Former University of Maine All-American defenseman Eric Weinrich was at a camp for children with cancer last week when he got the message to call New Jersey Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello.
“I knew what it was about. I was just wondering which team it would be,” said Weinrich, who soon learned that he was traded with goalie Sean Burke to the Hartford Whalers for left winger Bobby Holik and two draft picks.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Weinrich earlier this week. “(Hartford GM) Brian Burke knows what he wants to do and he’s a knowledgeable hockey man. This is a great opportunity for me to get more ice time and to be able to play my (offensive) style.”
Weinrich was a stay-at-home defenseman with the Devils. He was paired primarily with offensive-minded All-Star Scott Stevens.
“(New Hartford coach) Paul Holmgren has already told me that Zarley Zalapski is their only offensive-minded defenseman and he’d like me to get more involved in the offense,” said the 25-year-old Weinrich, who had seven goals and 25 assists in 76 regular season games last season and was plus-10. “Hopefully, he’ll let me free-lance a little and let me go about it my own way. I’m sure he’ll pull back the reins when necessary.”
Weinrich saw limited special teams ice time with New Jersey and is hoping that will increase in Hartford.
“I think I’ll definitely get more ice time on the power play,” said Weinrich. “I’m not real sure about penalty killing. I hope I get a chance. I was a pretty effective penalty killer in Utica (AHL).”
Weinrich, a Gardiner native, is also excited about returning to New England.
“Number one, I’ll be closer to my family,” said Weinrich. “Secondly, there are a lot of University of Maine people and people from my high school (North Yarmouth Academy) who have settled around Hartford and this will give me a chance to see them. And they’ll be able to see me play.
“I also think it’ll be a better overall living condition for us. We’ll be back in a more familiar environment,” added Weinrich. “This is great for (wife) Tracy and me.”
Weinrich said he faced an uncertain future in New Jersey.
“I wouldn’t have been worried going into training camp with New Jersey, but I would have had an uncomfortable feeling,” said Weinrich, who was chosen to the NHL’s All-Rookie team two years ago when he racked up four goals and 34 assists in 76 games and was plus-10. “I wouldn’t have known what my situation was. I wouldn’t have been happy being the seventh or eighth defensemen.”
The six-foot-one Weinrich has trimmed five pounds off his frame to 205 pounds and he expects it to improve his speed a little without costing him any strength.
“I feel as good as I ever have. I’m chomping at the bit. I just want to start playing,” said Weinrich, who reports to training camp in Burlington, Vt., next week.