Connor Carrick vows that he will block out reminders of his decision.
Decommitting from the college powerhouse Michigan Wolverines to play for the Plymouth Whalers means the offensive defenceman will still be in the same state where UM's maize and blue often dominate sports headlines. But Carrick, whom the Washington Capitals drafted in the fifth round at the NHL draft last Saturday, figures he can move onward and upward with the Whalers. The way he describes what went into his change of course is reminder that no matter how much people talk about a NCAA team losing a player who had a scholarship waiting for him for two seasons, a teenager's prerogative to change his mind always prevails.
"It was very difficult for me to decommit," said the 5-foot-11, 187-pound Carrick, the second graduate from the U.S. under-18 team to join the Whalers since the end of last season after forward Ryan Hartman. "If I was going to college hockey, Michigan was the only school for me. I'm a man of my word, and it didn't make me feel very great to be doing this, but I knew I had to call [associate] Coach [Billy] Powers and [assistant] Coach [Brian] Wiseman. Quite frankly, if I can't man up and call them, I'm probably not old enough to make that decision. I hope they win a national title next year.
"I'm the kind of guy who tends to make decisions very slowly," added the Orland Park, Ill., native, who had already chosen his roommate for this season at Michigan, U18 teammate Andrew Copp. "I make decisions very slowly. There was a lot of agonizing over this decision. I may take baby steps to arrive at a decision, but I don't take backward steps once i arrive. If Michigan has a great year next year I'm not going to feel like I should have gone there. At this time, this i what want. If they hoist some hardware next season, I'm not going to regret it. Hopefully we can hoist some hardware of our own in Plymouth."
Carrick should be pencilled in as a top-four defenceman for the Whalers, who return a good-sized core from the team which tied for the second-best record in the 20-team OHL with 97 points last season before a seven-game second-round loss to rival Kitchener. Former overage captain Beau Schmitz and 20-year-old Austin Levi, who combined for 84 points from the back end last season, are each likely going to be in the Carolina Hurricanes farm system. So Carrick believes the Whalers can offer him the minutes and role he needs.
"I think I can bring a good offensive dimension from the blueline," says Carrick, who has been invited to Team USA's national junior evaluation camp along with Hartman and two of his new Whalers teammates, NHL first-rounders J.T. Miller (New York Rangers) and Stefan Noesen (Ottawa Senators). "I really like the way Coach [Mike] Vellucci has his teams play, a high-octane, high-speed game and they have some great forwards. I think I can fit into that."
Family relocating to Michigan
The Whalers traded with the Guelph Storm for Carrick's OHL rights on Wednesday, four days after he was drafted by Washington. It reads somewhat like Plymouth did its homework on finding out that Carrick would be interested in playing for a U.S.-based major junior team. His mother, Debra Carrick, and hockey-playing brothers, 15-year-old Blake and 11-year-old Hunter, are already planning to live in the Detroit area this season for the sake of getting better competition. Along with the more extensive OHL schedule, joining the Whalers means Connor Carrick can live with family instead of a university residence.
"The decision to move my brothers up was made a long ago," he said. "When the Plymouth option came up, it was a huge plus. We're all going to be here this year. My dad's making a big sacrifice, staying back home during the week and then coming up on weekends. I'm really tight with family. There were a lot of moving parts that had to be worked out before I decided.
"I was already thinking about this before I got drafted," Carrick added when asked where the Capitals organization stands on his choice. "Anybody who thinks that [about Washington possibly steering him to the OHL] could not be more wrong. I came came to it independently. They showed an ability to support both sides. When I talked to the Caps, they were very supportive."
Carrick knows he's closing the door on an opportunity of a lifetime by passing on Michigan, which is one of America's premier state schools. He is confident casting his lot with the Whalers will pay off with a shot at the pros, although he wants to make sure to have a fallback.
"I'm going to get my degree regardless," he said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.