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Pens Prospect Wilson One of Hockey East's Top Rookies

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
As the 2011 NHL Draft approached, Steve Wilson asked his son Scott if he'd like to take that day off from his job at a tree shop to watch and see if he'd be selected.

Scott respectfully declined.

“I was like, ‘There’s no way I can watch the whole thing. I have no idea if I’m going to go at all or if so, when,’” said Wilson, who had just finished his second full season with Georgetown of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. “So I said I really didn’t want to. I went to work because it would have just been nerve racking for me.”

Penguins prospect Scott Wilson is having a remarkable rookie season for UMass Lowell of Hockey East.

(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
In hindsight, Wilson probably should have taken the option of staying home – as the Pittsburgh Penguins took him in the seventh round (209th overall) of the draft.

“I went to work and near the end of my shift, I took a break and I looked at my phone and I had a hundred text messages and BBMs and all of that stuff,” Wilson said. “I knew something was up, so I went back and called my advisor and he told me (that I’d been drafted by Pittsburgh).

“Then I got a few calls from (Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald) and Billy Guerin. It was unbelievable. Probably the best day of my life.”

But unfortunately enough, Wilson’s parade would experience a bit of rain soon afterward when the 19-year-old came down with mononucleosis. The debilitating illness sidelined him for his first Penguins prospect development camp and caused him to lose a significant amount of weight while he was sick.

And dropping that kind of weight was tough for Wilson, especially as his biggest goal before he got sick was to gain muscle.

“I was probably around 175 before I got sick and I wanted to be maybe 180 going into college,” he said. “I ended up losing about 20 pounds over that month and a half. And once the season starts, it’s almost impossible to put weight on again. I’m almost back to 175 now, so I haven’t even gotten back to where I started from.”

But that hasn’t deterred Wilson in any way, as the Oakville, Ontario native is putting together a magnificent rookie campaign at UMass Lowell, which includes being named the Hockey East Rookie of the Week on five occasions.

The forward ranks first among NCAA freshmen in points per game (1.07) and all Hockey East freshmen in points (32). His 15 goals are tied for the team lead while his 32 points rank second. His next goal will match Greg Koehler’s freshman season in 1996-97 and he’s just one point shy of matching Laurent Meunier’s 33-point rookie year in 2000-01.

Wilson sat down with his father and compiled a list of small goals to focus on entering his first year of college hockey, starting with getting 10 goals his rookie year. Once he accomplished that, he set his sights on getting 15 – and has accomplished that.

Getting close to 20 is next on his list. And while it’s yet to be determined if he can achieve that with just a pair of regular-season games left before the league playoffs begin, Wilson is happy that he’s even able to talk about the possibility.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting anything like this. We have 12 freshmen this year, so at the beginning of the year it was hard to even crack the lineup, almost,” he said. “But our coach has put me with the better players on the team and it’s definitely been helpful. So has playing on the power play and stuff like that. So that’s been great.”

Wilson has helped spark the River Hawks’ remarkable turnaround from last season, where their 5-25-4 record was their worst showing in program history. Now UMass Lowell is back to being competitive, as they’re currently ranked No. 7 in the nation with a 20-10-1 overall record and 15-9-1 mark in Hockey East.

Wilson credits first-year coach Norm Blazin, who took over last April, with restoring the team’s identity and pride – and for putting him into a position to succeed.

Wilson has earned Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors five times.

(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
“I think coach made my whole year the way he started me out,” Wilson said. “In the first few games of the year, he just kind of got my feet wet. I was playing third-line ice with a couple of other freshmen just to kind of get the pace of it and see how it feels. Then slowly, I got onto the second power play where I was able to get a few points to just kind of kick off my year.”

Once Wilson proved he could handle the initial transition to the college game from the junior ranks, Blazin continued to increase his role and responsibilities – which now includes first-line duties with captain Riley Wetmore and time on the first power-play unit.

“(Blazin) has probably made my year so far the way he’s put me in different situations where I was able to play well in them,” Wilson said.

Wilson has been named the Hockey East Rookie of the Week five separate times so far this year. He’s received the honor so many times it’s become a bit of a running joke between him and fellow rookie Terrence Wallin, who’s gotten it thrice.

But while individual honors are gratifying for Wilson, he’s more focused on doing what he can to help the River Hawks make a deep run in the playoffs. He’s not thinking too much about the big picture in terms of his future with Pittsburgh – he just wants to keep improving as a player.

“Over the summer, I just really want to get bigger,” he said. “I’m 6-feet, but I have a really thin frame, so I want to fill it out a lot. Just kind of get better in every aspect that I can.”
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