Winnik stepping up with UNH Wildcats

By Jeff Dahlia

Coming out of the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, Daniel Winnik left a hotbed of talent to further his hockey career in the states at the University of New
Hampshire starting in the fall of 2003.

It is hard to get Phoenix’s ninth round draft pick to gloat about his recent
accomplishments there, but it is safe to say that the move is paying off. Already at the start of his sophomore season, Winnik is making himself known around the Hockey East conference and among the collegiate ranks.

And who does he have to thank for his success? His father.

“My dad was big into hockey and we have been around it all our lives, said the appreciative forward. “I started to like the game because of my dad’s fondness for the game. I just fell in love with it from there on. As far back as I could remember, I was consumed by hockey. It was the only sport that I wanted to play and to this day, it is the only sport that I have played in an organized atmosphere.”

Around the age of six, a boy’s love of the game began a quest that hasn’t stopped since. Winnik spent
his youth focused on improving his chances of finally getting to the NHL. He realized that it would not come easy, so he continued to work hard, hoping he would come many steps closer as the years progressed.

“I stayed with my single A team for a while and eventually moved up to AA,” said Winnik. “I spent three years in AAA. From the Toronto Marlies in bantam, I moved up to Wexford Raiders in the OPJHL.”

Asked why he chose New Hampshire over the junior leagues in Canada and all he offered was a simple answer, education. “Schools came knocking on my door with offers,” says the proud student athlete. “I felt it was a better road for me to get an education too.”

Then came the unexpected. Having opted out in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Winnik hoped that his stock and selection position would rise after a successful freshman campaign with the Wildcats. During the 2004
draft, he had to wait until the ninth round to finally learn he was selected by the Phoenix Coyotes with 265th overall pick.

The cool and collected Winnik shrugged off the lateness of the pick. “Hey, not every player gets drafted, so you have to be happy to see your name go in the draft,” he explained. “I got some indication that I would be a mid-round pick on the second day. I didn’t anticipate going that late this year, but I am not worried about it.”

Offensive explosion

After eight contests with UNH this season, Winnik has literally jumped out of the gates. He has already matched his goal output from last season and he is also closing in on surpassing his entire point total as a freshman. Last season he played a total of 37 games and tallied a total of 14 points
(4 goals, 10 assists). He is already halfway there and on pace to more than double those points by the
season’s end.

There is no real secret to his success either. Winnik plays an intense, smart game. He focuses on his play
down low, outmuscling guys and protecting the puck. With the crackdown on obstruction in college hockey, he has even fined tuned his approach on the backcheck.

“I have to be careful when I’m in the defensive zones and in the corners,” he explained. “You can’t go after the guys as aggressively and hit them up like you used to. You have to be focused on hitting their sticks, attacking the puck or rubbing them out
on the boards. You can’t go about tying someone up and putting your stick between their legs anymore.”

Feeling he had even more to offer, head coach Richard Umile challenged him before
a game against Boston U. He asked Winnik to focus on making things happen, rather than reacting to others’ play. He wanted to see the playmaker in him step out of the shadows.

That night, he and his line dominated the ice on their shifts. Winnik put the team on his back, dropped a
hat trick on the Terriers and the Wildcats ended up winning the match 4-3. He played possessed all night long and did well at both ends of the ice. The following Monday, he was rewarded by being named the CCM player of the week in the Hockey East conference.

“It felt great," Winnik said. "I feel that that was my best game of the year so far. Coach Umile talked to me about the need to be more aggressive that night and it ended up paying its dividends.”

While offering a summation of his fortunes early on, he points to having a year of experience under his belt, as well as trusting his instincts and ability. He also credits the familiarity with fellow sophomore linemate Brett Hemingway (COL) for the good start.

“I have played with Hemingway going back to the middle of last season," said
Winnik. “There is some comfort playing alongside of him and his work ethic is great.”

Balanced attack

Not only is Winnik having a tremendous start to the 2004-05 season, but he is doing
it on a team that is loaded with quality talent at the college level. Of the 22
skaters, 17 have registered at least a point so far.

Before the season started, there were many questions how successful the team would this year after graduating seniors Steve Saviano and Nathan Martz (NYR). However, the depth upfront and solid goaltending have led the way

“As a team we are a lot faster, which will help us in the long run. I think we can go farther than we did last year and hopefully make it to the
Frozen Four. We look good, so the chances of us accomplishing that are good,” explained Winnik. “If you look at our scoring sheets, it is pretty balanced all the way up and down. I mean, everyone from the fourth line up can contribute. There isn’t much worry where the production is going to come from.”

Currently, the only thing that is left to be seen, is the team’s ability to put a clamp on the opposition scoring. As of their last contest versus Providence, UNH has outscored opponents
26-24. Of the 24 against, 10 have been surrendered while shorthanded.

If it weren’t for the stellar play from goaltenders Kevin Regan and Jeff Pietrasiak (PHX), Winnik wondered where the team might stand.

“We have two solid goaltenders in Pietrasiak and Regan,” he added. “Jeff has been nothing but great for us all year. He has been playing solid even though we have been giving up a lot of shots early out. He kept us in the game versus Michigan and has been solid ever since.”

And so his quest continues alongside talented teammates. Winnik vows to work hard all year long and impress the UNH faithful and college hockey fans alike.

“It has been great here,” he said. “We have a great program with a really good coaching staff. Our fan base is incredible and a great place to play at.”

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