Shooting His Shot: Chris Wilkie is Ready for the Next Challenge
Oct 02, 2020 10:31AM
By Chris Hatch
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
There is the future Chris Wilkie built in his mind all those years ago in Omaha, Nebraska; the seed that was inexorably planted as he fogged up the body-check-swaying plexiglass of various hockey arenas with his tiny, awestruck face.
The same seemingly preordained path that he dreamt of when he would toddle into the locker rooms of professional hockey teams and look up to see his own father, David Wilkie, towering above him on blades of steel; when he first had his parents help lace up his own skates so he, too, could glide with each step.
“I started skating when I was around 3 years old, and was also always on rollerblades playing mini hockey around the house when I was little,” Chris said. “I looked up to my dad and the players on his team, so I was always doing something related to hockey instead of playing with toys or anything like that.”
The dreams of his future began to take shape in those years. No longer were they the fluid droplets of faraway thoughts. The molecules were firming up, taking shape. Like water turning to ice. And the real, varied paths forming before him continued to expand as he aged. His new plans and actions accelerated that internal desire for greatness and those seeds he had planted all those years ago, back when he was sitting on his father’s knee and listening to the wise words of an architect who long ago cracked the blueprint of becoming a professional hockey player.
Two years spent at Bennington High School, and suddenly the future was no longer just a synapse whisper lurking in his prefrontal cortex. Chris was ready to take the real life next step. But it would require that he leave his home behind. That he remove all the delicate scaffolding placed around building a future and that the real construction begin. He was ready. The high school student grabbed his skates and headed to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play USA Hockey.
“Those times after moving away are big for hockey players, making the sacrifice to move away from home, but it is something that is necessary to move up the ranks.”
He began harnessing the alchemy of hard work and opportunities, channeling the athletic photosynthesis that takes place when all the hours spent on deserted ice rinks late at night and all the time spent practicing slap shots in the driveway start to pay dividends.
Chris kept pushing forward, with stints playing for the Omaha Lancers (for which David is now head coach) in 2010-2012 before moving into the Kearney Tri-City Storm, part of the United States Hockey League, and the U.S. National Team Developmental Program.
Eventually some of college hockey’s biggest programs took notice—that’s when the University of North Dakota came calling.
“UND was the first school I talked to and after my visit it was the only place I wanted to go to school,” Chris said. “I fell in love with the school and facilities right away so I was set on that decision.”
Team success followed soon after. “My freshman year we won the [NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey] National Championship and it was awesome. We had an incredible team and many players that are now in the NHL.”
There is the future Chris built in his mind, as carefully tended to and smoothed as a Zamboni making rough ice into a frozen silk sheet. Then there is the future that arrived; that landed at his twin-bladed feet.
His sophomore year did not end like freshman year. He knew it was time to head back in the opposite direction.
“I felt that it was time to move on and get a fresh start at CC [Colorado College],” Chris said. “I felt that I needed a chance with more opportunity and a chance to prove that I could produce more with more ice time and belief from a new coaching staff.”
After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer regulations, Chris began to make an impact.
“It was a tough year for him, that first year, sitting out,” said Colorado College head coach Mike Haviland. “But, I give him a lot of credit. He stuck with it, did well in the classroom, and the first year he played for us, he did really well.”
He wasted little time in winning over the coaching staff and his teammates, fully blossoming in his senior campaign, a year in which he was awarded the team assistant-captaincy and was second in the nation in goals.
“Chris is a student of the game,” Haviland said. “His dad is a really good coach. And when your dad’s a coach, most of the time players have that mentality that allows you to really understand the game. Chris does understand it at different levels.”
The college hockey playoffs were canceled at the end of the 2019-2020 season due to the COVID-19 virus that has ravaged much of the country and the world, and Chris once again found himself dreaming of what has yet to come.
Drafted by the Florida Panthers, but having his rights traded to the Ottawa Senators in November 2019, the 23-year-old is waiting for another shot and if there’s one thing that’s consistent about Chris Wilkie, it’s that he doesn’t miss very often.
“He’s a natural goal scorer,” said the man who helped Chris craft his latest chapter.
The future is now. And the future is in Omaha, once again. That’s where Chris’ circuitous journey has taken him once more.
It’s where the future and the past converge and where he’ll stay in the present on the team his father once called his own: he’s training with the Omaha Lancers as he awaits the next opportunity.
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This article was printed in the October 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.