The Washington Times - July 12, 2012, 11:31AM

Minutes after being drafted in the fifth round by the Washington Capitals last month, defenseman Connor Carrick was eager to talk about his immediate future at the University of Michigan. Naturally he wants to spend the next few years developing on the ice, but off the ice mattered too.

“To be very blunt with it, I think my mom would kill me if I don’t get a degree at some point,” he said.

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Between the draft and this week’s development camp, Carrick changed his plans. He won’t be playing for the Wolverines, instead going to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.

“All around I think a lot of the pieces fell in place with Plymouth. They have a great coaching staff, a phenomenal team, they need a role player that I’m able to fill that benefits myself and their club,” Carrick said Tuesday. “I’m still going to be able to pursue my schooling and I get to live at home. So every little piece of it, where you’re living, your academics and your athletics, it all just seemed to fit.”

Guess mom’s not too happy about the decision not to go to school?

“I’m still still going to college,” he said.

That’s right. Carrick will play for the Whalers but still take classes at Michigan. Players in the Canadian Hockey League take classes, but this kind of endeavor is not at all common.

“It works for me,” Carrick said.

It works because Plymouth, Mich., is only about a 15-to-20-minute drive from the University of Michigan, and Carrick’s family will pick a place to live that makes both commutes reasonable.

“It’s not too difficult. I’m not afraid of driving. My dad drives further than that every day to work,” he said. “That’s just kind of what I’ve committed to and I’m excited about it.”

Carrick defended his late switch as a changing situation. He committed to Michigan two years ago, and he recognizes that de-committing from the hockey program there “was tough for a lot of people to handle, but it was the right move.”

The Orland Park, Ill., native spent the past two years in Ann Arbor with the U.S. National Team Development Program, so he’s familiar with the area. And he’s very familiar with the need to pay extra attention to academics.

When in Europe this past spring playing with the U.S. Under-18 team, Carrick and his teammates were out of school for a month.

“I didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll affect me, either, in the OHL.”

Carrick noted he was in the top 10 percent in GPA in his class through high school and sounded like the exemplification of what is usually a euphemism when the NCAA insists on calling players “student-athletes” in formal settings.

“Naturally I pick up things pretty quickly and I’m also disciplined enough to spend my time. I’m not a guy who was afraid to bring my books on the road or write a paper on the bus,” Carrick said. “I’m an athlete that has always been a student of the game and within the classroom. I’m going to be able to handle my load, I think, with great success.”