Before he was Wilkes-Barre Scranton’s leading goal scorer, Penguins forward Scott Wilson was honing his skills for three seasons at University of Massachusetts-Lowell – an experience that shaped the 23-year-old into the player he is today.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Wilson said of his decision to play college hockey instead of junior. “I was smaller, so I needed to take advantage of the off-ice training and nutrition that a college program can provide.”
While Wilson certainly focused on specific aspects of his game after being selected by the Penguins in the 7th round of the 2011 NHL Draft, he learned valuable lessons off the ice as well.
“I think my biggest thing was to not only up my defensive side, but my off-ice game and learning to act like a pro,” Wilson said. “(Former associate coach) Jason Lammers told us to come to the rink dressed like a pro. Even at home, always act like a pro.”
As a sophomore in 2013, Wilson got a taste of the professional life when the River Hawks earned their first-ever berth in the Frozen Four – which was played none other than CONSOL Energy Center.
“That was awesome,” Wilson said, who noted some of his teammates were ‘star-struck’ by their surroundings. “Obviously everyone’s dream at the college or junior level is play in the NHL one day. Being able to use the facilities, especially a newer facility like CONSOL Energy Center, was unbelievable. The staff and everyone treated us so well. The atmosphere was great.”
CONSOL Energy Center has been host to a college tournament of its own: the Three Rivers Classic. Unfortunately, Wilson never had the chance to play in the local tournament, but UMass-Lowell always made the trip for a similar one up north.
“The only holiday tournament we ever played was at this little college rink in Vermont,” Wilson said. “But I think any time a team gets together on a road trip, or is able to spend some time together, is great around the holidays.
“I think you see guys bonding early in the year. You kind of establish roles both on and off the ice.”
This year, the No. 8-ranked River Hawks will be participating in the fourth-annual Three Rivers Classic at the Penguins’ home arena from Dec. 28-29 – and Wilson is proud to see his alma mater’s continued success.
“We had a really successful first year,” Wilson said. “My second year we went to the Frozen Four. Our third year was a good one too. Bringing home two Hockey East Championships was a big step for the organization. Seeing them have that continued success is a really good feeling.”
Wilson still follows the River Hawks, and will certainly be rooting for them to win the championship later this month.
“I still talk to a lot of the guys,” Wilson said. “Most of the guys are juniors and seniors that I know. I go back every summer for a couple of days and work out with them.”