“I'm going to have to screen the packages that come in with my name on them,” Tom Wilson said jokingly to the media on Wednesday.
Wilson did not gain many fans, especially in the Pittsburgh area, for his hit to Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 of the Capitals-Penguins series.
In his first media availability after being issued a three-game suspension for that hit, Wilson was clearly relieved the team was preparing for a Game 1 against Tampa Bay rather than a Game 7 vs. Pittsburgh.
He was also a bit confused.
In a video that spanned nearly five minutes, the Department of Player Safety broke down why Wilson was suspended for the hit to Aston-Reese.
Wilson still doesn’t buy it and offered a lengthy explanation of his own breaking down the hit and defending his actions.
If you're picking the head, the head's snapping independent from the body, all that. In that body check, our bodies are met, his head snaps down with his body, goes back in the same motion as his body which indicates a full body hit. It means I didn't pick his head. If I picked his head, it would snap differently from the body and that would be the primary point of contact. … He looked at me, he trajected more up than I even did I think. And you know, in hockey when a guy looks at you and takes a stride and gets his shoulder ready, I'm prepared for a big impact there. He's trying to hit me as hard as I'm trying to hit him and I've got a little extra weight and some more size. I think his jaw's probably half an inch from his shoulder there, he's leaning up and I go right through his shoulder, primary point. It's physics and whatever you want to call it. … Unfortunate the outcome of the hit, but I don't think it was a malicious hit. It was a body check and I did everything I could to lower my center of gravity, get down to his level. I put myself in probably a more vulnerable spot to lean over and present my shoulder on shoulder there. It was a big collision and it's a contact sport.
I was so focused on that hit to come around, to present body on body and try and get my shoulder directly on his shoulder. I'm obviously under the microscope in that series and I'm going in to make a big hit. I'm trying to do everything I can to make sure that I present north-south hit, get my shoulder right on his shoulder as primary point of contact and the outcome was a little unfortunate because it's a big hit.
Wilson’s teammates were clearly happy to have him back in the lineup.
“Oh, it’s huge,” T.J. Oshie said. “He’s made such a big impact this year. And he always does when he’s on the ice, but especially this year. He’s stepped into a little bit of a leadership role. He’s played a lot of games, but he’s still pretty young. And he’s stepped into that leadership role where he sets an example out there. Sometimes he can set the pace for a game by the way he’s playing. So very important for him to get back on the right side.”
Wilson acknowledged that he appreciated the support he got from his teammates, but also said many people from throughout the hockey community reached out to him in support in the wake of the suspension.
“I had players from around the league, opponents, former players, former teammates, GMs, people of different leagues reaching out to me,” Wilson said. “When you get that kind of backing, when the players have each other's backs, it's different. You know it's a bad hit if the guys on your team are going, 'come on man. Maybe that wasn't the best play.'
"When you're getting texts from opponents from around the league and former players, guys that watch the game for a living, guys that played the game hard for a long time, saying 'hey keep playing your game. We think that's a clean hit,' it’s tough.”
But while he may disagree with the league’s ruling, the fact is, the league saw it differently and clearly he is now on their radar.
Like it or not, he has to adapt to what the Department of Player Safety is telling him or face more suspensions in the future.
“I've got to be more careful for sure and I respect everyone at the department,” Wilson said. “I think they're doing a good job to make the game a safer place. I've just got to work with them and make sure that I can't put my team down. I can't be out of the lineup.
“I want to play with energy, I want to play the same way, I want to make sure that I'm finishing checks. I think those big collisions, the game's changing. I think anyone that's watched hockey can admit that the game's changing. Those big collisions, the league's making us aware that they don't want those anymore.”
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