The past summer was an exciting time for fans of the Saginaw Spirit.
Things got even more exciting when the organization signed New York Islanders second-round pick Bode Wilde in late-August.
The transition to the major junior game has been seamless as Wilde has opened the season with three goals and 13 points in 10 games with a Spirit team that is off to a 7-5-1-1 start.
“Off the ice, the adjustment has been really good,” Wilde said. “My teammates have made it really easy. They’ve been really nice and accepted me right away. They made it an easy transition for me in that regard. On the ice, it took me one game to get the feel for the game style and the speed and then I got a little bit of momentum and the team has been playing really well.”
Saginaw coach Troy Smith has spoken highly of the 18-year-old and how he has fit in with the Spirit.
“The coaches really enjoy him, and his teammates really enjoy him,” Smith said. “He’s a quiet kid but his presence in the room is felt. He speaks when he needs to, and he’s really acclimated himself well to our group.”
Wilde, who was set to attend the University of Michigan this season after two seasons with the U.S. National Development Program, made the decision to join the Spirit to play more games than he would have had he joined the Wolverines and played college.
“From a hockey standpoint, the hockey in the OHL is more similar to an NHL-style game,” Wilde said. “Also, I wanted to play 15 or 20 more games than I did last year instead of 30 less games in the NCAA. That was definitely a big part of it was to play more hockey throughout the season. That’s something that’s definitely an advantage of playing in the OHL.
“School is always an option someday,” Wilde added. “Right now, I want to focus on hockey, try to have some fun and make my dream come true.”
The experience of being a part of the Islanders training camp was an opportunity to learn what it takes to be a pro.
“More than anything, you just learn from watching the players and how they conduct themselves on and off the ice. How they prepare and how they take care of their bodies to recover,” Wilde said. “It’s all stuff that I was trying to take note of. Ultimately, the biggest thing for me this year is trying to develop into a pro in terms of my habits on and off the ice. That was something I paid attention to.”
An offensively skilled defenceman, Wilde called the offensive aspect is something he really enjoys.
“Something I really enjoy to do is create offence from the back end,” Wilde said. “This year, I’m trying to focus on creating as much offence as possible without giving up anything on the defensive side, so I haven’t been leading the rush too much. I’ve been doing a lot from inside the blue line and that’s been pretty hot for me right now.”
“He’s really an offensive presence on the back end that we haven’t had,” Smith said. “He’s a big-shot threat on the power play. He has the ability to transport the puck from one end to the other. It’s something that’s really difficult to find at all levels of hockey.”
Attention to detail defensively is something Wilde is looking to improve while with the Spirit.
“Working on gap control is something that they mentioned while I was there (at the Islanders camp),” Wilde said. “It’s something that I’ve known I need to get better at so I’m going to put a lot of focus on that here and just having a good stick all over the ice and closing plays quickly.”
In addition to his offensive ability, Smith called Wilde’s willingness to learn as something he’s been impressed with since the Montreal native joined the team.
“His end goal is to play in the National Hockey League and he’s not going to do that just offensively,” Smith said. “His commitment is to learning how to be a good two-way defenceman that can still do world-class things offensively.”
Smith added that Wilde has done “a really good job” of learning the defensive side of the game since the start of the season.
Born and raised in Montreal, Wilde moved to Michigan at age 12 and played three seasons in the Detroit area before joining the Chicago Mission program for one season.
WILDCATS CONTINUE HOT STRETCH
Backed by a strong start from Minnesota Wild prospect Alexander Khovanov, the Moncton Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country.
Khovanov, the lone NHL-drafted player on the Moncton roster, has points in 11 of 15 games this season for a Wildcats team that is 11-3-2-0 and has a 9-0-2-0 record since starting the season 2-3-0-0.
The Wildcats have been led by Jeremy McKenna offensively. McKenna leads the QMJHL with 28 points and is fifth in goals with 10.
TAKING THE REIGNS
Off to a tough start, the Kelowna Rockets have a new coach but it’s a very familiar face to the city.
Former NHL defenceman Adam Foote has taken over the coaching duties with the organization. He replaces another former NHL defenceman in Jason Smith.
The Rockets won Foote’s coaching debut and are 2-0 with the former blueliner at the helm.
Foote played three seasons in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds before turning pro. With the Greyhounds, Foote won a pair of OHL titles.
Foote joins a host of players on the 1991-92 Greyhounds roster to get into coaching. He becomes the fifth member of that team to coach in the Canadian Hockey League.
Among the other members of that team to coach at major junior were Drew Bannister, who spent three seasons behind the Greyhounds bench before turning pro this season; current Florida Panthers coach Bob Boughner, who spent eight seasons as coach of the Windsor Spitfires; Denny Lambert, who served as head coach of the Greyhounds for three seasons and as an assistant in the OHL and QMJHL; David Matsos, currently the head coach of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and has also worked with the Spitfires and Sudbury Wolves.
A sixth member of that team, Rick Kowalsky, is currently an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils after an extended stint in the American Hockey League in the Devils organization as a head coach.