VILLA PARK – Zach Wilkie has been traveling all over the world recently, but was able to stop at home in Villa Park to stay with his family, something that has become increasingly rare for the 17-year-old hockey prospect.
Wilkie just competed in the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia with the U-18 U.S. National Team. The Americans took the bronze medal. Wilkie, a defenseman, registered three assists in five games at the tournament, including one on the game-winning goal in the 5-4 overtime victory against Sweden for the bronze on Aug. 16.
“We didn’t get the result that we wanted,” Wilkie said. “We were looking to get a gold medal. It came down to a semifinal against Canada. We came into the bronze medal game and ended up beating Sweden. I’m happy that we did it, but I wish we would have won gold.”
The U.S. went 2-1 in pool play with wins against Russia and Finland and a loss against the Czech Republic. Canada beat the Americans 11-5 in a semifinal.
After the tournament, Wilkie flew home to be with his parents but is already back on the road for the start of his season with the Niagara Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League. The team is based in St. Catharines, Ontario. The OHL is a junior hockey league in Canada made for top prospects. Wilkie is entering his second year in the league and will be eligible for the NHL Draft in 2015.
“It’s tough not living with your parents anymore and having to grow up so quick but it’s also a nice experience to move to another country,” Wilkie said. “The draft is a big thing that I’m looking forward to. I’m just trying to work my hardest this year to be drafted as high as I can. That would be the goal right now, just to get drafted and after that try to make an NHL team.”
If Wilkie gets drafted he can remain with the Ice Dogs through age 20, although his goal is to move up quicker than that. He could also land in the American Hockey League with NHL-affiliated minor league clubs.
For now, Wilkie is still getting used to life in Canada. He has noticed the differences with the hockey-obsessed country when international tournaments take place.
“You’re under a bit of a microscope there so you have to be aware of what you’re doing on and off the ice,” Wilkie said. “If it’s the Olympics or World Juniors all the restaurants are busy during the games. It’s interesting being an American in Canada because everybody is giving you hazes, but it’s all in good fun.”
Wilkie is one of six Americans on the Ice Dogs’ 26-man roster. As part of his foreign journey, Wilkie is staying with a family under the Canadian billet system. He had nothing but good things to say about his host family.
“I think I probably have some of the best billets in the league,” Wilkie said. “They treat me like I’m their own son. It’s nice to have billets that are like family to you.”
Training camp is just getting started for the Ice Dogs and the season starts Sept. 26.
2013-14 season stats
35 Games played