UMD defenseman Andy Welinski will either get paid to play hockey next season, or he'll captain what could be one of the top teams in college hockey.
While he is leaning toward a return to UMD, Welinski hasn't made a decision yet. The Ducks draft pick is weighing his options carefully before making one.
"Something that I looked at coming into school, and it's been this situation after each year," Welinski told me. "It's gotten bigger after every year, so I've got some options to look at, and we'll see where it goes.
"With the resources I've used and people I've talked to about previous guys who've made this decision, it needs to be what I want to do. Do I think I'm ready? What I learned when I was younger in high school is you need to set both feet and stick with it. It does no good to look back and say 'Wish I would have done that.' It's purely a development decision. Do I think I can play?"
(For those who don't know, Welinski left Duluth East a year early and went to the USHL, where he put together a couple pretty strong years with the Green Bay Gamblers.)
Welinski said he doesn't have a timetable for his final answer.
Will he be motivated by the bitter ending to UMD's 2014-15 season? Perhaps.
"Initially, right after, I made my decision right away that I was coming back," he said. "The emotions and everything, without weighing anything on it, I wanted to be back. You want to play one more game in a year. The opportunity to have one more year is something not everybody has."
The well-spoken blue-liner will graduate next year if he returns, another piece that will weigh on his decision.
If he leaves, he says Duluth and UMD will always have a special place in his heart.
"I've been living a dream here for three years. I grew up going to UMD games, and idolizing all these players. It's easy to get lost in it. It's unbelievable, the facilities and university, being just a couple miles from my house. It's something that I'll never forget.
"From a people standpoint, the people I've met in college, especially my teammates and coaches, they've really impacted my last three years."
If he stays, Welinski will be honored to wear the "C" for the program he grew up watching.
"Kind of a dream. We came in with eight guys in our class. You never know who's going to be there our senior year. It would be a huge honor. From the seniors and older guys who've worn letters my first three years, I've learned a lot from them."
Welinski might be a little conflicted about this decision, and there may be some lingering bitterness over the end of the season (justifiably so), but that smile was as wide as I'm sure most of yours were when I asked about being on the third UMD team in history that can brag about ending Minnesota's season.
"Can't complain here," he said, laughing. "We matched up well against them. It's the biggest upset that a two-seed beat a three-seed in the tournament. It's obviously exciting."
(Yes, people actually called it an "upset." The other three UMD wins must have been accidents or something.)
From a readiness standpoint, my eyes are biased, but I think Welinski has some development he can achieve at this level. By no means was he ever rotten, but I do think he tailed off a little bit in the second half compared to the first. It showed itself with more inconsistency from him than we had seen before Christmas.
That said, Welinski's been a big-minute guy for UMD now for three years. Not many guys come in as freshmen at this level and play the number of minutes he logged from the outset, and he has been on UMD's top pair for most of his Bulldog career. If he leaves, it's hard to begrudge him, given the resume he's got from his college career.