Wideman carving out pro career

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

There probably isn't much that Dennis Wideman hasn't heard.

The former London Knight has listened to people say he isn't big enough to play defence in professional hockey. How he isn't strong enough or mobile enough.

Such is the nature of professional sports criticism.

Focus on the negative. Those perceived short-comings are why the Buffalo Sabres never signed Wideman to a contract after making him their ninth-round pick in the 2002 NHL draft.

Never mind that his time in junior hockey was marked by extraordinary success; that he was a leader on and off the ice; that he chewed up ice time and worked his tail off whenever he got the opportunity. And then there's the proverbial cherry on top of all this: Wideman's offensive abilities.

The St. Louis Blues decided to focus on the positive aspects of Wideman's game, work ethic and personality. This summer they signed him to a free-agent contract, sending him to the American Hockey League Worcester IceCats.

It hasn't taken long for the Elmira native to prove he can play professional hockey. He leads the IceCats in scoring after 36 games with seven goals and 17 assists and a plus-one plus-minus rating.

While 36 games doesn't make a professional career, it's the type of performance that is becoming a pattern with Wideman. Everywhere he goes he makes an impact. It's also easy to forget he is two months shy of his 22nd birthday.

"Leading the team in scoring . . . that does surprise me," said Wideman. "I got off to a quick start the first couple of weeks in the season and I got a lot of assists but we haven't been scoring much lately. The last couple of weeks, if we win a game, we win 2-1, 1-0. We scored four on Friday and that was a big output for us.

"We have a good team, a solid team but it's not really a big team. We have more of a speed team with skill. We have to work really hard though because if we don't, we don't win."

Any professional sport is a survival-of-the-fittest competition. The American Hockey League has many hardened professional players looking to make a living in the game. It's tough competitively.

"It's a big jump," Wideman said. "It took a while to adjust to how fast and how strong these guys are. Everyone is moving faster, thinking faster. It took a while to adjust in my own zone on how fast they are moving the puck.

"The defensive aspect is still something I'm working on day to day. I'll come out one game and I'll be fine and the next game I'll struggle. I'm working on the day-to-day grind of battling with these guys in my own zone. Offensively, it's not a big jump, but defensively is where you have to work hard."

Wideman will be remembered in London as the first player acquired by Mark and Dale Hunter to really make a mark on the rebuilding of the Knights. In his over-age year, Wideman was second in voting for the OHL's top defenceman.

"It's going better than I planned or expected," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun. The guys are a great. My point total I have right now is around the goal I expected to be at at the end of the year.

"Signing here was the best thing for me to do. What I went through the last year or two, trying to get things straightened out with Buffalo, not knowing what's going on and waiting until halfway through the summer to sign here. . . . Here, they've given me every opportunity plus some."

Wideman is playing regularly five-on-five and getting power-play time. He's also gets a chance to kill penalties, "depending on how I'm going that night."

That's more than he expected.

"I haven't sat out a game this year, knock on wood. Considering the defencemen we had in camp, I thought I'd get into a couple of games here and a couple there. But things are really working out."

With what he's proven so far, that shouldn't have been unexpected.


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