BY JIMMY GILLIGAN | The Statesman Senior captain of the men’s hockey team Andy Welinski has been a symbol of perseverance for UMD. In a four-year career of over 150 games in a Bulldog uniform, Welinski has yet to miss a game.
Welinski will skate in his 63rd and 64th career games at Amsoil Arena this weekend.
And if he has any say in it, UMD’s regular season finale against Miami University won’t be his last games at Amsoil.
The Duluth native struggled to find words to describe the thought of playing in his last home game.
“It’s incredible, it’s tough to put into words,” Welinski said. “It’s obviously bittersweet, (but) it’s going to come to an end at some point.”
The Bulldogs need just three points to lock up the No. 4 spot in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. That would secure a home series for the opening round of playoffs, giving two more games for Welinski to say his goodbye.
The Bulldogs find themselves in this position after upsetting No. 3 St. Cloud State this past weekend in a momentous two-game sweep.
Welinski has been an invaluable player for head coach Scott Sandelin to be able to use on a nightly basis.
“Number one, he’s valuable because he’s our captain. He’s our best defenseman. He’s our leader,” Sandelin said. “He’s certainly one guy I don’t want to miss. That’s his value to our team.”
Welinski has yet to miss a game in his collegiate career, but it’s not for lack of injures.
“He’s dealt with his fair share of injuries. He’s played through a lot of that stuff. He’s a tough kid,” Sandelin said. “To be able to keep him in the lineup and play as much as he has over his time here, it’s a tribute to him and how he trains and works.”
He’s a role model and teacher for freshman defenseman Neal Pionk, who has been Welinski’s defensive partner for much of the season.
“He taught me how to adapt from the junior game to the college game. Obviously you gotta grow up a little bit and you're playing with stronger guys,” Pionk said.
Pionk puts Welinski among the likes of former Bulldogs and Duluthians Jack Connolly and Rob Bordson as players who have inspired him.
In what might be his last home games this weekend, Welinski’s desire is simple: to win.
“There’s eight of us seniors that have been here since the first day, and to go out with a win as a regular season would be a fantastic finish,” Welinski said.