Winchester camping out with dream
Sens forward has new contract but knows the hard work is just beginning
No wonder, then, the 24-year-old forward from nearby Long Sault is drinking up just about every second of his first Ottawa Senators development camp.
“It was a big eye-opener,” Winchester said Wednesday after a second morning of challenging off-ice workouts at Scotiabank Place. “I’ve never been (to this camp). I didn’t know what to expect but it’s been a lot of work, a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed being around a great group of guys.”
Unlike a number of the 29 prospects in Ottawa this week, Winchester came to the capital armed with the security of a new contract. He and the Senators agreed on a two-year deal in late May, about two months after he was originally signed through the end of the 2007-08 season as a college free agent out of Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.
“I guess you could say it’s a relief,” Winchester said of getting his Senators contract out of the way. “But that’s where my work just begins. I want to prove myself and prove that I belong around this organization. I’m dedicated to that and, hopefully, everything will work out fine.”
The contract is one-way, meaning he's virtually assured of starting next season in Ottawa. But Winchester doesn't see it that way.
"I've played one game (in the NHL). I've proven nothing yet," he said. "Yeah, the contract (is nice) but nothing is a sure thing here. I want to prove to the guys in the locker room, the players, that I deserve to be here and I want to challenge them and I want to challenge myself to be the best that I can be. I don't even think about the contract ... I want to work my way onto (the team), I don't really want to be given anything. That's just the way I look at things.
"For me to come in after one game and be like 'yeah, I'm on the team, I signed a one-way (contract)' ... it just doesn't work that way, I don't think. I'm not the kind of guy who wants to put the cart ahead of the horse."
Winchester knows there is plenty to work on over the summer months.
“I have to work on my skating, strength, pretty much everything,” he said. “You name it, I have to work on it, but I’m one of those guys who’s not afraid to work. I have that going for me.”
Back on March 29, Winchester had a brief taste of where he wants to be, suiting up for the Senators against the Boston Bruins. Though Ottawa was blanked 4-0 that Saturday afternoon at TD Banknorth Garden, he still savours the moment.
“It was a thrill, your first game in the NHL,” said Winchester. “It’s something you dream about growing up. Everyone says it but it’s true. When you finally get on the ice with some of the best players in the world… It was a thrill and I soaked it up.
“I played pretty calmly; I like to play calmly out there. Hopefully, I’ll get to do it again pretty soon.”
While he was a spectator for the Senators’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Winchester called it “a great learning experience.”
“Coming out of college, you’re used to the books and the (school) work and then the hockey, too,” he said. “Coming here, you’re with guys for whom hockey is the only focus. You learn so much in a short period of time.
“I just tried to be like a sponge and soak up everything and make friends with the guys. They took me in with open arms and it was the best month of my life, for sure.”
Even better when it happened about an hour from his hometown, in the Cornwall area.
“I had a feeling I’d sign an NHL contract going into my senior year at Colgate,” said Winchester. “But to have it be so close to home, the closest (NHL) team, is pretty cool. I have a lot of support in my hometown; they’re all Senators fans there.”
Visit Sens TV online every day for exclusive video from development camp.