – The University of Denver should consider hiring Ottawa Senators defenceman Patrick Wiercioch as an ambassador to talk up the school and the town where he called home for a couple of years.
Even while he is dealing with the disappointment of being a routine healthy scratch – Wiercioch was out again Wednesday versus the Colorado Avalanche – he couldn’t stop raving about the beauty of the community, the Rocky Mountain air and how enjoyable his trip down memory lane was.
Let’s start with the positives: Wiercioch speaking like the mayor in touting the many attributes of Denver, where he played for the Pioneers from 2008-10.
“I saw quite a few games here (at the Pepsi Centre),” he said, following Wednesday morning’s skate when he stayed on late, along with fellow scratches Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Joe Corvo and Chris Neil, who is rehabilitating his hamstring injury. “It’s neat. It’s not too far from campus. It’s an easy light rail. It’s not too far from campus. It’s an easy light rail, it’s a great transit system – from your dorm straight to here – so it’s an awesome set up.”
Wiercioch spent part of Tuesday re-tracing his footsteps.
“I had a great time going back to campus,” he said. I never (understood) the measure of what school is like because this is where my home was for two years. I met my wife here and everything. Just to go back and see the first apartment you rented. I had never thought about when I left school. Little things like that meant a lot to me.”
Wiercioch, of course, would have liked nothing better than to make a triumphant return on the Senators blue line, but coach Paul MacLean opted to stick to the winning defensive lineup from Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win over Montreal. That meant Wiercioch and Corvo sat out for the third straight game. Wiercioch has only played in two of the past nine games.
“Frustration is always there when you’re not playing,” Wiercioch said. “It would be even tougher to be sitting out if you weren’t doing things that they were asking you. Because there’s a tendency with an offensive (defenceman) to maybe be on his own page and do his own thing and not play for the team.”
MacLean, however, has told Wiercioch that he is doing what he is being asked to do.
“That meant a lot to me,” said Wiercioch. “But just doing it for two games doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to be given to you for the next 80, right? So it’s patience, it’s hard work. It’s a total mind shift to get you around that.”
EIGHT IS ENOUGH: Sooner or later, the Senators are going to have to deal with the fact two healthy defencemen are sitting every night. That could mean a trade, given that the only one of the eight who can be assigned to the minors without clearing waivers is Cody Ceci.
Ceci isn’t going anywhere. Wednesday’s game was his 13th consecutive with Ottawa since being recalled from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.
“We were having some issues in our own end and we felt we’ll call him up and play him as long as we can until we have to send him back,” said MacLean. “He hasn’t reached that point yet. That’s a credit to him. He has continued to play at a high level, a consistent level. We’ve needed that and he has provided that.”
MacLean acknowledges he wasn’t quite as impressed early last season, when he watched Ceci play for the Ottawa 67′s. Now, however, MacLean says Ceci is a different player after working with Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson and assistant captain Steve Stirling.
“When he played with the 67′s, I left after two periods,” said MacLean. “I couldn’t stand the way that he played for the 67′s. But that’s a different time and a different age and a different system and a different league. Since he has come to training camp and we talked to him about using his skating ability to defend as well as to play on offence and be competitive, he has done everything we have asked.
SPEZZA RETURNS, PAGEAU WATCHES: Pageau was the odd man out Wednesday when MacLean juggled the forward lines to accommodate the return of Jason Spezza. Pageau has scored one goal and no assists in 12 games since being recalled from Binghamton, but the coach isn’t necessarily displeased about his efforts.
The deciding factor, it appears, was trying to keep Zack Smith at centre.
“Basically, it’s just a little crowded (at centre) right now,” he said. “And (Wednesday) for (Spezza’s) first game back, we would like to have both Zack and Mika (Zibanejad) play at centre ice. It pushes Pageau down the lineup.”