For the seniors on this year’s Gillette Wild, last year’s appearance at high school nationals was their first time going up against some of the top high school programs in the country.
This time, however, Gillette comes in as a group that knows what the nationals experience is like. For the second consecutive year, the Gillette Wild are competing in the Chipotle-USA Hockey High School National Championships. It’s an opportunity the entire team relishes.
The Wild headed into this year’s tournament in Cleveland with an impressive regular season record of 18-2-0 and earned a 3-0 record in the state championship event.
The opportunity to represent the community of Gillette and their high schools is foremost on the minds of this squad and coach as they compete in Ohio this weekend.
“We’ve had several kids throughout the years play for our all-state team and go to the Tier II Nationals, 14U, 16U and 18U,” Gillette coach George Stilson said. “In this (event), we are representing our town and school and it just has so much more meaning to come to the high school nationals.”
So far, the community has shown just as much excitement over the Wild’s success.
“They got behind us last year and supported us,” Stilson said. “This year, we have people donating money and setting up fundraising events.”
In 2018, Stilson saw how important it was to his seniors to experience nationals before graduating. He hopes this year’s group can have a similar experience.
“I have four seniors this season and they will get another special experience,” Stilson said. “What more can you say? You are in a tournament with some of the best high school team in the nation. This might be their last great chance to do something in the sport of hockey with meaning.”
While not on the ice during the tournament, Stilson and his staff will be providing other life experiences for his players while sightseeing in Cleveland. All the while, the team will be together.
“Everything we talk about in Gillette is that we are in it together, players and coaches alike,” Stilson said. “They know that when they come to a big city there will be lots of fun things to do.”
On the ice the Wild will rely on personnel across the roster to perform for them in the championship tournament.
Through their first two games, the Wild have had mixed results. They opened the tournament with a 6-3 loss to Greenville. But on Friday, the team rebounded with a 3-1 win over the Northern Kentucky Norsemen. Easton Apodaca has led the way thus far for Gillette with a team-high two goals.
Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the future looks bright for the Wild with seven freshmen on the roster. But for now, Gillette is focused on getting the most out of this year’s tournament appearance.
“I am so proud of my kids for their hard work and dedication this season,” Stilson said. “Kudos to them for being able to represent our state and our district in this tournament. Win or lose your games, it’s special.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.