When the playoffs have a west coast flavor, the intensity spikes, the stakes are raised and, it’s been said, the people back east go to sleep.
No matter how late the hours, whether it be a 10:30 local time faceoff or an overtime that stretches into the wee hours of the morning, the Sharks maintain an ardent supporter in the southwestern corner of Ohio.
As most of the world around him is tucked into bed, Miami University’s longtime hockey coach, Enrico Blasi, remains plugged in to cheer for one of his all-time favorite former players, Tommy Wingels.
“I keep an eye on the guys,” Blasi recently told sjsharks.com. “If they play well or score a big goal, if they get a big win, I try to text them as much as I can. I try to leave them alone, as much as possible, in the middle of a series. I’m proud of our guys, including Tommy. He was our captain. We spent a lot of time together."
“He would come over to the house for dinner. At the time, my daughters were young. He would get down on his knees and play knee hockey with them. Those are the kinds of things that has made Tommy who he is today.”
Another thing that has made Wingels who he is today is Blasi.
While Wingels scored the game-winning goal and was one of the heroes in San Jose’s Game 2 win in St. Louis, it’s no secret that the headlines on this team are usually dominated by the Thorntons, Burns and Pavelskis. Although this often pushes Wingels to the background, his quiet brand of hustle, responsibility and physicality plays a vital role in a team’s playoff success.
And sometimes, as was the case in Game 2, this results in Wingels shelving his identity as a checking forward and scoring a game-winning goal.
This role, more often gritty than glamorous, is something that Wingels learned at Miami after growing up as a star scorer in the Chicago suburbs. In particular, Wingels learned this from Blasi.
“We always tried to have those conversations,” Blasi said. “Sometimes you have to do things, not that you’re not capable of, because Tommy is capable of doing a lot of things. But you have to find your niche. If they ask you to play on the third line and be a checker, you have to do that."
“At our level, he could score goals, make big hits. He could kill penalties, play against top lines. He could do it all. At the next level, it’s just a matter of finding your way. I think he got comfortable playing that role because it was part of his persona, anyway."
“In fact, the team that he captained that went to the Frozen Four (in 2009), we didn’t have any assistant captains. He was the lone guy. He had his relationships in check. That team won a lot of games. We went to the Frozen Four, won the league championship. Went through some tragedy with Brendan Burke dying. Tommy had to get up there and read a reading at the funeral in front of thousands of people in Boston. On our team, he was ‘the’ guy.”
On Tuesday, Wingels was also ‘the guy’ for the Sharks. And for a player who embodies the team-first mentality and often sacrifices personal statistics for the greater good, those who know him best couldn’t be happier.
Even if one of those people is often staying up way past his bedtime.