By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Nine years had passed since Martin Wilde had skated on Cambria County War Memorial Arena ice as a member of the Richland High School hockey team.
The 24-year-old native of Linkoping, Sweden, enjoyed his return to Johnstown Sunday afternoon, with one exception.
Wilde’s Trenton Titans lost an important, 3-2, game against the Johnstown Chiefs in front of 1,866 fans, including his former host family from Richland.
“It’s been nine years and it’s exciting to be back,” Wilde said outside a quiet Titans locker room. “I saw some friends before the game and I have a lot of people to meet up with. It’s good to see some old friends. I played a lot of games here many years ago.”
A natural defenseman since his youth hockey days, Wilde played forward as a foreign exchange student under former Richland coach Tom Rizzo. His advanced skating ability and size – Wilde now is 6-3 and 225 pounds – made him a formidable scoring threat during the 1994-95 Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League season.
“He played me all around, forward, center, a little bit of everything,” Wilde said of Richland’s Rizzo. “I played for the Junior Chiefs as an offensive defenseman. But I’ve been a defenseman since I was young.”
At Richland, Wilde scored 19 goals and 32 points on a team that missed the playoffs by two points. He was a league all-star and participated in the prestigious Chicago Showcase with the Pittsburgh all-star squad.
“He had some offensive moves and good puck control and good hands,” said Rizzo. “He was a pretty smart kid. He was tall as a senior in high school. He could throw his weight around. He just had to get used to the physical play over here.”
After graduating from Richland, Wilde played four NCAA Division I seasons at University of Vermont, scoring six goals and 51 points.
He signed with the AHL Providence Bruins in 2001-02 and had two goals and 11 points. Wilde led the AHL Bruins with a plus-10 rating in 71 games.
He joined the Swedish Elite League for a year before rejoining Providence this season.
The AHL team assigned him to Trenton on Feb. 24. Wilde tallied an assist in his first game, ironically, a 5-2 win over the Chiefs on February 25 at Sovereign Bank Arena.
”I’ve coached Martin in the American Hockey League, too,” said Trenton coach Bill Armstrong, the former Providence coach. “He’s just a big, strong D man. He created opportunities for himself as a player just because of the fact that whether he plays in the ECHL or the American Hockey League or in Sweden, his game stays the same.
“He’s just a big, strong, steady D. Sometimes, if you’re coaching the other team, you wouldn’t notice him. As a coach on this team, you do.”
Wilde credits his stay at Richland for helping him mature as a player and a person.
He appreciated his host family, Ron and Ann Jones and their children, Brad, Amanda and Andrea.
Wilde said members of the Jones family attended Sunday’s game.
“That was my first year away from home and being abroad at the same time,” Wilde said. “It was the first place where I was speaking a foreign language all the time. There were a lot of new things.”