Most athletes get that opportunity a few times a year in their respective sports, dominating the ticket list for familiar faces in the crowd before donning the enemy jersey. Few athletes, however, get to play their team's home games in the city they actually grew up calling home. Since a March 2 trade between the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers, Providence Bruins defenseman Cody Wild has had that luxury.
"It's been great," said Wild, a North Providence native, of playing at home for the P-Bruins. "I got a lot of phone calls, emails and text messages from everyone just congratulating me [when news of the trade broke]. It's really sunk in.
"Playing at home is just a great feeling. We've got great fans here. It's crazy growing up seeing the Providence Bruins and then actually putting the uniform on."
Wild, now 22, remembers his early years as a P-Bruin fan. When Peter Laviolette's Providence club erased the Rochester Americans in five games for the club's first and only Calder Cup championship on June 13, 1999, Wild was only a few days removed from his 12th birthday. Then just in middle school, he says he wasn't among the 11,909 screaming fans at the Civic Center on that historic night because his family couldn't get tickets. Still, that fact would not keep him from celebrating.
"I was talking to my mom about it recently," Wild said. "She let me stay out of school the next day to go to the parade. It was cool just to be down there, see the fans and get behind the hometown team. It's great to be a part of that now."
He's a part of it, in the simplest terms, because he asked to be and lucked out. After three years down the road with the Providence College Friars, Wild embarked upon his professional career with the Oilers, who drafted him 140th overall in the fifth round of the 2006 NHL draft. Following a successful junior season with the Friars — one in which he recorded a career-best 22 points in 32 games to lead all PC defensemen — Wild joined the Springfield Falcons. He made his pro debut on March 19, 2008, and tallied his first pro point with an assist nine days later, fittingly at Providence.
But after that, things began to go south … and then southwest. Wild's first full pro season in 2008-09 and much of this year were spent splitting time between Springfield and the ECHL's Stockton Thunder in California, often serving as a healthy scratch. He felt it was time for a change.
"It was very frustrating [in the Oilers organization]," Wild admitted. "The last two years, I've always been in and out of the lineup and it got really frustrating at points when I should have been playing. I waited my turn, and still, in the second year around, it just didn't work out again. So that's when I said, 'OK, I need to move on and join another team and get my chance.'
"Your ultimate goal is to make it to the NHL, and if you're not playing in the American League, then that goal is going to be even further away. I needed to jumpstart my career and get to a new organization. It was really frustrating, coming back home and having all of my friends and family coming to the games, and I'm not even in the lineup."
After expressing his frustrations, Wild knew there was a chance he’d be moved by the NHL's trade deadline, but he couldn't have envisioned a better destination.
"I heard that the Bruins were interested, and I was like, 'Oh, wow, that'd be pretty awesome.' Then, sure enough, I got the phone call. It was unbelievable," Wild said. "I'm a New Englander and I’ve always been a Bruins fan. It's just great to be in this organization now. I always seem to keep coming back home. In college, playing junior and high school around here [at La Salle Academy], I always end up back here. It really is surreal."
With two-year P-Bruins forward Matt Marquardt going the other way in the trade and eventually to Stockton, Boston acquired a depth defenseman to continue honing his craft in the AHL. Wild made his Providence debut on March 5 and has since appeared in 12 games, dishing out two assists. P-Bruins coach Rob Murray noted that his play was a little shaky at first, but he has since settled in.
"I'd like to hope he came in a little slow, maybe nerves," said Murray. "I'm sure his confidence was knocked silly there in Springfield [the AHL's last-place team]. Early on, we just threw him in the lineup without any practice time, not really doing much teaching and showing video and what comes with it.
"One thing he's done from the first game, though, and continues to do well is he blocks shots. It's the little intangibles that he brings to the game that I love. He's starting to play with confidence, and we need it."
Much of that confidence, Wild says, has come from being paired with Andrew Bodnarchuk the last couple of weeks to form a shutdown tandem against the opponent's top lines.
"Playing with Bodnarchuk, we’re getting comfortable playing with each other," Wild said. "My confidence level is up now. That's what I was worried about coming in here and really wanted to get that going.
"I always knew I could play against the top lines and I know my ability to play. I could go every night and shut down a top line. Now I'm getting the chance to do that, and that's what I think I needed. I don't think I was really used to my ability in Springfield, and now, here, I'm getting the chance. I'm taking advantage of it and just trying to get better every day."
Wild’s goals have been aligned. From growing up in Providence, playing junior, high school and college hockey at home in Rhode Island, to suiting up for the AHL team he watched as a kid, the next step is dressing for his favorite local team in Boston. According to the Providence Journal's Mark Divver, Wild is only the 12th Rhode Islander to play for the P-Bruins. Only three of the dozen — Clark Donatelli, David Emma and Jeff Jillson — have gone on to wear the spoked-B.
"I want to establish myself first here in the American League and really get the experience," Wild said. "In Springfield, I was in and out of the lineup and couldn't get into a groove, so I'm hoping to do that here. They've got some good players, so it's going to be tough to make the lineup with this team. That's my first goal. Start playing well from there and then, who knows, down the road, we'll see what happens."