He knows. Pittsburgh Penguins forward Garrett Wilson knows the clock is ticking and he wants a goal.
The journeyman professional hockey player has spent eight seasons kicking around in the minor leagues hoping for his next shot in the NHL. He’s been on the sleeper bus in Cincinnati of the ECHL and the long road trips of San Antonio of the AHL.
Along the way, he had 34 games of NHL experience with the Florida Panthers. But no goals.
At 27, he’s found his stride. Wilson is producing offensive chances with fourth-line center Matt Cullen. An after-thought in training camp, Wilson has stuck with the Penguins for 24 more games and counting.
But that time may be coming to an end as the Penguins get healthy.
Sure, I’ve got a big soft spot for guys who stick it out in the minor leagues. I’ve been there. Over stacks of pancakes in a smalltown diner, I’ve consoled and encouraged players who were losing faith. I downed enough beers with players who were once the envy of their town and their youth teams, as they wonder aloud if it will ever happen for them.
I caught Wilson mid-sentence yesterday but what he was describing needed no introduction.
“…having a couple beers with your coach after the game on the bus. They sit right with you there,” Wilson explained to an inquisitive reporter who had not been blessed or cursed to ever live that life. “It’s pretty cool and you get close with your teammates.”
You have to love hockey–really love hockey–and maybe enjoy pain just a bit to survive in the ECHL and hope to get to the NHL. Sure, it happens. Jay Beagle just received a tear jerker tribute video from the Washington Capitals. Beagle is the only player to ever win a championship in the ECHL, AHL and the Stanley Cup.
Not many skaters who are placed at that level ever make it. Wilson is one. And those bus rides…