Christian Wolanin is both an American and Canadian. He was born in Quebec City, but his father’s career as a defenceman for the Colorado Avalanche would see him live in Denver, before settling in Rochester, Michigan. Wolanin began his career in the US Hockey League with Green Bay and Muskegon, and then accepted a scholarship to North Dakota University. He was signed to the Ottawa Senators after three years of playing for North Dakota in 2018, and split his time between the American Hockey League’s affiliate, the Belleville Senators, and Ottawa. He was offered an in-house position last year, but was injured before he could display his skills in all but three games.
Tell us about the moment you were drafted to the Senators.
That was right before my freshman year in college. I was a late bloomer. I loved hockey my whole life but I never really figured that out and how to play it properly; switching from forward to defence. So it was my last year in juniors and John told me it was expected that I knew it was my last chance. I was a late bloomer, so just to have Ottawa have that kind of faith in me and take me on as an old razor and eventually give me a chance, was something I look back on and think it’s pretty cool.
What was the moment like when you got that call?
I don’t want to say it was a sigh of relief because I wasn’t waiting on it. You know, like I said, I think I was just starting to figure hockey out. I think I was gonna make it to the NHL no matter what, or at least I had that belief in myself. But it was just a cool moment to kind of say ‘you’re drafted into the NHL.’ I mean, you grow up your whole life thinking about playing in the NHL and to eventually be drafted there and placed in Ottawa, was just a cool feeling. And I guess my next thought was that I knew that I had a lot of work to do.
You had a shoulder injury in July. What was that like, and how did it feel stepping onto the ice for the first time?
My rookie year I played fine, and then my second year – this past year, just the day before camp in a freak injury, I tore my labrum and dislocated my shoulder. So it’s not the way I pictured my second year going, especially a year that I thought was going to be my coming out year, so to speak. It was just a tough go to start. But I knew that it was an opportunity to have a lot of long term opportunities to get better from. I think I did all that I had to do. And the fact that I was even able to get back for three games this year, was just unbelievable. I mean, credit to the staff and Ottawa and people around me in Ottawa for being there for me. And then, just to play those three games, before COVID hit – I was really thankful to get those in. I’m looking forward even more to what we get to do next year.
Are there any teammates that you’re particularly close with, or any who have helped you through your recovery?
I mean, it’s very different from college, where I played prior to pro – because in college, you’re with the same guys every day. Everybody had the same classes, and the same eating schedule, so you’re always, always with the same people. Then you get to the pros and you have guys with families and girlfriends, and everyone’s on different agendas. But with that being said, I think two of the older guys that have been amazing to me here are Bobby Ryan and Craig Anderson. They’ve been great to me from the moment I stepped into Ottawa. We’ve got a pretty good group that are all starting to get more comfortable with each other, and we know we have something special to build here so we get along well. I get along well with Anthony Duclair, Drake Batherson, and Logan Brown, and obviously Chabot and Tkachuk. Like I said, we know we’ve got a good thing in terms of our young guys, and our more experienced guys, so we’re all just trying to figure ourselves out and eventually we’re gonna make something special here.
Speaking of Drake Batherson, you guys played together in Belleville right?
Yep. Yeah, that was me. Me, Batherson, Brown and Chlapik, we all lived together in my first year in Belleville.
How does it feel to have played with him there and then to see him coming up as a prospect for Ottawa now too?
I mean, this is what you play for. Not everybody gets to go right into the NHL and not everybody gets to go… I want to say the ‘easy route,’ which isn’t exactly easy because obviously, everything is earned. But not everybody gets some of the opportunities that these other guys get, so sometimes you gotta go and you have to prove yourself. In the American League, if a guy’s down there, there’s no denying that it’s not the NHL, and you don’t get treated like the NHL. So speaking from my personal experience, you appreciate it a lot more when you finally do get to play in the NHL. And in Batherson’s experience, he tore it up both years in the American League and was able to have exposure when he tore it up in the NHL. So as a friend, I couldn’t be happier for him, and you know he appreciates it because he’s been through tough times.
How does it feel being in Ottawa? What are some of your favorite spots so far?
I love it. Like I said, my first year, I was up and down. I played about half NHL and half American League. Usually when you’re doing that, it means you’re in the hotel. Then this past year, I got a house and I was ready to go and obviously the shoulder injury happened. So I took a lot of alone time. I stayed out in Stittsville to be close to the rink, because I knew I’d be there every day for shoulder rehab. I had a lot of alone time, I wasn’t really able to experience Ottawa to the fullest, I don’t think. It’s a hockey town, it’s a hockey place, and I know they’re waiting on us to get things going and they’re being patient and I’m excited for when it comes.
You scored your first NHL goal against the Winnipeg Jets. How did that feel?
I know it’s cliche to say but to score and then turn around and see Eric Karlsson be the first one to congratulate you. Let me go to the touchy place all right? I grew up watching Eric Karlsson. Especially the past few years, leading up to that point to turn around, congratulate you and be happy for you, is just a really special kind of motivation.
What has life been like for you these past few months?
It’s been fairly normal I guess, compared to what I did throughout the year. As I said, I was alone a lot. So we were locked down in quarantine mode. I spent a lot of time alone. And then the same thing goes for the gym and my workouts. I was working out the whole year trying to get my shoulder back to 100% and get the rest of my body up to 100%, so that when I’m ready to return to play, I would have been good. Now it’s the same thing. I just couldn’t train my body. Now I’m making sure that I’m ready to go because nobody really knows when we’re gonna start again. Nobody really knows what the next play is. So the only thing that we can do is stay prepared and stay mentally healthy and physically healthy. Whenever the time comes and we get called in, we’ll be ready to go. As for being away from hockey, I just tried to keep busy with golf and just a lot of things to keep active and keep my mind active and it hasn’t been too bad. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have everybody in my family and all my loved ones be healthy. So no complaints there.
Speaking of your family, I know your dad helped win a Stanley Cup for the Avalanche back in the day. How has he influenced your game?
Obviously, my mom is the reason I’m here (laughs). In terms of hockey and life, for both of them, he taught me everything. I’ve only been playing defence for a year and a half as well as draft year. Without his knowledge and without his support and kind of keeping it honest with me all the time I don’t think I ever would have had a chance to move on to college. He was always there, he always gave me the right advice. He’s the reason that I had that positive outlook last year. He’s always motivating, always keeping it honest, and the same goes for my mom. You know I get asked about my dad and I never get to bring my mom up, but she’s the love in the family and she’s the one who keeps me going. I mean, I owe them 100% credit for everything I’ve done in hockey and in life. Like I said, I wouldn’t be blessed with these opportunities if it wasn’t for them.
What’s your favorite watch or accessory?
I’m not really a watch guy because, and this will sound bougie, but I’ve never owned a watch before and so I want my first one to be a Rolex or an AP. I’m big into the rap culture so if I’m gonna own a watch it’s gonna be something special, and I don’t feel like it’s the smartest thing in my life right now to be purchasing one of those. I’m keeping it simple so I’m gonna go no watches and like I said, let my first one be a memorable one. My favorite accessory is probably my Tom Ford sunglasses. I like sunglasses. Some of them don’t fit my face the best, so that’s probably my number one.
What are some of your favorite pastimes when you get some time off?
Golfing is one of the things that I’ve been doing a ton this summer. I like getting on a boat with some of the guys and just hanging out. I like being active. I like being outdoors. Not a big movie guy or indoor guy. Anything I can do to keep my mind active and like I said stay outdoors. I’m a dual citizen so I can’t really say ‘as an American’ but it’s cool to be able to walk around downtown in the capital of Canada. It’s something that’s maybe overlooked if you’re there every day, but I think it’s still pretty cool.
What’s your favourite meal of all time?
That’s a tough one. I’m not picky at all.There aren’t any foods that I don’t like, so it switches depending on the season and my mood. If I had to pick one, I would go with a high quality sushi. I probably have to take that. It’s situational, I’m not gonna go grab sushi just because I’m craving it, or if I’m in a place that I don’t think will have good sushi. I can’t remember the name – I had to text Pageau before I went there every time, but it’s really good. He was like a tour guide. When I first came to Ottawa, all the older guys, even the guys who were onto their next journey or team, have been unbelievable to me. And he’s included for sure.
What can the senators do to get ready for next season and to make the playoffs?
I’m not a coach, so to answer that from a player’s standpoint, I know that all of us are ready. I know that all of us have been working out and putting in the time and putting in the effort. We’re doing everything that it takes. Shelby and I were texting and speaking yesterday. We’ve finished second to last, or last, the last two years of the rebuild, and times have been a little bit tough. There’s no finger pointing, but enough is enough. We’re ready to start playing playoff hockey, we’re ready to start making a name for ourselves as the Ottawa Senators. To answer that simply, we’re all working hard. We’re all preparing ourselves to the best of our ability. And we all trust in DJ and what DJ is going to do for us and the way he’s going to coach us, and it’s just going to be time to prove it next year. There’s no more rebuilding excuses, no more of any of that. Everybody that shows up to camp is going to be ready to go when we’re trying to create a new culture and create some tradition around here.
So what are your plans for Thanksgiving? Do you have any family traditions?
It’s gonna be different this year for sure. We used to all meet up either at our house or my aunt’s and uncle’s. Just the big family dinner and family time. We’re pretty family oriented. We like to do things as a whole. Everybody brings a dish and it’s just more about sitting at the table together and being thankful for the ones around us, and the ones that got us to the point that we are in our lives. So I’m a big family guy. I’m really, really thankful for mine, so any chance I get to be with everyone is a special moment and should be really nice.
What is your best piece of advice for someone hoping to make it into the NHL someday?
I think it’s tough to give advice without sounding cheesy, but I would truly say everybody has a different path. Don’t give up on yours. Like I said, I was a late bloomer, I was probably playing forward until I was about 16 or 17, and by 22, in the NHL as a defenceman. I remember I got traded my first year and a half in the USHL and I was traded on a turnover and my dad looks at me and says “you know this is your last chance to prove it.” Then all of a sudden, the next two years I’m tearing it up and then I get drafted and commit to college and everything kind of went up from there. I think the adversity that I faced in that first year and a half kind of set me up to be successful in my future. Without that adversity, I don’t know if I’d be the same player or same person. There’s definitely a lot of ups and downs and I think the ones that get through the adversity and learn from it, and remember it, are the ones that end up going on to do special things. Like I said, you go through it, you remember it, and you know how to accept it. That way if trouble ever happens again, you can find a way around that. And if there’s another, you find a way to beat that one too. So just stick with it. Not everybody is a first rounder. I’ve never been a superstar player at first, I had to earn my stripes. I think it’s even more special when you go through the tough times and eventually succeed.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I know my teammates are working hard as I said to you. Yesterday, Shelby and I were texting and I think talk is cheap, but we all have a lot to prove. We’re all really excited for next year, the big year is coming. I’m not saying it’s gonna happen overnight, but the work is being put in and we have a lot to prove to ourselves and to the community. I’m excited to see what happens.
Interview By Jordan Haworth