Tri-City Americans

Ams' Wilgosh overcomes while learning role

KENNEWICK -- Mason Wilgosh spent the first few weeks of this season drinking mac and cheese that had been put through the blender.

That's the kind of sacrifice the Tri-City Americans veteran forward had to make while he healed from a broken jaw that was wired shut for six weeks.

"It sucked, but that's hockey," said Wilgosh, who was injured when a puck ricocheted off the glass in practice and smacked him in the face. "It was a freak accident. It was hard at the time to miss 11 games and not play. It's hard to sit and watch and not be with the team every day."

Over the years, Wilgosh, 19, has had to make sacrifices on the ice as well. As a rookie during the 2007-08 season, he watched as his friends got the lion's share of the ice time, and he was relegated to just 44 of 72 regular-season games.

This after coming off a season in which he scored 27 goals and had 22 assists for the Winnipeg Thrashers (AAA midget).

"When you are young, you come here and you have to learn the ropes," Wilgosh said. "You soon realize how good the league is and that there are a lot of good players. I wasn't playing a lot, and I gained some weight."

The latter problem put Wilgosh in former coach Don Nachbaur's doghouse, but not for long.

"He taught me not to give up," Wilgosh said of Nachbaur. "I thought he was a great coach. I think he can intimidate people at first, but he just wants the best for his players. He taught us the way the game needs to be played and that we need to play hard. You need that when you are a young guy."

Wilgosh, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, came to the Americans as a list player in the fall of 2007 with longtime friend Adam Hughesman. Brendan Shinnimin joined them the next season.

It didn't take long for Wilgosh to realize he wouldn't be a top-line guy scoring a ton of goals like his friends, so he shifted his priorities.

The next season, he came into camp trim and in shape. He earned his ice time on the checking line and the penalty kill, two disciplines at which he continues to excel.

"Everyone has their role," he said. "There are your goal scorers, but you have to have guys to kill penalties, grind it out and shut down their top lines. It's not the same as playing on the top line, but that's my job, and I go out and get it done."

His work ethic and leadership qualities have not been lost on coach Jim Hiller, who made Wilgosh an assistant captain with Tyler Schmidt.

"He has speed and tenacity, and he uses both of those things to be an effective player and leader," Hiller said. "It's always hard for a veteran player to have less ice time than he wants or expects.

"You need players who want to be part of something bigger. He plays quality minutes, and he has a defined role that he has accepted unequivocally."

Wilgosh has made the most of his 25 games this season with eight goals and eight assists -- just three points off last season, when he played 68 games. He had a productive December with three goals and six assists.

As for his friends? Hughesman leads the Americans with 22 goals and 48 points, while Shinnimin, who was suspended for 12 games by the Western Hockey League earlier this season, has 14 goals and 42 points in 24 games.

This season, Paul Sohor and David Conrad joined the Americans, bringing together five friends who helped lead the Winnipeg Sharks to a AAA bantam provincial title in 2005.

"We've played together most of our lives," said Wilgosh, who has known Hughesman the longest -- since they were 5 years old. "Coming this far from home wasn't that difficult when your friends come with you. We are so close, and I think that chemistry has led to the success we've had here."

Hockey has been a part of the lives of Wilgosh and Hughesman for as long as they have known each other. Their fathers co-own the Selkirk Steelers (Junior A) hockey club.

"We always wanted to play there, but we got a better offer," Wilgosh said.

* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; afowler@tricityherald.com

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