Wyatt Newpower was ready to sign his first professional contract. He had his first offer from the Rockford IceHogs, the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, and felt good about the organization from his conversation with the general manager.
“I was really considering signing with them the day they offered,” Newpower said, “I had time to think it over, talk to my family, some mentors and what not and I was pretty surefire going to do it.”
Then he called his former head coach, Mike Cavanaugh, to hear his thoughts on it. But before Newpower even finished his first sentence, Cavanaugh interrupted him.
“Hold on, don’t sign anything, I just talked to Columbus the other day,” he told Newpower.
So Newpower put the Rockford offer on ice and had his agent contact Columbus. The Blue Jackets made their interest in Newpower quite clear and soon after, he had an offer.
But the fact that the Blue Jackets were even interested at all came as a surprise to him. Over his four years at UConn, he never heard anything about the Blue Jackets from his family advisor. Instead, they quietly noticed Newpower while watching Kale Howarth, a fifth round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2017.
With two offers in hand, Newpower sat down with his agent and family to make a decision.
“We felt that both organizations had favorable situations for me as a player. We didn’t think one was better than the other,” he said. “There’s just certain scenarios and different factors that go into making a deal that pop up that you never would’ve really expected. So those factors that came up with Cleveland and we compared them with Rockford and then Columbus, Chicago, because there’s a lot of analyzing that you do. Because the dream is to play in the NHL, so you have to at least think about it.
“We just felt Columbus and Cleveland were a place that I’m going to be happy that I signed with.”
While Newpower wasn’t drafted before coming to UConn like many of his teammates, he didn’t mind. Instead of feeling like an NHL team was constantly hovering over him and watching his every move, Newpower only needed to worry about the present.
But following his sophomore season, Newpower was the furthest thing from a pro prospect on the Huskies’ roster. He played in just 15 games that year and recorded just six points. After a heart-to-heart conversation with Cavanaugh, Newpower changed his attitude and made a commitment to stay for the summer to workout.
“He had the opportunity — you can go one or two ways when it’s not going well for you. He decided to put his head down and grind,” Cavanaugh said. “He stayed all summer. He worked with (strength and conditioning coach) Mo [Butler], he worked with (assistant coach) Tyler Helton, he’d come down in the mornings and work on his craft, that’s how that happens. It doesn’t happen by accident.”
Over the next two seasons, Newpower blossomed into one of the top defensemen in the conference, capping his senior season with a Hockey East Second Team All Star honor and the Best Defensive Defensemen Award.
While any hopes of finishing his senior season a certain way were dashed when the coronavirus put an end to the Hockey East Playoffs, Newpower can still take pride in the fact that he’s now accomplished something he dreamed of his entire life: Being a professional hockey player.
“Talking to a lot of the buddies that I grew up playing with, all their reactions were how proud they are and how we used to always talk about (going pro), dream about it as kids growing up and that kinda stuck with me because that’s all it really was for me until a couple days ago, a dream,” he said. “To make a dream come true or at least give myself the opportunity to make a dream come true...I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily squashed the dream, though. The AHL isn’t expected to finish their season which means Newpower will have to wait until at least the first week of September, when rookie camp is scheduled.
For now, he’s just working to stay in shape as best he can with workouts that he can do without access to a gym. Newpower is currently in Florida, though he plans to fly back home to Minnesota at the end of the week. If things clear up enough, he hopes to spend the summer working out in Storrs and getting himself ready for the lead up to the season.
But compared to some of the adversity Newpower faced early in his UConn career, getting a little creative with his workouts for a few months won’t be much of a problem. Even though Newpower hasn’t even played in his first professional game, Cavanaugh saw what the senior can do when he puts in the work. While Newpower is only signed to a one-way AHL contract, the coach won’t be surprised if he eventually gets the call.
“I think he’s going to a great organization in Columbus and playing in Cleveland,” Cavanaugh said. “It won’t surprise me some day if we’re watching him play in the NHL.”