Two-time Memorial Cup champion Eric Wellwood was a proud left winger with his hometown Windsor Spitfires. The highlight of his junior career may have come in 2010 when he scored the Memorial Cup winning goal against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Through three professional seasons he appeared in 31 regular-season games and 11 playoff games with the Flyers.
He was becoming a fan favorite in Philly and it seemed like only a matter of time before Wellwood would be a regular NHL player. Unlike his more famous brother Kyle, Eric was not blessed with all the skill and natural ability. He relied far more on his speed and relentless hustle. His job was to create turnovers with his tenacity and speed.
During an AHL playoff game in 2013, Wellwood slid feet first into the boards while playing for the Adirondack Phantoms. His left leg drove into the back of his right leg and severed two tendons completely. Another tendon, his Achilles and an artery were 70 per cent severed. It was reported that without the immediate medical attention he was only six minutes from bleeding to death from the injury.
He spent a year trying to rehab the scary injury.
“It never fully recovered,” Wellwood said. “I’m happy where it’s at, but I’m not able to perform at the level of a pro athlete. I can go hard one day, but not the next. I spoke to the surgeon and he said if kept pushing, I was going to hurt the outside tendons. You have to keep the good tendons.”
He did not announce to the public that he was not going to return to the ice for 14 months, though he didn't have much hope to return.
“I knew for a while I wasn’t going to play,” said Wellwood. “I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want to deal with it. I knew a long time ago I was done playing, I just didn’t know what I was going to do after the fact.”
The Flyers offered Wellwood a role in the organization as a player development coach, but he turned it down to be an assistant coach back in junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals.
"I really wanted to be behind a bench," he said, though he admitted it was tough to go to Oshawa. “I’ll always be a Spitfire at heart, but this is an opportunity with this organization that it’s a nice fit and a chance for a championship team.”