Tonight 'a dream come true' for Wilson

Tonight 'a dream come true' for Wilson
November 23, 2013, 4:15 pm

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Capitals rookie Tom Wilson admits Nov. 23 has been circled on his calendar since he earned a roster spot with the Capitals in late September.

Born and raised in the city of Toronto, Wilson, 19, began playing hockey in the shadows of the Air Canada Centre and grew up an avid Maple Leafs fan.

Tonight he’ll be surrounded by family and friends when he makes his first appearance against his hometown Leafs as a member of the Capitals.

“It’s pretty much a dream come true going back there,” Wilson said. “It’s cool to go back into the building that you grew up watching hockey, and have the ability to play.”

Two hours before the game, while Wilson is warming up with his teammates, about 30 members of the North Toronto Hockey Association – his former coaches, teammates, family and friends – will gather at Joe Badali’s Ristorante Italiano & Bar before heading over to the ACC to see their favorite NHL rookie.

“Tom is one of those special guys that everyone roots for,” said Al Crawford, who coached Wilson up until he was 11 years old. “He was a dominant player, but he was always very respectful of the team concept. He always acknowledged his teammates.”

One of those teammates was Crawford’s son, Keenan, who has remained close friends with Wilson and will be in the crowd tonight.

“Al helped me make that big step between just going out there and playing,” Wilson said, “and learning leadership and how to learn the systems and break down the other teams.”

Crawford said that although Wilson was a year younger than most of his teammates he made him a captain because of the maturity he showed on and off the ice. He credits that maturity to Wilson’s parents, Keven and Neville.

Keven Wilson coached his son for the first five years of his youth hockey career and Wilson said he learned a lot from his father, both on the ice and in the car rides home from the rink.

“That was cool,” Wilson said. “He knows the game and he definitely brought me along. My Dad was unbelievable for me. There was never any pressure from him. He was really good at leaving it at the rink.

“I can remember maybe one or two times he chewed into me on the car ride home. Some kids, unfortunately, have to deal with that every day. I was very fortunate with that. He was supportive of whatever I wanted to do.”

Wilson’s progression from a dominant youth player to an NHL rookie was a quick one. After recording nine goals, 17 assists and 141 penalty minutes in his second season with the Plymouth Whalers, the Capitals surprised Wilson by taking him with the 16th pick of the 2012 NHL draft.

Seventeen months later Wilson is playing fourth-line minutes with the Capitals, with hopes that his role will increase as the season progresses.

“I can already see the improvements in his game,” Crawford said. “The way he handles the puck, his balance, the decisions he’s making. He’s definitely benefitting from being in the NHL. Adam Oates is doing a tremendous job with him.”

After two months of living on his own in a hotel, Wilson moved in with a billet family in Arlington last week, where he can get a home-cooked meal and his laundry washed. In addition to a child away at college, the family has a 12-year-old boy who plays hockey.

“I’m five minutes away [from Kettler],” Wilson said. “It’s been really good. Great people.”

Tonight, Wilson will be surrounded by just about everyone who played a part in him fulfilling his dream of playing in the NHL and he’s thankful for the opportunity to have them experience it..

“I could go on and on about the great support group I have,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be awesome. They’re going to enjoy it and I’m definitely going to enjoy it.”