Garrett Wilson’s probably can’t recall the minor details of the first 59 games of his NHL career, but he will remember Game 60 for a long time. Wilson is now officially an NHL goal scorer after he buried a Teddy Blueger feed top-shelf on a 2-on-1 Saturday night. It is only sweeter that Blueger, who also has an extensive minor league career helped Wilson to exorcise this demon.
Wilson, 27, finally scored more than eight years after he was the Florida Panthers fourth-round pick in 2009.
The play started with Matt Cullen fighting for a loose puck and feathering a pass to spring Blueger and Wilson on an odd-man rush. Blueger skated to the right of Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman and saucered pass cross-crease to the waiting stick of Wilson for a one-timer; he did not miss.
“To be honest, it was eating me alive. It’s nice to get it over with. It felt like it took forever, but hopefully I can start putting some more behind the goalies,” Wilson said.
Here’s Wilson’s first NHL goal:
Not lost in the shuffle of his first goal is Wilson’s established chemistry with Blueger from their time in Wilkes Barre/ Scranton and the respect he has for a guy who also paid his fair share of dues in the minors.
“We started the year down in Wilkes [Barre] and played quite a bit last year, said Wilson. ” He is a great player, and he is a good guy to play with.”
The life of a minor league hockey player isn’t as glamorous as the NHL one, in fact it can be quite unorthodox. For Wilson, who played 463 games in the minor leagues including 101 games in the double-A equivalent ECHL, it has been a career of chasing his NHL opportunities and paying his dues with bus rides, beer, and team bonding.
“Having a couple of beers with your coach after the game on the bus. They sit right with you there,” Wilson explained on Wednesday. “It’s pretty cool, and you get close with your teammates.”
Wilson spent eight seasons in the minor leagues playing for the likes of San Antonio Rampage, Portland Pirates, Cincinnati Cyclones, and Wilkes Barre/ Penguins. This season is the third year in the Penguins organization for the Barrie, ON, native and the 2018-19 season has provided him perhaps his best chance to shoot for his elusive first goal.
Wilson experienced the cycle of called up, sent down, called up, and waived in a 4-month span in this season. Fortunately for Wilson, his latest Penguins stint gave him to the opportunity to be an active part of the fourth line, and to cross off the milestone he sought so much.
Despite the success at the NHL level, the sands in the hourglass continued to shift with Evgeni Malkin and Zach Aston-Reese’s returns from injuries looming. Wilson seemed destined to be the corresponding move when Malkin and Aston-Reese mend up. It became “do or die” time for Wilson with Aston-Reese resuming skating, and Wilson most certainly did.
Wilson is happy to get the first goal under his belt and looks forward to scoring more at the NHL level. The first one is always the hardest to get and that should plague him no more.
“It was amazing. It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders and it’s nice to get that out of the way so I can stop thinking about it and play hockey,” Wilson said.
The combination of relief and excitement loaded into one fist pump displayed to guys looking for a shot that it can happen for them as well. Chances may be few and far between for players in the minor league but when it does come, celebrate accordingly.
For every guy who rode the busses in the ECHL, fought through the AHL, and to get a cup of coffee in the NHL.
Yes, Wilson’s story hits home with me and that goal was for a lot people who’ve had pizza and beer on the bus at 2am…
— Dan Kingerski (@TheDanKingerski) February 10, 2019