Kyle Wellwood is learning to love his body. Even the slightly flabby bits.
So what if he's never able to scrub laundry on his abs or model Calvin Klein underwear?
The Vancouver Canuck centre, whose public battle with his weight made him hockey's equivalent of Oprah Winfrey, has regained a few of the pounds he lost last summer and he's OK with that.
The Canucks should be, too, because since taking it easy over the Olympic break Wellwood has played his best hockey of the season.
"At the start of the year, I was a real lean 181," Wellwood said. "Now, I'm not thick, but I have a little more weight. Right now, I feel great. My body feels good. I'm healthy. I'm happy out there."
No wonder. Heading into tonight's Northwest Division showdown against the Colorado Avalanche, Wellwood had four points in four games after the Olympic break.
He set up Jannik Hansen's winning goal Sunday in Nashville, where his ice time of 15:29 was the most since the Canucks began a stretch of 14 straight road games that ends Wednesday in Phoenix.
"Since we've gotten back, it's probably been his most consistent hockey at both ends of the rink," Canuck coach Alain Vigneault agreed. "He's finding a way to help us offensively, and defensively — he's not a physical, big, typical third-line centre that's going to grind guys out — but he's in the right position."
Wellwood has rarely seemed in the right position since joining the Canucks before last season as a pudgy, out-of-shape refugee from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Vigneault immediately blasted Wellwood's conditioning and imposed a deadline for him to get in shape or else. He cleared waivers twice at the start of last season and somehow managed to survive the campaign with the Canucks, scoring 18 goals.
The 26-year-old from Windsor went into last summer round and came out square — an astonishing transformation that saw him report to training camp 17 pounds leaner than the previous year.
The problem is Wellwood played better when he was fat. He registered one point in his first 17 games skinny and didn't score a goal until an empty-netter drew a standing ovation in Vancouver eight weeks into the season.
Wellwood admitted Monday he never felt comfortable at his new weight. Strenuous off-ice training left him sluggish during games.
So he gained back a few pounds — emphasis on few, like about four — and eased up slightly in the weight room and finally feels comfortable again.
Four pounds may seem insignificant. But for highly-tuned professional athletes, who notice a miniscule difference in the cut of their skate blades or a one-degree adjustment in stick lie, four pounds matter.
"It certainly is an adjustment," Wellwood said of changing playing weight. "I think everybody tries to find the right balance for them. It takes years and a lot of juggling to get there. And when you do feel you're starting to play well, you want to plateau there. It's just a part of the process of being a veteran, figuring out what weight you play at and then be comfortable there.
"Lately, since the Olympic break, I've just taken it easy and done light warmups and pushups instead of weights and I've felt a lot lighter on the ice. I've felt better. I like the way I'm skating and handling the puck. The game's so fast out there, there's no room for error. So if you have confidence. . . you're more excited about making plays."
And if you can make plays in uniform, it doesn't matter how you look shirtless. So dieters, rejoice. Kyle Wellwood says don't sweat the last few pounds. You may be the better for them.