Whalers Tom Wilson Will Make An Immediate Impact
Photo - Tom Wilson, in front of the Saginaw net. Credit - Rena Laverty.
There was more leg room and the occasional starburst from the timekeeper, but as far as Tom Wilson was concerned, the penalty box may as well have been the player's bench.
It was his first season in the Ontario Hockey League and Wilson desperately wanted to earn his keep on a deep and veteran-laden team from Plymouth. His minutes were scarce and his role minimal, but he knew he could still make an impact and bring something to the team.
Besides, as he saw it, there wasn't much difference between the Whalers' bench and the more spacious one on the opposite side of the ice.
"I would go out and try to get the energy going," Wilson described of his rookie season. "If I got into a fight, I was sitting five minutes in the box and I had helped the team maybe get some energy whereas I would probably be sitting the five minutes on the bench anyway until my next shift."
It was a calculated gamble by Wilson, a prospect that was used to scrapping and fighting to gain attention. He was never the most talented hockey player growing up. Heck, he didn't even play rep hockey until the age of 14.
Wilson learned at a young age if he was ever going to make a career out of the game he loved, it was going to come through hard work and not natural ability.
"It was never that easy for me," he says now. "There were always the guys in my age group that were 50-goal scorers since they were 10-years old and had always been highly-touted. I had to work."
Even in his first year of major bantam playing rep hockey, the first season he would even be on OHL scouts' radars, his season was cut in half due to injury.
Wilson broke his right arm on an otherwise innocent play. Sensing the player behind him was going to finish his check, Wilson raised his right hand with the intentions of sliding it along the glass to brace for impact, only his hand didn't slide. His hand stuck to the stanchion between two panes of glass, Wilson was completely vulnerable and would soon suffer the first major setback of his now burgeoning career.
He missed approximately half the season with a broken arm, which wasn't the only obstacle he was faced with overcoming. A quick growth spurt before entering his minor midget year, where he would try to showcase himself for the OHL draft, basically gave him a new frame to figure out.
"I had to kind of learn how to skate again," he said.
His arm healed with no lingering effects and with an understanding of his body's new mechanics, Wilson made the most of his minor midget year with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens and caught the eyes of OHL scouts.
Plymouth Whalers head coach and general manager Mike Vellucci saw Wilson as a player who looked familiar. A near hybrid of former Whalers forwards James Neal and Jared Boll, Vellucci recognized a player who fit their team perfectly. The Whalers even considered taking him with their first pick, No. 15 in the draft.
Vellucci made a calculated gamble of his own, choosing to pass on him in the first round in hopes that Wilson would be available 12 picks later for their second-round pick.
"We were really, really, really nervous a few picks before us," Vellucci said. "It worked out great for us --luckily."