PORTLAND – Eric Weinrich’s hockey career began on a frozen pond in Poland, blossomed on bigger rinks in Yarmouth and Orono and transported him around the world wherever ice could be made and dreams could be realized.

That career ended in distinguished, understated and decidedly Maine fashion Monday afternoon, when the respected, road-weary defenseman announced his retirement from the National Hockey League.

Weinrich won’t start spending his kids’ inheritance or wearing out the batteries in his remote control anytime soon, however. At the same news conference, the graduate of North Yarmouth Academy, University of Maine and veteran of eight NHL teams announced that he has accepted an assistant coaching post with the Portland Pirates.

“The time was right, and the timing here with the Pirates is perfect,” said Weinrich, who successfully fought back tears during a 10-minute speech in which he quoted both Theodore Roosevelt and Woody Allen while recognizing family and coaches.

“I think about what it was like to have to get up in the morning and go beat myself up at the gym every day. It’s going to be fun to let somebody else go do that.”

Weinrich spent 17 seasons in the NHL, not counting the 2004-05 campaign that was scrubbed due to a lockout. He played in 1,157 games, making him one of fewer than 200 players in league history to top a thousand.

Up until last month, Weinrich was contemplating a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames that would have punched his ticket to a ninth NHL city. While hashing out those details, Weinrich’s agent had a fateful conversation with Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen in June at the NHL draft.

“Kevin said there would be an opportunity on this staff, and coaching is something I’ve always thought I might like doing,” Weinrich said.

There is a well-established comfort zone for Weinrich, who will coach the Pirates’ defensemen. He is a longtime friend of Dineen, fellow assistant Bruce Crowder and Pirates’ CEO Brian Petrovek.

“This is an important day for our community to have Eric back in town, hopefully on a long-term basis,” Petrovek said. “When you add someone like Eric Weinrich to your coaching staff, not only does your coaching staff get better, your community gets better.

Weinrich grew up in Gardiner and now lives in Yarmouth with his wife, Tracy, and two children, Ben, 12, and Emily, 10.

“My family is putting down its roots in Maine, and we’re really enjoying it,” said Weinrich. “My kids will get to have the same opportunities and the same family life that I had.”

Weinrich credited “a man from New Jersey who never played the game,” his father, with teaching him the finer points of hockey. Eric and younger brothers Jason and Alex learned to skate and pass the puck while spending winter weekends on Tripp Lake.

At NYA, Weinrich steered the Panthers to their first Class A state championship in his senior season. An All-American at Maine and an Olympian after that, Weinrich has played in nine World Championships, tops among American-born players.

Originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the second round of the 1985 NHL entry draft, Weinrich played two seasons for the late Shawn Walsh at the University of Maine.

Weinrich invoked his collegiate coach in the present tense at Monday’s announcement, saying, “I know Walshie is looking down with a smile today, and I will continue looking up to (him) for inspiration.”

After spending the 1988-89 season with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Utica, N.Y., where he worked with Petrovek, Weinrich played his first two games with the parent club at season’s end. He played another 19 games at the Meadowlands the next winter, scoring two goals and adding another in the postseason.

“My first NHL goal happened to clinch a playoff spot for the Devils,” Weinrich recalled.

Known for his blue collar, lunch pail style of play, ‘Weino’ became equally adept at carrying a suitcase. Stops followed in Hartford, Chicago, Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Vancouver.

“What did Kevin (Dineen) say, eight teams?” Weinrich asked aloud. “It could have been 20.”

When the 2004-05 season was canceled, Weinrich played 10 games in Austria.

Weinrich concluded his career with 70 goals and 318 assists. Dependable, but never flashy, Weinrich enjoyed the kind of career that typically ends with one line in the transactions column in six-point type.

His new boss suspects that Weinrich would have preferred it that way.

“I know with my retirement, I just wanted to slide out the door,” said Dineen, who scored 355 goals in his own 18-year NHL career. “But I feel there needs to be a day like this for Eric, to acknowledge what he has done for hockey in this state.”


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