Tommy Wingels has developed into one of the most promising young defensive forwards coming out of the CCHA this season. He was one of six Miami RedHawks players to appear in all 39 games to date. Coming into the Frozen Four, he has tallied 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists). His 62 penalty minutes also rank second on the team.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Wingels after practice on Wednesday at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.
HF: How does it feel to be here at the Frozen Four?
TW: It feels great. It’s an exciting time and something that no one has experienced before in this program. It’s just exciting to be here.
HF: What are the team’s thoughts on facing Bemidji State, a team that you guys probably don’t know a whole lot about?
TW: That’s the funny part of this year. This time of the year, everyone’s playing their best and everyone’s got all of their guys going. The goalies are playing well and no matter who you’re playing, it’s going to be a tough game. I think Bemidji is playing real well right now and there are things that we need to do well in order to beat them. So I think it’s going to be a very good game.
HF: Let’s go back to the West Regional for a moment. You guys were great against DU and had a little bit of trouble with Duluth but managed to hold it all together to win the game. How did it feel to really be able to go against two very good WCHA teams, especially Duluth, where they were playing in sort of like their second home rink?
TW: We have to give a lot of credit to our coaches because they came up with good game plans for both games. Obviously they know the Denver coaching staff really well, so we got a lot of time to prepare for that. Then with the turn-around of having to play them the next day, the coaches put in a lot of hard work and showed us a lot of video clips. They were arguably the best team in the country having won the WCHA Final Five before then. So the credit goes to our coaches for preparing us really well. We executed our game plan and fortunately we came out on the win side.
HF: With the team’s premature departure from the CCHA Tournament, was it difficult to wait and see who you were going to play in the NCAA Tournament?
TW: Well, obviously you don’t get to chose where you go, but you have a better idea if you win out (of the CCHA) because there are more possible scenarios. But not knowing that with the loss to Northern Michigan and the feeling that we had in the locker room made us realize that we didn’t want to feel that way again. We got placed in Minnesota and we felt that it was a tough regional, but one that we could do well in and now we’re here.
HF: But that had to have been tough to have to wait it out though.
TW: Yeah, but that’s the fun part about the tournament. You can wait it out and sweat it out, and to feel that you’ve finally made it with your brothers in the locker room is a good feeling to have,
HF: You’ve blossomed into a great defensive forward. Do you feel that your defensive game has been the area that you’ve really focused on improving to become a more a well-rounded player?
TW: Yeah, it’s just like you said. To be a rounded player and to be able to do everything out there is the most important thing. I take a lot of pride in my defensive game. To be able to be out there on the penalty kill is something that I take great pride in and it’s something that our team takes great pride in. Whether it’s going out to win a faceoff or to block a shot, it’s something that I try to keep working on. The coaches stress it and if that’s what it takes to win games, then that’s something that I’m willing to do.
HF: What are some of the things that you are continually working on to not only elevate your game at this level, but to prepare yourself for the next level as well?
TW: I do a lot of shooting drills because to be able to move on, you have to have a good release and be a good skater. I do a lot of stuff with the team off the ice too. Coach Cady, our strength and conditioning coach, has us lifting two or three times a week, and works us real hard to get that stamina up and to work on our muscles. He also sets up extra work for us in the summers, as well as before and after practices that really makes it count.
HF: Did you go to the Sharks prospects camp last summer?
TW: Yes. It’s really well rounded. They do a lot more development stuff rather than scrimmaging and trying to get guys to make the team, which was a real benefit for a guy like me.
HF: What were some of the things that you got out of the camp that has helped you to become a great player this year at Miami?
TW: They worked a lot on skating stuff, like how to use different edges to open up the hips to help your stride. That was something that we worked on every time we skated and that’s something that I try to do after practice a couple of times a week. They also stressed all the little things like how to catch a pass correctly and reading the puck when it’s on your way and being able to determine if you need to catch it on your forehand, backhand or open it. And they also taught me how to just keeping my feet moving when I shoot the puck. It’s the things that the Sharks had taught me to work on and they’re also things that my coaches here at Miami are telling me. It’s also something that I have to do at each level of the game as well.
HF: Would you say that one of the things that the Sharks did work with you on is being quicker in reading and reacting to plays?
TW: Yes, definitely. They give you tips on what to work on. And they can only watch you so much, so they try to give you some ideas and some drills to work on without their guidance. And I think they do a good job in that.
HF: Are you planning to go the camp again this year?
TW: Yes, I am.
HF: Have the Sharks come out to see you play and been in contact with you at various points of the season?
TW: Yes. I get the occasional phone call. They’ve been out three or four times to watch me play and then talk to me afterwards. I know that they’re also interested in a few other players because we have a few draft eligible guys as well as some free agent/available guys that are gaining some interest as well. So they’ve been out here to watch me play as well as a couple of other guys.
HF: What makes the Miami RedHawks so unique in comparison to the other three teams that are here at the Frozen Four?
TW: Well, Miami has “The Brotherhood” that everyone talks about. It was created where every player is a part of it. But it’s also about how you live your life each day and having your brothers’ back, whether it’s at the rink or in class and in every aspect of it. It’s a community in everything. It’s a special bond that Coach Blasi, Coach Cady before him, and Coach Gwozdecky had built there. It’s just something special to be a part of.
HF: How would you describe yourself as a player?
TW: I would say that I’m at my best when I’m moving my feet out there and engaging the forecheck as much as I can. I get involved as much as I can, which is something I like to do. I like to play the body right away and I take pride in my defensive game. It means a lot to me to be able to be out there towards the end of the game or on the penalty kill and blocking shots.
HF: What does it mean to you personally to be a Miami RedHawk?
TW: It’s an unbelievable feeling. Miami’s never won a national championship, and to be able to bring that first one to the school would be unbelievable because guys before us like Ryan Jones and Nate Davis never got to experience this (being in the Frozen Four). And even though they’re not on this team, they’re still a big part of it and we definitely want to make them proud.