Two years after being taken by Pittsburgh in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Draft, Penguins prospect Scott Wilson will step out onto the ice in the building he hopes to call his professional home one day.
Wilson and the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks have made the Frozen Four for the first time in the university’s history, and it just so happens that his year’s contests will take place Wilson is somewhat familiar with. Coming into Pittsburgh and CONSOL Energy Center, Wilson said Penguins management has reached out to him to accommodate him while in the city.
“My advisor got a call from management,” Wilson said. “Obviously my parents came into town and (they) said ‘If you guys need anything, if you guys want to tour the city or anything, just let us know.’ Like everything else in Pittsburgh, it’s always first class.
“I normally talk to (Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom) Fitzgerald or Billy Guerin, but they kind of have just let me enjoy this journey. I don’t know if they’ve been here personally, but a lot of college guys say the Frozen Four is something special.”
Fitzgerald said there is a lot to like about Wilson’s game.
“He’s a very likable prospect,” Fitzgerald said. “I like to characterize players as hockey players because they have skill. He plays with a lot of sandpaper. He’s physical and he’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got a knack for knowing how to drive people off the puck.
“You see the way Brenden Morrow drives through guys, that’s what Scott Wilson does. That’s when he’s playing his best, when he’s driving through guys.”
Being a Penguins prospect might bring Wilson a little more local recognition than other players playing this week, which he said he welcomes.
“I think me being here in the summer for the development camps, some fans have gotten to see me,” Wilson said. “The support at the development camps and coming into this from anyone around here has been greatly appreciated.”
The 6-foot sophomore forward’s play late in UMass-Lowell’s season has been a major contributor to getting the Riverhawks to the Frozen Four. He has registered at least one point in his last seven games, amassing 10 points (5G-5A) over that span.
Wilson has been to two development camps for the Penguins since being drafted and he said his game has drastically improved.
“When I got drafted two years ago, physically I was really raw,” he said. “I think I was 150 pounds and I came in like a little kid compared to everyone else. It’s really been a process the past couple of years, but I’ve been able to put on 25, 30 pounds.” Wilson added with a smile, “some people think it’s ridiculous.”
Lowell started the season 4-7-1 before going on a nine-game winning streak from Dec. 12 to Jan. 19. Wilson said he thought the team began to play better when it returned to its game instead of trying to play a style it was not accustomed to.
“I think we realized, the (New Hamphsires) and the (Boston Colleges), they have the really flashy offenses,” Wilson said. “But we kind of got back to Lowell style. Just getting pucks in and finishing checks and not worrying about all the fancy stuff.”
His game steadily progressed during the season, after registering one point in his first eight games. Wilson finished his sophomore season with 37 points, tied with Joseph Pendenza for the team lead, while his 16 goals ranked first.
Now that he and his teammates have gotten settled in Pittsburgh, Wilson said that although he is probably more familiar with his surrounding than his teammates and opponents, he doesn’t consider it much of an advantage.
“A lot of the guys were star-struck when you see a rink like this, like Consol,” Wilson said. “But I think all the guys that came in here for the first time, they kind of are in the same spot as me now, so we’re pretty much on a level playing field.”
Well before Lowell punched its ticket to the university’s first Frozen Four, Wilson and his family contemplated the significance of playing on the stage in the home of the Penguins.
“I remember when I heard it was going to be in Pittsburgh, my dad saying – not thinking I’d be in the Frozen Four at this point – but that would it be pretty cool if it was in Pittsburgh,” he said. “But for me to be here in Pittsburgh, I know their fans love their sports, so for me to win here it would be a dream come true.”