To kick this article off in style, I’m just going to say it right here, for the sake of controversy: Brad Werenka, pictured above, is drinking a beer in public. On Game Day. Probably.
There could be no better candidate for Where Are They Now than Mr. Brad Werenka, because only like six people in the entire world actually know where he is. If you’re like me, you assume that after he parted ways with his illustrious career as a premier shutdown NHL defenseman, he would meet his most certainly resplendent post retirement challenges with aplomb and esteem. One imagines a noble Werenka, clad in armor, unsheathing his broadsword and laying waste to a dragon made out of nothing but toxic waste and discarded Def Leppard LPs.
If you’re part of the other camp, a bloc of people I like to call the "Kent Wilsons of the world", you function under the assumption that Werenka is in a ditch, facedown, naked and pale in the sleepy community of Has Been, Iowa, where even his mother would say "Yeah, whatever, Bill, or Bob or whatever the Hell your name is"
It’s bleak, tragic, and you’re all jerks for operating within such grim parameters.
The truth is, Brad Werenka is most likely living in a reality somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. And after I look up his Wikipedia page and also probably edit his Wikipedia page, I will report back my findings so we can all stop exerting so much time thinking about it.
All you really need to know is that some fraudulent punk of a blogger out there has, without any authority to do so, anointed Werenka with his own day of the week. Where does that guy get off?
Brad Werenka: Genesis
No one expected much from the product of Two Hills, Alberta. There was some talk that the boy had enough grit and potential to one day make a name for himself under the bright lights of Three Hills, Alberta, but that was right about where his ceiling would be. There would be no Fourth Hill for Brad Werenka.
But through, presumably, perserverance, hard work, and maybe some sort of blackmail scheme, Werenka clawed his way to Fort Saskatchewan, playing Fort Saskatchewan style hockey, which is a thing, eventually earning a spot at THE North Michigan University (Go Wildcats!), and if the photo above is anything to go off of, also a hockey card. The sun was truly smiling on young Bradley.
Werenka toiled for four seasons at Michigan, earning nothing but bumps, bruises, a WCHA Championship, a WCHA and NCAA West First Team All Star nod, and a free top notch education. Meager recompense, surely, but it was enough for then Edmonton Oilers GM and cigar afficionado Glen Sather and probably like some scouts or something to take notice of the physical rearguard. The Oilers (note: PUKE!) drafted our hero in the 2nd round of the 1987 draft, ahead of such noticably inferior NHL players like Mathieu Schneider, and some kid named Theoren Fleury.
After spending a year throwing his 6’2", 205 pound frame at opposing forwards with mixed success for Cape Breton in the AHL, Werenka finally made all those Negative Nancies back in Two Hills choke on their own doubts by being called up to the Oilers in 1992-93, which was fully satisfying, as Werenka travels back to Two Hills at least once a month to remind locals that "I played in the NHL, what did you yokels ever do?", before peeling out in his moderately priced SUV and not looking back until the next month.
Werenka would score 12 points in 42 games over parts of two seasons for the Oilers, which, of course, makes him one of the most prolific defensemen in Edmonton’s history. But it was time to move on to bigger challenges and better rewards. Over the next few seasons, he would travel from town to town, like some kind of vagrant, making stops in Quebec, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, Cornwall (fun!), Milwaukee and Indianapolis in the IHL. Yes, the IHL. Remember the IH…no, no one does.
Along the way he built up enough goodwill and hockey prowess, I guess, to earn himself a spot on the 1994 Canadian Olympic Team (featuring Petr Nedved, somehow), where, well I don’t want to talk about it, but suffice to say Peter Forsberg is still dead to me.
Brad Werenka: (30 Year Old) Young Gun
(The greatest 33 in Flames history since the legendary Zarley Zalapski)
Of course, Werenka’s career path to this point was all just pomp and circumstance, and it was leading to what would be his defining legacy: His 45 game stint with your Calgary Flames.
Traded to the team early on in the 1999-00 campaign (good thing that Y2K thing didn’t pan out, because we would have missed a whole lot more Wrecking Ball <–a nickname I just made up, but realistically one he probably had at some point) for Tyler Moss, who is not David Moss, and Kent Wilson’s favourite son, Rene Corbet, Werenka was brought in as a calming veteran presence with strong defensive sensibilities for a young Flames team who had neither, and were mostly just happy to have a guy on the team old enough to grow some sort of facial hair.
The Flames were in the midst of the ill-fated Young Guns campaign, one borne out of changing market realities that forced former great Flames defensemen out to bigger pastures. Realizing Todd Simpson wasn’t ready to be Bobby Orr, or even Bobby Fischer, they brought the comparitively grizzled Werenka into the fold to help foster a team of plucky but unfortunate kids who were mostly never quite ready.
Playing on a pairing with fellow veteran Phil Housley, Werenka flourished under head coach Brian Sutter’s "F#$% it, we’ll figure this hockey thing out eventually" style of play. Brad would mentor future up-and-coming underachievers like Valeri Bure and Oleg Saprykinin on how to be forgettable, while chalking up 7 points in 45 games over two seasons, which are incredible numbers for this era. YOU CAN’T EVEN TRY TO ARGUE WITH THAT, SO WHY EVEN BOTHER?
Sadly, this brief glimpse was but a cruel tease of what the juggernaut that was Brad Werenka: Calgary Flame would have been, for his career ended abruptly in 2000 as, surprise surprise, concussion problems finally got the better of him, making Werenka step away from the game before it was time.
Brad Werenka: Sunset
Brad Werenka Today (Estimated Photo Simulation)
Concussions, as we are all now acutely aware of now, are bananas, and going through them is pure hell. Werenka was no different, and the effects sustained from what was an innocent hit from Donald Brashear was enough to force Brad to walk away from the game he loved and relied on to support his wife and children.
But after the slow, tedious process of recovering from the internal prison that is head trauma, Werenka managed to make a life for himself post hockey. The hardest part for any pro athlete is that transition to "normie life", that new era where you are no longer anyone’s hero and no one cares what you think and you can’t weasel your way out of DUI’s anymore, because cops don’t have money riding on your Men’s League game on Wednesday night. Brad Werenka could have faded away like the millions of Gino Cavallinis and Shawn Antoskis before him, but Werenka managed to discover not one, but two new apres-retirement passions that would help light Werenkas light brighter than ever before.
Case in point, the Brad Werenka Hockey Camp, which has been running for a formidable nine seasons now. For under $600 per child, your son or daughter can learn to play hockey the Brad Werenka way, so I imagine this camp must be immensely popular, and registration is probably limited, so you know, get on that, parents.
And then there was this thing where someone on Twitter told me he was a lawyer, so that’s probably true. I did some Internet digging and found that, upon acquiring his Law Degree from the University of Calgary in 2007, Werenka was hired on by the MacLeod Dixon law firm in Calgary. Further investigating shows that MacLeod Dixon merged with Norton Rose in 2011, and Brad Werenka does not turn up on their online directory, so we can only assume that he has moved on, roaming from town to town on cargo trains, trying to find work as either an attorney or a carnival worker, whichever comes first or pays better. And unless you specifically know what he’s up to these days, I’d sure as hell like to see you prove me wrong on that one.
Of course, seeing as he is a lawyer, I’ll end off this piece reminding everyone that this is all done tongue in cheek, and please, for the love of Odin, don’t sue us.
Where are they Now? series
- Brad Werenka
- Rene Corbet