Due to a series of injuries to the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash over the last month, the Boston Bruins have been forced to expand the roles of a significant portion of their bottom-six forward core, all while welcoming newcomers such as Brian Gionta from the USA Olympic Team, and top-draft pick Ryan Donato out of Harvard. Another Bruin who’s seen his role increase due to the injury bug plaguing Boston has been journeyman forward Tommy Wingels.
Acquired at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional 2019 fifth-round pick, Tommy Wingels’ role for the Bruins was primarily to supply physicality and depth to the bottom-six group of forwards.
During his 17 games-played for Boston, Wingels has scored two goals, dished out four assists, and averaged a little under 12 minutes of ice time at 11:54. The stats may seem rather mediocre, but Boston’s third and fourth lines during the 17-game stretch with Wingels wearing a black and gold sweater has been one of the most productive bottom-six forward units in the NHL.
In order to fully appreciate what Tommy Wingels has done for Boston over the last month-and-a-half as well as what he could do for this team this spring during the playoffs, one needs to understand the painful history that the former San Jose Sharks draft pick has when it comes to getting the job done in championship moments and why this Cup run with the Bruins could relinquish it all.
Where It All Started
From 2007-2010, Wingles was a significant part of a dominant yet heartbreaking stretch for the University of Miami (OH) men’s hockey program. As a freshman in 2007-2008, Wingels put together 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists). Playing alongside future NHLers Alec Martinez (LA Kings) and Jeff Zatkoff (Kings/Penguins/Blue Jackets), Wingels helped lead the Redhawks to a 33-8-1 record and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Miami escaped a near first-round upset in the 2008 Tournament by defeating No. 4 Air Force 3-2 in overtime in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Massachusetts. The next day, the Redhawks held a 2-0 lead midway through the second period of the regional final against the Nathan Gerbe-led Boston College Eagles. However, BC put home three goals in a span of 1:37 towards the end of the second; one by Nick Petrecki, one by Gerbe, and one by Ben Smith to take a 3-2 lead into the third period. Senior captain Ryan Jones evened the game at three for Miami midway through the third to force overtime, but Joe Whitney sent BC to the Frozen Four with a diving backhanded goal in the extra period to break Miami’s hearts despite the Redhawks being the better team for the majority of the overtime as well as the entire game. BC went on to defeat North Dakota 6-1 in the national semifinals two weeks later and claimed their third national title in program history with a 4-1 win over Notre Dame.
A Brutal Ending… Again
In 2008-2009, Wingels put together an 11-17-28 stat line and the Redhawks squeaked into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed with a 23-13-5 record. Unlike the previous season where they were a favorite to win the title and failed to do so, the Redhawks took care of some unfinished business in the regional rounds and made a run to the Frozen Four with upset wins over top-seeded Denver (4-2) and Minnesota Duluth (2-1) in the West final before taking down fellow Cinderella Bemidji State (4-1) in the national semifinals. In the championship game, the Redhawks took on the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, the Boston University Terriers. Miami stunned BU and the majority of the hockey world by holding a 3-1 lead with under a minute to play.
Unfortunately for Wingels and Miami, the Terriers crafted a comeback for the ages with two goals in the final 56 seconds to tie the game before Colby Cohen won it in overtime in what can only be described as the ultimate fluke, breaking the hearts of the Redhawks and their fans for the second straight season.
The Hair That Broke the Redhawk’s Back
As a junior in 2009-2010, Wingels had a career-year with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) as Miami returned to the Frozen Four in Detroit. The plan of earning some vindication quickly fell apart, however, as the Redhawks were handed a 7-1 thrashing by a Chris Kreider/Cam Atkinson-led Boston College team in the national semifinals. BC went on to win its second title in three seasons against Wisconsin two nights later.
The 7-1 drubbing against the Eagles was the final time Wingels put on a Miami sweater, as he decided to forgo his senior season and signed with the San Jose Sharks.
The Chance to Self-Vindicate
Losing in heartbreaking fashion to two teams from the same city in three consecutive seasons with a national championship on the line has to own some real estate in the head of Tommy Wingels, especially considering that all three teams who eliminated Miami during those years went on to win the national championship.
As a pro, Wingels was rostered on the 2015-2016 San Jose Sharks, who fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final in six games. In 2016-2017, Wingels was dealt from San Jose to the Ottawa Senators. After defeating Boston and the New York Rangers in six games in rounds one and two, Ottawa found themselves an overtime goal away from playing for the Stanley Cup against Nashville. However, Chris Kunitz delivered a double-overtime dagger to send Pittsburgh to the Finals for the second straight year en route to back-to-back titles for Sidney Crosby and company.
Tommy Wingels has often been on teams that have suffered heartbreaking defeats in championship moments. It only seems fitting that after 10 years of working his way around the league from San Jose, to Ottawa, to Chicago, as well as various minor-league stints, Wingels will get the chance to put his championship demons from both his collegiate and professional days to bed this spring as a member of the Bruins.