ST. PAUL, MN – It may be below freezing in the Twin Cities, but Tom Gilbert is still expecting a warm welcome from the home crowd on Wednesday night.
Despite speaking from his stall in the visitor’s dressing room at the Xcel Energy Center, Gilbert was feeling right at home in St. Paul on Tuesday morning. Having grown up just a few miles away in Bloomington, MN, before spending two years patrolling the blue line in green, red, gold and white as a member of the Wild in 2011-12 and 2012-13, the veteran defenseman will have plenty of people on hand ready to welcome him home in Minnesota – both on and off the ice.
|Gilbert is tied for second on the Habs with 47 blocked shots in 2014-15. |
“It’s always fun to play here when family and friends can come watch. I have my parents coming, my brother, and my little nephew who I haven’t seen in a while, which is always exciting,” shared Gilbert of the pro-Montreal cheering section he’s expecting to see in the crowd on Wednesday. “I think it’s his first live hockey game which is really fun. And I have a bunch of buddies coming tomorrow, too.”
With 14 former teammates playing for the current edition of the Wild, Gilbert can provide plenty of advanced scouting heading into the Canadiens’ second game of a four-game road trip, but there’s one Wild All-Star whose moves he knows a little better than the others.
“My father was the baseball coach and [Zach Parise’s] dad was the hockey coach. Zach was average – like a ninth batter, usually just bunted a lot,” joked Gilbert, who played shortstop and centerfield as a teenager. “I batted third; I don’t know what that means. My dad is a very passionate baseball guy, but he’s an avid hockey dad, too.”
A Top 10 finalist for the 2001 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award given to the most outstanding high school player in the state, Gilbert was the captain of the Bloomington Jefferson High School Jaguars in his senior season, before going on to the University of Wisconsin, where he won an NCAA title as a senior in 2005-06.
“Growing up in Minnesota was great. It didn’t matter what sport you played, it was so competitive playing in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” described Gilbert, who also played with Wild defenseman Ryan Suter for one season in college with the Badgers. “The competition is great and they’re very passionate about hockey here, too. We always had great tournaments to go to and the competition level really helped my development.”
After being a healthy scratch in back-to-back games against Buffalo on Friday and Saturday night, the 6-foot-3 blue-liner was back in action on Monday against Colorado and is expected to be in the team’s starting six again on Wednesday against the Wild. Returning to the fray with one blocked shot and one hit in his 11:06 workload against the Avalanche, Gilbert is ready to use the comforts of home to help make sure he won’t be seeing the inside of the pressbox again anytime soon.
“I just have to play better. That was basically the message,” admitted Gilbert, who is tied with P.K. Subban for second on the Habs with 47 blocked shots this season. “Obviously, it was nice to be back in the lineup yesterday, that’s for sure, and it will be fun to play here tomorrow night.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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