When kids reach a certain age they tend to forget things about their childhood, like the details of a hockey tournament they played in when they were 12 years old.
Tommy Wingels falls into this category, sort of. In 2001, he suited up for Team Illinois at the USA Hockey Tier I 12 & Under National Championship tournament.
But while he may not remember the specifics of the event, held in Philadelphia, a couple of his competitors still stand out: Carter Camper of the Cleveland Jr. Barons and Andy Miele of Detroit’s Little Caesars.
Six years after that tournament, Wingels reunited with his former foes, but this time as part of a freshman class that helped elevate the Miami University RedHawks to one of the elite programs in college hockey.
“Looking back on it now, we had a lot of laughs about how we grew up near the same rinks, and that we got to play against each other and then play together,” Wingels recalled.
From 2007-10, the three were key cogs for a RedHawks team that won 85 games and made three NCCA Tournament appearances, including two trips to the Frozen Four.
While Wingels may have lacked the offensive firepower of the other two, he more than made up for it with his leadership, durability and two-way play. He still posted 99 points during the course of his three seasons at Miami and never missed a game.
That tenacity on the ice made him an attractive pro prospect, and the San Jose Sharks nabbed him in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft following his freshman season.
While some within the hockey community make the argument that Canadian Major Junior hockey is the best road for a player to develop his game, Wingels isn’t convinced. He credits “the USA Hockey model,” going through AAA hockey to the USHL to college, for making him the player and person he is today.
“I’ve been very fortunate to continue to extend through a different league, and it’s a credit to those leagues throughout the United States,” said the 26-year-old Evanston, Ill., native.
“I think USA Hockey does an unbelievable job of prepping kids for the NHL, and I’m a prime example of that.”
Weight: 200 pounds
Birth Date: April 12, 1988
Hometown: Evanston, Ill.
Junior Hockey: Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL)
Drafted: 6th round, 177th overall in 2008 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose
College: Miami University
USA Hockey History: Participated in USA Hockey Boys’ Select 15 Camp in 2003 and the Boys’ Select 16 Camp in 2004.
Wingels’ decision to turn pro after his junior year was delayed due to Miami’s late run in the NCAA Tournament, leaving him the summer to mentally and physically prepare for the next level.
After honing his game in the American Hockey League, Wingels cracked the Sharks lineup in the middle of the 2011-12 season and hasn’t looked back.
“For me, every level I played at, as I become more confident and experienced, my game has continued to evolve,” said Wingels, who set career highs this season with 16 goals, 22 assists and 38 points.
“Even now I’m learning more and more every game and trying to contribute on a nightly basis.”
Away from the ice, Wingels remains connected to Miami and honors his friend Brendan Burke by serving on the advisory board for You Can Play, an organization dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. It was founded in memory of Burke, who was killed in a 2010 car crash shortly after coming out as gay.
“I’ve become a lot more outspoken on the issue, knowing Brendan and what happened,” said Wingels, who was nominated for the King Clancy Trophy for his community involvement.
“He and I had a great friendship, and when you see somebody with the passion and drive to help conquer an issue like this … I try to do what I can to raise awareness. The You Can Play initiative is a great thing. I’ve been blown away by the support it’s received from the League and players.”
Farr West, Utah
Selflessness is a rare quality these days, let alone for someone who is just 9 years old. Yet there is at least one shining example of a youngster who has demonstrated a genuine act of kindness for others to follow.
This past spring, the Golden Spike Amateur Hockey Association held its year-end banquet for house teams competing in the Squirt Division. When the White team head coach, Jack Lee, announced his son, Gavin, as the recipient for the Sportsmanship Award, the audience offered up a nice round of applause in honor of a worthy recipient. What happened next stunned family, friends and teammates.
“I don’t deserve this award. I think my teammate Natasha [Knap] deserves this award,” Sue Knap recounted Gavin as saying.
As Gavin passed the award to Natasha, the silenced attendees, including Gavin’s father, realized that sometimes the most important assists in life are the ones made away from the ice.