Story by Derek Patterson/Griffins
Grand Rapids, Mich. - After the Western Michigan University hockey team was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament, Drew Worrad quickly moved into the pro ranks and signed a deal with the Grand Rapids Griffins that extended from the end of the 2021-22 season through the 2022-2023 campaign.
Before Worrad went to Kalamazoo, he competed in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL), the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL).
He enjoyed his most success during his final season in the MJHL where he played for the Steinbach Pistons in 2017-18. Worrad was a big part of helping the Pistons to a league and ANAVET cup title, as he finished second on the team with 75 points (26-49—75). Steinbach finished the campaign competing for the Canadian Junior “A” Championship but failed to lift the trophy. Worrad also earned a spot on the MJHL First All-Star Team, the league’s “Hockey Ability and Sportsmanship Award” and the league's playoff MVP.
During his time at Western Michigan, Worrad established himself as an elite passer of the puck, having earned double-digit assists in his final three seasons at the collegiate ranks. From 2019-22, Worrad accumulated a total of 63 helpers. Worrad was also a part of aiding WMU hockey grow into a national powerhouse, as it earned its first-ever national tournament win during his final campaign with the Broncos.
At the conclusion of his final season at WMU, Worrad immediately found a professional home with the Griffins. Like any young athlete, they take everything into consideration before making the next step. Worrad ultimately decided that the best decision was to start his professional career.
“Near the end of my season at WMU, I got in contact with Jiri Fischer of the Red Wings. He reached out and expressed interest in me.” Worrad said. “I was able to meet with him and Shawn [Horcoff] and talk with them and get to know what the process was going to be like and what they expected from me. After [WMU] lost in the national tournament, [the Griffins] contacted me and asked me if I wanted to sign and play the following weekend. Before I made a decision, I talked with my family and academic advisor, and we collectively decided that signing with the Griffins would be the best decision for me.”
For the last couple seasons, Worrad has been an established veteran to younger guys in the Broncos’ locker room. Since arriving in Grand Rapids, the roles have been reversed to where he turns to the experienced skaters for help and guidance.
“It’s kind of like a full circle where you go from being a fourth-year guy on your university’s program to being a first-year guy on a professional team,” Worrad added. “My teammates have been great so far. I’ve had a lot of guys take me under their wing and show me the little things whether it has to do with the systems we run or just being a professional. It's been a challenging adjustment for sure, but the guys have been great and have made it easier.”
Since arriving in Grand Rapids participating in practices and getting some ice time as a pro, Worrad has noticed some different ways to prep and get ready for a game. The older players have also taken him under their wing and shown him ways he can be better on the ice.
“Any time you’re in a new spot you’re going to have new systems you have to learn and learn new ways of going about things.” Worrad commented. “For example, there's different systems in the defensive zone that I need to be aware of and the different style of play that I need to adjust to as a pro. I’ve been in a handful of defensive meetings where the coaches went over the systems, which also gave the veterans an opportunity to help me with my assignments on the ice. Ultimately, at the end of the day they want me to play my game and trust in myself.”
After making the move to pro hockey, Worrad immediately saw the differences in the build of the skaters from their size to their strength. However, the biggest contrast he saw from college to the pros, was the intellect and the better stick handling the players have.
“Everyone here is a little smarter and the defense has better sticks. Everyone is also very sound,” Worrad explained. “There's the obvious differences you start to notice right away like the size and strength of some skaters. It's been nice to get into games and get used to those differences and get used to the professional style.”
Being signed with just one month remaining on the schedule, Worrad already had the offseason and next season in the back of his mind and what he can do to get better to continue helping the Griffins. The most important thing that he has in mind is increasing his size and speed to keep up with the more physically-gifted skaters the AHL has to offer.
“This is my profession now and I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to be the best that I can be,” Worrad said. “There’s the physical training off the ice that I really need to focus on. I know I need to put on some weight as well as get faster so I can be successful at this level. Then there's the little stuff like edge passing and shooting in addition to stick handling.”
Worrad has gotten off to a very quick start, as he earned his first AHL point in his second game against Toronto when he racked up two assists. He also scored his first pro goal in his seventh outing against Rockford. Worrad has produced four points (1-3—4) in nine games this campaign.
With only two contests remaining in the regular season, Worrad looks forward to having a strong offseason and helping the Griffins reach the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2022-23.
Photo by Nicolas Carrillo/Griffins