March 20, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Wilson's Return Helps Re-Ignite Lowell Offense

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

Scott Wilson likes the puck on his stick.

The moments of his hockey career he remembers most fondly always started with the puck on his stick. There was the Hockey East Semifinal against Providence last March when he dazzled 17,565 at TD Garden, firing a wrist shot past Jon Gillies while falling to the ice.

The pass he made to send Derek Arnold in on what became the goal that clinched Massachusetts-Lowell's first Hockey East Tournament title against Boston University is up there as well. Wilson, now a junior, likes scoring goals. He likes making plays. With 16 goals in each of his first two seasons at UML, he developed a reputation for doing just that.

Being a River Hawk, though, means more than goals. The reputation Lowell developed in Norm Bazin's first two years as coach was one of relentless skating, defending and pursuit. The goals clinched the wins, of course, but playing without the puck is just as important for Bazin. His scorers do it just the same as the grinders. It's what makes UML the juggernaut its become.

So, when Wilson ended his 24th game of this season with just two goals on year, Bazin looked at his gifted forward's body of work and relaxed. Sometimes the shots just don't fall. Even for the best players, even for players expected to be all-Americans, goals don't come sometimes. In these 24 games, Wilson had put 74 shots on goal. Just five goals came from those shots.

"The first couple seasons I had here, I had some success scoring goals," Wilson said. "I thought I was playing well up until that injury. You're not always going to get the puck to fall for you. If you're working hard and doing the right things, things will break eventually."

The River Hawks, meanwhile, were winning just the same. Even with a rough 5-4 loss to Providence in that 24th game, UML was 15-7-2. For Wilson, though, the season and that game had been quite tough. He suffered an injury and missed the following eight games. Other players were out around that time, and it forced the club to weather a difficult stretch.

"I've had a couple of injuries nagging at different points this season," he said. "When I got hurt against Providence, I kind of knew I was going to be out for a little while. The trainer and I focused on it like summer months. I spent time on the ice, keeping my wind and my legs under me. We had a few guys go out that game, so we all supported each other."

The team-first mentality bred by Bazin forced Wilson to forget his own struggles and work. Even as the goalless games piled up, focusing on the other side of the puck and moving well without it helped Lowell win hockey games. Some guidance from the Pittsburgh Penguins, who own Wilson's draft rights, gave him even more motivation to round out his game.

"I came into the season looking to improve on some things on the defensive end," he said. "That was something Pittsburgh talked to me about, being harder after pucks and just breaking some bad habits. I thought I was playing well in the first half, and it doesn't matter who's scoring as long as we're winning. Everybody wants to win. We trust the process, knowing things will work out if we trust in what we're doing."

In five games since returning from the lineup, that belief has carried Wilson to some success. All five games came against Vermont — two to end the regular season and three in the Hockey East quarterfinals — and Wilson scored two goals and added an assist.

"When you’re talking about an offensive player, someone who’s had success offensively the bulk of their life, it is tough to encourage them and constantly remind them that, if you’re getting shots and if you’re getting chances, you don’t need to worry, because they’ve had the results," Bazin said. "So I think it was trying for him. He’ll be a better player because of the struggles he’s had this year. He’ll be a better hockey player in the future, forwards, because it was something that was very difficult for him to go through."

The River Hawks defeated Vermont in three games to advance to Friday's Hockey East Semifinal. UML will take on Notre Dame at 5 p.m. for a spot in Saturday's championship game. The River Hawks won Hockey East's double a season ago and hope to make it a second straight tournament title.

However, the expectations this season are loftier. A Frozen Four appearance ended with a disappointing 3-2 loss to eventual national champion Yale in overtime. Another year in the tournament prepared Wilson and his teammates, though, he said. They know they're capable of winning championships.

"I think last year was the first time we realized that we were a good team," Wilson said. "Going into the tournament two seasons ago, we didn't really know what to expect. I think we were kind of star struck by the whole thing. We didn't play bad, but we didn't play as well as we know we can."

For Scott Wilson, the expectations are even loftier on a personal level. Of course, he'll be satisfied with championships for UMass-Lowell, happy for his teammates and his program. But Wilson is a goal-scorer. There will come a time on Friday where the puck finds its way to Wilson, whether in the slot, the face-off circle or around the crease. The opportunity to erase months of frustration will come with this chance.

Count on him to take it. Scott Wilson likes the puck on his stick.

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