Like Father, Like Son?
Hartzell, Wilson Look to Follow in Fathers’ Footsteps
by A.J. Curry/CHN Reporter
PITTSBURGH No matter the result of Saturday night’s intra-state title showdown between No. 1 overall seed Quinnipiac and giant-slayer Yale, someone will bring a second national championship ring back to his family.
Quinnipiac’s senior netminder Eric Hartzell and Yale’s freshman center Stu Wilson both grew up with lofty expectations thrust upon them – whether they were talked about at home or not. Each player’s father won a national championship during his college career – 140-point career scorer Kevin Hartzell with Minnesota in 1979 and Wayne Wilson with Bowling Green in 1984.
Both fathers were team captains during their national championship years. And both have gone on to enjoy successful coaching careers – Hartzell as the all-time winningest coach of the Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) and Wilson as the man behind the bench at RIT, where he’s won more than 250 games and memorably led the Tigers on a Cinderella run to the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four. Kevin was part of the ’79 Minnesota team that knocked off North Dakota in the title game, while Wayne looked on as Bowling Green’s Gino Cavallini’s goal in the fourth overtime against Minnesota-Duluth gave the Falcons the ’84 national championship.
Fast-forwarding to 2013, Stu, the younger Wilson, leads all Yale freshmen in scoring. He had a goal and two assists in Yale’s monumental triumphs over Minnesota and North Dakota at the West Regional.
Now, like his dad did almost 30 years ago, he’ll play for a national title of his own.
“He didn’t pressure me at all,” said Stu of growing up with Wayne as his father. “I was just around the rink a lot and I learned to love the game from there. It’s kind of unique, I guess. I just picked up the game by watching all the games, first at Bowling Green where he was an assistant, then at RIT.”
Stu Wilson’s situation – like Eric Hartzell’s – has the added wrinkle that his father went on to become a coach, which left Wayne Wilson alternating between coach and fan.
“A little bit of both, which I think is a good balance,” says Yale’s freshman center. “Every parent, when you have a good game or a bad game, they’ll tell you and try to give you some pointers along the way. He was really great about that. Even now, I’m probably RIT’s biggest fan, and now that his season’s over, he’s Yale’s biggest fan.
“He tries to keep an even keel and act like it doesn’t affect him at all. But I can tell from the tone of his voice that he’s really excited.”
Wayne Wilson will be in the stands for the title game on Saturday night. As will Kevin Hartzell, who won that 1979 title under the direction of the legendary Herb Brooks – in what was Brooks’ final season as head coach at Minnesota, just a year before he led the U.S. Olympic Men’s team to its historic Miracle on Ice gold medal.
And as Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold notes, it was clear that when he was recruiting Eric, now a Hobey Hat Trick finalist, that his pedigree had served him well.
Said Pecknold, “You can tell he comes from a hockey family – great background, great kid. We couldn’t be happier with him.
“When we were recruiting Hartzy, we liked him a lot. Actually went and watched him play practice one day. There were some things he needed to work on, but I thought, ‘He might play in the NHL some day.’ That was my take on him. Obviously that’s not our only goal, but we felt he had a lot of talent and a lot of things to work with.”
Pecknold’s relationship with Eric’s father goes back, though, even before he began recruiting his future Hobey finalist goaltender – as several of Kevin’s former players have also played for Pecknold.
“I go back with Kevin a long time,” said Pecknold. “Actually, Kevin has eight players in this tournament this weekend who played for him in Sioux Falls. We already had a really good relationship. I’ve always been impressed with him as a coach and as a person.”
Eric Hartzell has described his father as his “role model.” Understandable, since now he’s in the same position to do what his dad did. And he’s done it without a team full of blue-chippers from Minnesota and without an Olympic coach – by bringing the once unheralded Quinnipiac on the verge of a historic national title win.
Wilson, of course, has helped do the same – even as a freshman. He’ll be among the many high-powered Yale forwards tasked with solving Hartzell on Saturday.
And both of their fathers will, of course, be in the stands at the CONSOL Energy Center – as coaches, by their nature, but this time, with their sons looking to follow in their footsteps, as fans most of all.