Ben Wilson’s calendar has a big circle around December 1.
That’s the date the Kalamazoo Wings defenseman can finally lace up the skates after serving a 20-game suspension for a cross checking incident at Toledo in Game 2 of the ECHL first-round playoffs last season.
Once he steps on the ice, Wilson will continue wearing the captain’s “C” for the second consecutive year.
Although some may question the wisdom of giving the letter to a player following a lengthy suspension, “It’s not important for us as a hockey team to worry about what other people think,” K-Wings coach Nick Bootland said.
“What our room feels and what our team feels is that he’s the leader of this group. The way he prepares and competes and works on a daily basis, there’s no doubt that he’s deserving.”
The players are the ones who vote on the team captain.
“Coming back (this season), we knew he was suspended,” K-Wings defenseman Kyle Bushee said. “He’s still our leader. He’s a guy who rallies us, who brings us all together. On the ice, off the ice, he’s a guy who will do anything for anyone.
“That’s a guy we want as captain. He stands for everything we stand for here, so it was an easy choice for us as a team to make him captain.”
Bushee is one of three associate captains along with Justin Taylor and Lane Scheidl.
Wilson prefers not to discuss what precipitated the incident last season.
“What happened on the ice, I’m just going to leave it on the ice,” he said. “Afterward, I learned a lot about myself and other people, the consequences of my actions and stuff like that.
“For me, I’m just trying to take a negative and turn it into a positive.”
Wilson served five games of the suspension last season and will be eligible to return in the middle of the K-Wings Midwest road swing, Dec. 1 at Kansas City.
“I’m not happy that he did it,” Bootland said. “He’s not happy he did it. But it doesn’t change the way I feel about Ben Wilson. One incident doesn’t define you.”
Wilson should not have any trouble fitting back in lineup.
“Give him three games and by the fourth game he’ll be ready,” Bootland said. “He’s working out as hard as anybody, as he always does.
Although he has to watch the games from the stands, Wilson still skates in practice with the team.
“He’s one of the hardest working guys on the ice every day,” Bootland said. “Willy’s been here a long time (five years).
“You ask Ben Wilson to go to the line and he goes two feet past. You ask Ben Wilson to give you that 100 percent and he gives you 100 percent of what he has and he does everything as hard and as fast as he can every day.”
Wilson said being named captain again is an amazing honor and “I don’t let it change who I am or how I play. For me, I try to be the same guy every day.”
The feisty blueliner tallied 72 penalty minutes last year, second only to Michael Trebish’s 77 for a K-Wings season high.
This is not the first time Wilson has had to watch his team from the stands, although in the past it was because of injury.
“We’ve got some new guys so I’m learning their tendencies (by watching from the stands),” he said. “I’m learning different team’s tendencies because they change every year, too.
“And I enjoy watching hockey. You see the plays develop a lot more. I’m definitely using it as a learning experience.”
The time off has proven an unexpected bonus.
“Willy was banged up and had surgery as well this summer so this isn’t perfect, but it gave him an abundant amount of time to make sure he’s (healthy),” Bootland said.
Wilson had the surgery at Bronson Methodist Hospital on Cinco de Mayo — “No margaritas that day,” he added.
He went back home to Calgary on July 4 with trips back to Kalamazoo for checkups throughout the summer.
He arrived in Kalamazoo two weeks before training camp, where he “brings that energy every single day,” Bootland said. “That team-first attitude, that team-first mentality. That do anything to win.
“He’ll block shots. He’s like a torpedo the way he plays. He just brings it all the time.”
Bushee said he is looking forward to having Wilson back on the ice.
“He brings toughness and skill,” Bushee said. “The thing about Willy is his energy. We feed off that.
“We also get a good defenseman back.”