It would be easy for Joe Wegwerth to think he just can’t catch a break.
No one would blame him, after all. The senior forward on the University of Notre Dame hockey team hasn’t played a game since Nov. 17, as he suffered from an illness before a lower-body injury that occurred during a December practice ultimately shortened his senior season.
This was after injuries also kept him out for significant stretches during his sophomore and junior campaigns.
But wallowing’s just not Wegwerth’s style. In addition to his six-day-a-week rehab routine — and a budding career in the broadcast booth — the Brewster, New York, native chooses to focus on his Irish squad as they look toward the postseason.
“Right now I’m focused on Notre Dame and just seeing the kind of push we can have,” Wegwerth said. “It’s been pretty tough, but I’ve got great teammates and a great support staff around me that have made me feel a lot better.”
Prior to his injury, Wegwerth proved to be one of Notre Dame’s most potent offensive threats, having registered 11 points on seven goals (four of which were of the game-winning variety) and four assists through 12 games.
That production helped ease the blow when it became clear Wegwerth was done for the season.
“It probably would have been a lot harder if I didn’t have the success I had the first half,” Wegwerth said. “The first half, I proved to myself what I wanted to prove this year, that I’m one of the better players in college hockey and an important part of this team.”
One to look on the bright side, Wegwerth also noted that his absence from the ice has allowed some of his younger teammates to take on larger roles in the offense. One of those players, freshman Michael Graham, has been one of Notre Dame’s most prolific scorers since Dec. 1, leading the Irish with eight goals and six assists for 14 points in that timeframe.
Wegwerth has also taken the time away from playing to seize opportunities off the ice. Several times, he has contributed to the Irish television and radio broadcasts by offering analysis at intermissions and he even jumped into a color analyst role — alongside former teammate and current Boston Bruins forward Anders Bjork — for the Feb. 12 SNY broadcast of Notre Dame’s 5-2 win over Michigan.
“I had a blast; I thought it was so much fun,” Wegwerth said of the experience. “I’ve always watched hockey and looked for the little things and I’m sure it was easier for me because I knew both the rosters really well and I knew a little bit about each team, but I can see how it can get challenging.
“It’s a completely different view from up top than on the bench and you see so much more. I think that’s helped me as a hockey player, too, just seeing where a lot of the plays happen and where your guys need to be.”
But Wegwerth and Bjork haven’t only been partnering up in the booth. Bjork, who skated in 115 career games for the Irish, scoring 40 goals and adding 69 assists for 109 points and helped lead the Irish to the 2017 Frozen Four, suffered an injury while playing for the AHL Providence Bruins in late December and is back on campus taking classes and joining Wegwerth as the pair rehab their injuries.
“It’s awesome and kind of makes it easier,” Wegwerth said. “It takes your mind off the fact that it’s no fun for me sitting out my senior year and it’s no fun for Anders not playing in the NHL right now. But it’s fun for us to take a step back and enjoy being around each other, especially because our lives are kind of hectic and you never know when your paths are going to cross again.”
These days, Wegwerth’s routine consists of four days of cardio and functional movement exercises with associate athletic trainer Kevin Ricks. On two other days, he’ll meet with associate athletic trainer and physical therapist Mandy Merritt for physical therapy.
“This is by far the hardest (injury I’ve rehabbed) because you have to relearn pretty much everything,” Wegwerth said. “Even walking — you never think about it — but now you’re teaching yourself to do it again and you’ve got to teach yourself to do it the right way, otherwise you start limping or certain things get sore. That’s definitely the most difficult thing, but I try to have fun with it. Ricksy kind of makes me feel small sometimes, like ‘Oh, congrats. You’re walking.’ But he’s been a huge help, and it’s been fun.”
For now, Wegwerth’s looking to soak it all in, whether he’s on the ice or not. And it’s that big-picture attitude that will continue to serve the Irish even as he trades sweater and skates for suit and tie.
“I really just want to enjoy the last little stretch with the guys,” he says. “Graduation’s going to roll around and there will be that week where it’s going to be me and my three best friends. I want to enjoy that with them and just soak it all in because you never know when the four of us will be in the same place again.”