by Nick Hart | AHL On The Beat
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins lost a lot more than their all-time leader in goals, assists, points and games played when Tom Kostopoulos called it a career after last season. The long-time face of the franchise was an invaluable leader in the locker room whose voice carried more weight than many other active players in the game of hockey, let alone the American Hockey League.
So when Kostopoulos retired, it meant that the Penguins would soon have to name a new captain for the first time in four years.
Luckily for them, they didn’t have to look very far.
Two days prior to the start of the 2018-19 season, Garrett Wilson was named the next captain of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Wilson is entering his third season with the Penguins organization and eighth year pro overall, and he was gracious of the opportunity to have the captain’s “C” placed on the chest of his black and gold uniform.
“It’s a huge honor,” Wilson told reporters shortly after the news of his captaincy became official. “To fill in the void after T.K. being gone, it’s a huge job. I’m just going to do whatever I can to help this team. Whatever my teammates need, I’m going to be there for them, support them and help them anyway I can.”
Wilson doesn’t shy away from bringing up the captain that preceded him, and understands the pressure that comes along with following up a class act like Kostopoulos. However, he’s very confident that he can succeed as the leader of his respective locker room. He says that he has an excellent support group around him with fellow vets such as Chris Summers, Kevin Czuczman and Zach Trotman among others to form a stable leadership core.
Additionally, there might not be anyone more suited to take over after Kostopoulos than someone who learned under his tutelage the past few years.
The 27-year-old Wilson observed so much of what set Kostopoulos apart from his peers as an elite captain, and he plans on using what he absorbed from their time together now that he’s in a leadership position.
“He gave everyone the time of day,” Wilson said of Kostopoulos. “He really cares about everyone. Making sure everyone’s okay at home and okay at the rink, stuff like that. T.K. showed me how to be a professional and to showing up every day and lead by example.”
Wilson also credited Greg Zanon and Nolan Yonkman as captains from earlier in his career that had a positive influence on him as a young player with the San Antonio Rampage, but he doesn’t want to suddenly change his personality to try and become a cheap imitation of them or Kostopoulos. He trusts that when Clark Donatelli named him captain of the Penguins, the coach made his decision based on the way Wilson already conducts himself and that he doesn’t need to try and be anyone else than Garrett Wilson.
By sticking to that mantra of simply being himself, Wilson tops the team with seven points through eight games and has already inspired his teammates to follow his lead.
“He’s been amazing,” said Zach Aston-Reese. “He gave a great speech on his first day as captain. It got us all fired up. But his leadership goes beyond words. He leads by example. He’s always the first guy on the pile, you know what I mean? He’s an easy guy to go to battle for.”
For the Penguins, their battle to reach the AHL’s peak rages on. The guy wearing the “C” may have changed, but team’s goals and aspirations have not.
“We’ve built a winning culture in Wilkes-Barre,” Wilson said. “Coming into that, it makes my job easier as captain to keep that winning culture going. It’s already established, but I’ll make sure everyone’s on board and that we’re all steering this ship in the right direction.”