It’s taken quite the journey for Adam Winborg to suit up for the No. 14 Michigan hockey team.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, the junior forward moved to the United States in 2012 to play for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. A year later, he moved to Janesville, Wis. and joined the Janesville Jets in the NAHL, where he played for the following three years.
“You don’t really have too much of a choice,” Winborg said. “I just wanted to have the opportunity to come over and finish high school here in the U.S. and then get acclimated with hockey and school, for that matter.”
For his last two years in Janesville, Winborg was one of the Jets’ top scorers. In the 2014-15 season, he led the team with 29 goals and added 23 assists. The following season, he led Janesville in points overall with 55 in 56 games.
He made the decision to join the Wolverines late in his final season of junior hockey, not committing until late April.
“Because, obviously, I was making the decision quite late, I just wanted to see what options were out there, and Michigan came along,” Winborg said. “I just thought it was way too good of an opportunity to pass on. Great school, great hockey and academically, it’s just top of the line as well, so just a great fit for both hockey and academics.”
But in his freshman year, Winborg’s role drifted from the go-to goal scorer he’d been for the Jets. He played largely on the power play, but he didn’t find twine very often. He tallied just 16 points — eight of them goals — in 30 games.
When Michigan coach Mel Pearson came to Ann Arbor for Winborg’s sophomore year, his role changed yet again. Pearson wanted him on the penalty kill, rather than the power play. And Pearson knew that Winborg would handle the transition just fine because of what he saw in Winborg’s first few games.
“I really got to appreciate Adam in games, when he got to play, because he was so conscientious about what he was doing on the ice,” Pearson said. “Just a real good team player. (He) would try to do whatever he could to help the team win.”
“It’s just something that you have to buy into and try to the best of your abilities and just try to help the team win,” Winborg added, echoing his coach’s comments. “I take pride in that part of playing defense, winning faceoffs, blocking shots and doing those small things right.”
Winborg’s commitment to his team and his role shines in how he approaches the games he gets to play in, but it comes through even more when he isn’t seeing the ice. He didn’t crack the lineup this season until the Wolverines’ fifth game — counting two exhibitions.
“We wanted to give some of our younger players an opportunity and get a feel for them, especially with our schedule early,” Pearson said. “And I told Adam, and he knew, and he was great about it. Another thing I like about it is he didn’t play there for a while, and he didn't sulk, he didn’t complain, he just kept working. He stayed ready for when he was gonna get in.”
Last Friday against Wisconsin, Winborg played in his seventh game of the season. He has fit in well as the season has progressed, perhaps a result of his work to stay ready to play. Against the Badgers, he was rewarded for the work he put in.
Senior forward Brendan Warren fired a shot that bounced off the chest of goaltender Jack Berry, and Winborg was right in the crease to clean up the rebound. He flipped the puck over Berry’s shoulder for his first goal of the year. It didn’t hurt that the goal tied the game in the third period and sent it to overtime.
“It took a while, but it was a great feeling for sure. It was nice to get that one out of the way, then you usually don’t have to think about it,” Winborg said. “It always feels better to tie a game than do the, like, 5-2 goal where it doesn’t really matter. It’s always fun to score a goal. … It’s always nice to be able to pitch in to something for the team.”
That goal was the result of his hard work and patience so far this season, but it was also a result of Winborg’s long journey.
He moved 4,000 miles to get a chance to play hockey in the U.S. He has played for three teams and four coaches, and his role on each team has been different.
But it seems that the journey has been worth it as he carves out a role for himself at Michigan.