By Lindsey Willhite | AHL On The Beat Archive
Perhaps the revelation came to Chicago Wolves forward Jeremy Welsh while he climbed endless steps to reach the top of Mount Machu Picchu in Peru.
Perhaps it came while he visited underground clubs in Buenos Aires with new friends who spoke Spanish—a language he does not comprehend.
Perhaps it came while he participated in a weeklong surf camp along Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast.
Or, perhaps, every step of the way through Welsh’s month-long summer tour of South American and Central America—a vacation he undertook by himself with nothing but a backpack—he realized his good fortune to be able to mix professional hockey with incredible travel.
Welsh left North America in mid-May with no plans other than to unwind from the Wolves’ rugged seven-month season, but he returned in mid-June with a ravenous hunger for the 2015-16 season.
“That’s one thing I learned when I was traveling,” said Welsh. “At the surf resort, there were all these people who had quit their jobs and moved there to work. They worked as cooks or serving drinks or whatever. They quit their gigs so they could work and then surf for free. I talked with them about it. They’d say that was the only thing that made them feel alive—they couldn’t get that feeling anywhere else. They’d say, ‘I need it in my life.’
“I realized for me, that’s hockey. How fortunate is it that I get paid to do it? I don’t have to quit my job, I don’t have to do this on the side. To get paid to do this? There are good days and bad days in hockey, but the bad days aren’t really bad. Things are pretty good and I’m pretty fortunate. So just enjoy it.”
Welsh, a 27-year-old from Bayfield, Ontario, who’s in his second season with the Wolves, has always been an engaging, cerebral person with a positive point-of-view.
But in the summer of 2014, Welsh traveled with two former Utica Comets teammates to Cambodia and Thailand. That month-long adventure—complete with elephant rides and poisonous centipede encounters —fueled his desire for another journey in 2015.
Welsh planned to make his trip with Evansville Icemen (ECHL) captain Patrick Kennedy. When Kennedy broke his fibula at the end of the season, it left Welsh on his own.
“I’d met some people who had done it before,” said Welsh. “They said it’s a different experience as far as getting out of your comfort zone—it’s a growth experience. You have to get outside and do things to meet people. Otherwise you’re by yourself the whole time.”
Welsh started in Peru, which is on South America’s west coast along the South Pacific Ocean. He wanted to visit the portion of the Amazon Rainforest that’s found in Peru, but Welsh booked his trip too late (mind you, he had to keep his schedule clear until early June for a potential Wolves championship run) to get a room at the Amazon Lodge.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward had to “settle,” if that’s the proper word, for climbing to see Machu Picchu, the ruins of a 15th-century Incan city 8,000 feet above sea level.
“They kept saying, ‘it’s just a quick walk, you should walk,’ ” said Welsh. “So you go at daylight and hike up. It was two hours straight up steps. Then I got there. Then I went up Mount Machu Picchu, which was another hour-and-a-half straight up steps. By that time, I was pretty much gassed. It was hot and the altitude was crazy.”
Welsh loved Peru’s beauty and planned to spend his whole month there, but the weather was colder and wetter than his T-shirts and shorts wardrobe could handle. That sent him jetting to Buenos Aires, which is nearly 2,000 miles farther south. Rather than stay in a hostel, which makes it easier to meet fellow travelers, he rented a small apartment and tried to find other ways to engage with the locals.
“The language was tough when I first got there,” Welsh said. “All Spanish. I ended up meeting a girl who was a musician, so probably for the last 7-8 nights I was there, I was going to all the underground places where the best musicians were—the places where if you’re a tourist, you’d have no idea they’re there. So she was showing me around the city. It was pretty cool to do that.”
After 10 days in Buenos Aires, Welsh moved on to Nicaragua and criss-crossed the Central American country. He visited Ometepe Island, which was formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua. He visited Leon, Managua and participated in the surf camp at San Juan Del Sur.
I had some experiences that I never thought I would have—things you can’t even imagine doing,” he said. “Suddenly you’re doing it and it becomes normal while you’re there. It’s neat to break out of the hockey bubble.
“But [hockey] is kind of why I came home. I could have stayed, but I was ready to come back and start training. Once you’re away from the game, it reignites the passion.”
Welsh intends to build off his excellent 2014-15 season with the Wolves. In addition to setting professional-bests for goals (20), assists (21), points (41) and plus-minus rating (+8), he played a key role on the team’s power-play and penalty-kill units. In the Wolves’ first 20 games this season, Welsh provided 6 goals and 4 assists. He also played in two games for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues.
“Hopefully he’ll do even more this year,” said Wolves head coach John Anderson. “He makes some plays where I’m shocked that he has the ability to do it. He’ll make little handsy plays in tight and I’ll go, ‘Wow.’ I’d like to see it more every day. And another thing about him: When he tracks down pucks, he’s like a grizzly bear. He’s really strong on it.”
Other than admitting he plans to accomplish more than last year, Welsh prefers not to attach numbers to his goals. He will, however, admit to the emotions he wants to feel while on the ice. Credit this to his international travel experiences.
“Last year I just enjoyed playing hockey and being in the game,” said Welsh. “The competition of the whole thing, you know? We have a great team this year, so let’s just go out and win games and everyone’s feeling good and enjoying the camaraderie. That’s my goal, to just love playing the game.”