Monday, May 2, 2016

Colin Wildon: Never count out those famous bloodlines

By Larry Wigge

From near the blue line, a Nashville defenseman flipped the puck high into the air. It came down amidst a four-player crowd.

Colin Wilson corralled a bouncing puck in the Anaheim zone and stickhandled near the goal crease before backhanding the puck high past the glovehand of Frederik Andersen and it the net 6:19 of the first period.

It was first goal in a Game 7 winner-take-all situation against Anaheim, which the Predators won 2-1.

"Those flipped-up pucks are hard to control for the defensemen," Wilson said. Mike Fisher was going and pushing them back. I was fortunate for it to come up on my stick."

The Greenwich, Ct., native, has made a living of late in the playoffs, netting two goals and five assists in seven games against the Ducks. Last year, he had five goals in six games after putting in a career-high 20 goals 22 assists in the regular season.

Wilson, who had only six goals and 18 assists this season and the former first-round pick, seventh overall, in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, was a major topic of conversation.

Could he recapture his playoff form again? Or would he bide his time on the fourth line and suffered the indignity of a healthy scratch on March 31.

He scored a goal in Nashville's Game 1 against Anaheim and added a critical assist in the Game 2 win, marking the first time since February 27 and March 1 that he’d posted points in back-to-back games.

"The first two games, he’s been unbelievable," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "The first goal he scored was a huge momentum swing for us and then the next game was a great assist ... making that play to Mattias Ekholm on his backhand. It’s really good to see him playing well for us because we’re going to need everyone at their best to be successful."

"I think I know that I can step my game up a little," Wilson explained, "so I’m just trying to do the same thing this year."

Said teammate Filip Forsberg: "He was probably our best player in the playoffs last year and he's started off basically where he left off last year. He's going to be really interesting to follow during these playoffs."

"It's just an exciting time to play," Wilson said. "It's hard not to get up for it. You're trying to do anything to win a Cup."

Said coach Peter Laviolette, "The playoffs is a different animal. It's a whole new season. The regular season doesn't matter anymore. It only matters what we do in the playoffs, so it's a good opportunity for him."

When you're a center, there's more to the game than just skating and passing. The good ones can look at the ice and see a chessboard in front of them, moving pieces ... always getting closer and closer to the final goal.

On the ice, Colin Wilson shows a unique intensity and competitive nature far beyond his age as a freshman at Boston University. What you find in addition to that creative mind are the soft and quick hands and a strength on his skates, plus a little good-natured sense of humor when we ask how much of that he inherited from his father, Carey Wilson, a center for ten seasons in the NHL with the Calgary Flames, Hartford Whalers and New York Rangers.

Colin, who was born in Greenwich, Ct., when Carey was playing for the Rangers, gives us this big smile and then quips, "It will be fun to tease my dad and say to him, 'You went 67th and I went earlier than that.' "

No plumbers in this bloodline. Following his dad and his grandfather, Gerry Wilson, who played for three games with the Montreal Canadiens in 1956-57 on a team that included Jean Believau, Maurice and Henri Richard, Doug Harvey and among others. Gerry went on to become the team doctor for the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association as well as the European recruiter responsible for the signings of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson.

"I've got a lot to be thankful for," Colin explained. "My dad has been just a great influence on my career. He was teaching me about a lot of things maybe other kids' parents weren't too knowledgeable about. He really helped me develop my game at a young age, to get me thinking about things other players probably weren't thinking about.

"I remember one night when I was maybe 12 and we got home and my dad said, 'You didn't do so well on faceoffs.' He'd go out to the garage with me and drop pucks. Or we'd be in the backyard and he show me another part of my game that I needed to improve on. I realize now how far ahead of the game I was because of him, when I see coaches at this level (NCAA) working on the same things we did many years ago."

United States? Yes, even though Colin spent his formitive years in Winnipeg from 5-through-15, Wilson had an affinity for being born in the U.S.

"It's a funny thing," his dad said. "When he was old enough to recognize that he was born in New York and that he was an American by birthright, he somehow became a loyal, diehard American patriot. Then again, maybe it came from me giving him a hard time. You know, when I would tell him, 'Colin, you've gotta cheer for the American team -- you're American.' He really took a hold of that."

His coach, Boston University's Jack Parker has told reporters repeatedly this season that Colin has "Larry Bird court sense. Great vision and Ron Francis-like ability to physically push the offense."

Wilson says his biggest strength is that he's strong -- strong on the puck, rarely getting knocked off the puck and especially tough down low and along the boards.

"That's all my dad's doing," Colin added with a smile. "Growing up, he always got ripped on by his dad because he never went into the corners and never checked. So when I grew up, he made sure I went in there and hit and did things that he didn't do."

As you might expect, Colin Wilson comes back to his dad for the best advice he's ever gotten.

"He always said 'It's all about winning the little battles,' "

That chessboard that the good centers see in front of them? Whether it's taking a few extra faceoffs in the garage after a game or running over an opponent to get the puck free. For Colin Wilson, one battle leads to the next for this ultra-competitive center.

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