January 15, 2016

Wojtek Wolski

Wojtek Wolski's parents would do anything for their son's hockey career.

When young Wojtek - which is somehow Anglicized from Wojciech - was an up and coming bantam star in Toronto, the family car flipped one icy afternoon. Everyone was okay. Mom Zofia suffered back and neck injuries, while Dad Wes and Wojtek were shaken up but fine.

Two hours later, Dad had left Mom - with her blessing - at the hospital to get his son to his hockey game.

Everything the Wolskis did was for their son. The Wolskis originated from Communist-controlled Zabrze, Poland. Seeking a better life, the family moved to Berlin when Wojtek was two, and then to Toronto when he was four.

Though they spoke no English when they arrived, things have worked out quite well for the family. Wes, a stonemason by trade, has his own construction company, and Zofia works at a supermarket.

And Wojtek? He went on to become one the National Hockey League's most intriguing prospects.

Wolski was an OHL MVP, dominating with the Brampton Battalion. Blessed with size and silky smooth puck skills, he was a first round draft choice of the Colorado Avalanche in 2004.

He was something to see with his long, elegant stride with great vision and strong passing skills. He also had a lively slap shot which he probably could have used a little more often.

A showman at heart, he loved to try to deke a defender one-on-one with his array of fancy moves.
Wolski was a dominant shootout player, scoring on an impressive 43% of his attempts.

When he used his size to his advantage he could really dominate a game. He did so inconsistently, which maddened coaches and fans alike.

Coaches never quite knew how to utilize the gentle giant's obvious talent. Some nights he would be on the top line along side his boyhood idol, Joe Sakic. They tried moving him to center where he would be forced to be more involved into the middle, but the natural winger struggled defensively. Some nights he was used sparingly on the fourth line, kept in the lineup in case the shootout was needed.

For the most part this super-talent became an enigma at the NHL level. Colorado gave up on him in 2010 and moved him to Phoenix. He also had brief stops in New York, Florida and Washington, but for the most part he disappeared from the NHL after 451 career games (99 goals, 267 points).

After one more season played overseas in Russia.

Though his NHL career may not have gone as Wolski had hoped, he has learned to appreciate the game more than ever.

And for that, as always, he thanks his parents. The NHL dream is a real long shot. They taught their son that long shots are worth taking.

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