June 24, 2013

Steve Solloway: Ex-player from Maine has felt the fury of a run for the Cup

Eric Weinrich of Yarmouth played five seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Eric Weinrich remembers when his legs felt so heavy from fatigue, he struggled to swing them over the hockey arena sideboards and return to the ice. When his brain was so tired, it worked instinctively.

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Eric Weinrich, right, who starred at North Yarmouth Academy and the University of Maine, plays for Chicago in 1998, the last of his five seasons with the Blackhawks.

1998 Associated Press file

Eric Weinrich

He remembers the pure joy of winning and the sharp heartbreak of losing. The star defenseman at North Yarmouth Academy and the University of Maine played 81 games of playoff hockey during 17 seasons in the NHL. Weinrich won't say he's reliving his own career when he watches the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks play this final series for professional hockey's biggest prize.

He can say he knows what pushes men to test themselves in extraordinary ways while chasing the chance to hold aloft the Stanley Cup, something he was never able to do.

"Sometimes I wonder," said Weinrich, 46. "Would I have traded all those seasons, all my experiences, for one season and the Stanley Cup? That would be a tough one to answer."

He intends to watch Monday night's Game 6 from his home in Yarmouth. The Blackhawks, after winning Game 5 in Chicago on Saturday, can take the best-of-seven series with one more victory at TD Garden in Boston. A Bruins win would send the series back to Chicago for Game 7 on Wednesday.

Weinrich knows both cities well. As a younger man, he played five seasons with the Blackhawks, beginning in 1993. Eight years later he was traded to the Bruins for part of one season.

"I have friends on either team but no allegiances," said Weinrich, who is a pro scout for the Buffalo Sabres. "I'm just a fan."

That's true, but not accurate. He was introduced to hockey when his father brought him to a frozen pond near their home in the Kennebec County town of Gardiner some 40 years ago. Weinrich may be retired, but he's a hockey player, an NHL lifer. The intensity of playoff hockey that we see but can only imagine, Weinrich knows.

He was a defenseman's defenseman when he played in the NHL, blocking two shots with his stick or body for every one he scored. He wasn't a big talker or a fighter. He was a standup guy, accepting responsibility. An English major at UMaine, he always could take in the larger world around him.

He watched a trainer tape Ken Daneyko's stick to his glove after Daneyko broke his hand and refused to come out of a playoff game. Daneyko and Weinrich were teammates with the New Jersey Devils in the late 1980s, and that moment wasn't lost on Weinrich.

He knows the wear and tear on bodies that have been hit countless times and knocked down often since the season began. Muscles that cry from fatigue and cuts and bruises that bleed. The exhaustion that comes from simply telling your body to do more again and again because it's the playoffs.

Yes, Weinrich can call himself a fan, but fans don't have his understanding of a brutally intense game.

"For these guys to be so close, one win away from winning the Stanley Cup, I can't even imagine," said Weinrich. "When you get to this point, you're almost numb. Everything, except for game time, seems like you're in a fog. You save all your energy for the game."

Many playoff games go into an overtime period. Or a second overtime. Or a third. Weinrich remembers his own marathons. "It's survival," he said. "You're tired. You have to use all your senses, knowing where your guys are and where their guys are. What helps is knowing they're feeling it just like you.

(Continued on page 2)

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