Q&A with Stephen Werner

By Holly Gunning

Stephen Werner is one of many pro rookies cutting his teeth in the ECHL.  He began the season with AHL affiliate Hershey Bears, but was sent down to the South Carolina Stingrays to get more ice time.

The Chevy Chase, MD native was drafted in the third round by his hometown Washington Capitals in 2003 after a very good freshman year at Umass-Amherst in which he scored 38 points in 37 games. 

The 6’1 right wing joined Hershey when his senior season was over last spring, played in four games and scored three assists.  The Bears went on to win the 2006 Calder Cup.

Werner was assigned to the Stingrays on Dec. 6.  He played five games before he was injured on Dec. 20 in a game against the Augusta Lynx.  He remained out for one month, returning on Jan. 19.  The 22-year-old now has seven goals and six assists in 15 games as a Stingray.

Normal”>Hockey’s Future spoke to Werner recently after a tough loss to the Gwinnett Gladiators.

HF: You were sent down because you weren’t getting much ice time.  What kind of line were you playing on in Hershey and how much would you estimate you were playing per night?

SW: I was playing on the fourth line, getting around 10 or fewer minutes a game, depending on special teams.  They have a lot of talented forwards there and there wasn’t much room for me on the first three lines.  So they thought it would be a good idea for me to come down here and get some more time, and I think it’s been good for me so far.

HF: How much ice time are you getting now (with the Stingrays), maybe 18 minutes?

SW: Actually probably more than that because we’re short a couple players lately.  So yeah, I mean, I love it and it’s more of what I’ve been used to in college.  It’s just a little bit easier to get into the game.

HF: You’re scoring at a point a game pace, is that better than you expected when you got here?

SW: That was definitely my goal.  And there are still chances I’m missing and I think that I could actually do a little bit better than that.  But I’m not really looking at points as much as I’m looking at working on my game and playing the best that I can.

HF: You had a shoulder injury earlier this year.  Can you describe what happened and your rehab?

SW: I was in a one-on-one situation, making my way around the defenseman and kind of got tackled from behind.  The defenseman was on top of me and decided to just ride me into the boards.  I was on my stomach and my shoulder just hit with both of our weights going into the boards. 

HF: Was it this one? (pointing to visibly different shoulder)

SW: Yeah, it was my left shoulder. I separated it – my AC joint.  I had never hurt it before and it took me about a month to five it some time and then start doing some exercises.  It’s sill not 100 percent, but I feel good enough to play. 

HF: Are you going to have to have surgery eventually?

SW: No, they said it’s one of those things where two years down the road, whether you have surgery or not, you’re going to be in the same spot.  So they didn’t want to do anything drastic like that right now.  I still can’t do everything that I want to be doing in the gym, and if that continues to be the case, I’m going to want to at least get a second opinion.

HF: You said you’re not 100 percent on the ice, what’s the issue, is it shooting?

SW: No, it’s my top hand, which is better for shooting and handling the puck.  It’s more when my elbow gets extended from my body, my arm becomes a little bit vulnerable so it’s hitting and taking hits that I’m more worried about right now.

HF: (The shoulder) looks like it’s hanging lower.

SW: Yeah, you can see that it’s lower and there’s a bone that sticks up right there (on top).  They say it’s going to be like that forever, without surgery, but even if you do get surgery, it can pop back up. 

HF: How does the style of play with South Carolina compare to college and Hershey for you?

SW: It’s pretty similar to Hershey – the forecheck, the neutral zone is similar – so that was an easy transition for me coming from Hershey.  College was just completely different.  The style of play in college is a lot more hectic, just kind of running around, less organized, and pro hockey is quite different.  It took some time getting used to, but I got used to it and Hershey, so when I came down here it was fine.

HF: Were you in a real defensive system at school, because given the type of player you are, it seems like you would have scored more.

SW: No, the way it was on our team, we had a hard-working team and not quite as much skill up front.  My freshman year, we had two lines of really talented forwards, so I had a little more offensive success that season.  But it was just a matter of the league we were playing in, playing against good goalies, and we were very good defensively and won a lot of our games by goaltending and solid defensive play.

HF: How much did you stint with Hershey last year help you this year? 

SW: It gave me a good idea of what it takes to win a championship, obviously, and what pro hockey was like.  I got to play in four games at the end of the regular season, and then practice and watch the team throughout the playoffs.  It gave me an idea of what I needed to work on in the summer and I felt prepared to go into this year and establish my role on the Bears.  But as things played out, I wasn’t getting that much ice time, so I’m just here doing the same thing. 

HF: What did you work on in the summer then?

SW: I tried to put on a few pounds, and work on a lot more plyometrics as opposed to some of the Olympic stuff that we did in college.  I would have liked to have had a longer summer.  We didn’t finish in Hershey until June, so my summer was three months shorter than it usually is.  But I was able to accomplish a little bit in that time.

HF: What did you weigh in at at camp?

SW: I weighed in at camp at maybe 195, but it was a solid 195 and I really turned some fat maybe into muscle and felt a lot more confident on the ice.  So that was a big difference for me.  I still need to put on some strength and I’m going to work on that this offseason. 

HF: Was the Caps’ training camp a real eye-opener for you?

SW: Yeah, it was awesome (cracking his first smile of the night).  It was really helpful in giving me an idea of what those players are like up there and what the NHL is like, so that’s definitely going to be something that will help me training this summer and really prepare even this year for getting to the next level. 

HF: Do you have a favorite memory from camp?

SW: (Smiling) It was just kind of neat when all the guys came in right before training camp, guys were scrimmaging and Olaf Kolzig was there, Dainius Zubrus was there, and those are guys I’ve been watching in Washington for quite some time now.  It was just neat to be on the ice with those guys.  I’ve skated with them in the summer a little bit just because I was from the area, but it was the first time that I felt like I kind of belonged out there with them. 

HF: What will you be working on most in your game?

SW: I know what I need to work on to play in Hershey is my defensive game.  If I’m going to get to the NHL, it’s not going to be as a high-end scorer, it’s going to be as a hard-working two-way forward, so the offense comes second.  First you need to work on defense.  I’m trying to play a lot better defensively and play a lot smarter.  Offensively I feel pretty comfortable, but that’s what I need to get to Hershey and then I need to fine-tune a few things – my shot release, get my shot off a little quicker, and improve my play along the boards, breaking out of the zone as a winger.  Those are the things I’m working on. 

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