Northern Star: Tyler Watkins
For this week's segment, meet the assistant captain on the Wilderness who stepped it up in his second season.
CLOQUET, Minn. – Hermantown alum Tyler Watkins knew he wanted the chance to play junior hockey close to home.
“For me, getting to stay close to my family, watching my sister grow up through high school and just being close to home and everything, staying close,” Watkins said.
Watkins is one of eight Northland hockey players on the Wilderness this season, playing with former teammates and old rivals.
“I’ve got Jake Herter here who I played with growing up for a long time now. And then guys that I played against in high school that you were rivals within and you get here and you figure out they’re not too bad of guys. It’s a really cool experience meeting new guys and getting a nice blend of seeing some familiar faces as well,” Watkins said.
“I think it just tells the talent of this area. Hermantown, Cloquet, Esko, just some fantastic hockey players that come from this region, Duluth, Superior. It’s nice for those kids to be able to stay close to home to play the game of hockey,” Wilderness head coach Jon Vaillancourt added.
After some early struggles his first year of juniors, Watkins currently sits second on the Wilderness with 17 goals for 42 points.
“Just kind of my play away from the puck and my defensive side of the game. That’s something I’ve always needed to work on and that’s the biggest thing I’ve developed these last two years here,” Watkins said.
“He came in here, we had high expectations for him obviously, we knew what kind of player he could be. So for me, it was just trying to bring that player out of him, making him more responsible defensively and give Tyler credit, he bought in to playing the game the right way,” Vaillancourt added.
That improvement led him to be selected to play in the NAHL top prospects showcase last month.
“It was a really cool experience. It was a huge honor. The coaches here and higher ups nominate so it’s an honor to go up there and represent not only myself, but the Wilderness as an organization,” Watkins said.
“He didn’t just go to top prospects; he went to top prospects and dominated the ice, putting up some points there. The player needs to show up and do the work, has to earn the opportunity and he went there and earned it and represented our program fantastic, represented himself and his local program here,” Vaillancourt said.
And since then, Watkins got another opportunity to further his career, as he recently committed to Union College.
“Went out there first off and saw it, liked it a lot, kind of felt right away somewhere that I could call home. Came back, talked it over with my parents, made sure it was the right fit for me both for hockey wise and academically. Everything seemed like it fit so feel like it’s the right decision for me,” Watkins said.
As Watkins gets ready to head to New York in the fall for his first semester of college, he said that he’ll miss the memories he’s made and the people he’s met in the Northland.
“I think just kind of the guys that I grew up seeing every day and playing with. There’s probably 10 guys on this team even that I’ve been playing against since I was a squirt. Just seeing a bunch of new faces of the game out there will be cool but something I’ll miss about this place, too,” Watkins said.