Imagine being popular in high school. Then, without having to leave town, you can be one of the big men on campus at college. After that, you move away, only to return home as more of a big shot than ever before, except now you’re recognized that way professionally.
That’s what life is like these days for Providence Bruins defenseman Cody Wild, traded from the Edmonton Oilers’ organization on March 2, 2010, to his hometown Boston Bruins, and now excited to partake in his first full season in the Ocean State.
It’s been a wild ride for Cody since that trade, which sent winger Matt Marquardt to Springfield and eventually to Stockton of the ECHL. In 18 games for Providence, Wild chipped in three assists and saw more defensive responsibility than ever before, often being tasked with shutting down the top lines of the opposition. But much to the dismay of the P-Bruins’ locker room, Providence fell short of the postseason for the first time in more than a decade, leading to a long offseason for Rhode Island’s premier hockey team.
Many from the P-Bruins’ dressing room went on to enjoy late-season recalls to Boston and even accompanied the parent Bruins along a postseason journey that came to a tragically premature end. Wild, however, could do nothing but sit and watch after suffering an injury in Providence’s final game of the season. A dislocated thumb kept him in a cast until nearly Memorial Day, setting up an abbreviated but pivotal summer of training and preparation. The 2010-11 season marks the final year of Wild’s contract. That means it’s no longer just great to be home – it’s time to get to work.
“The first couple weeks [after the trade], I was thinking, ‘This is great,’” Wild recalled. “I was really excited and running around Providence. Since I grew up here, everyone was really excited for me, and I was getting a ton of texts, e-mails, everything. Then, I really just had to be mature about it and realize this is my career and I need to make a living out of this and really start playing the way I’m capable of playing to keep playing hockey.”
Wild is aware of the pressures that sit upon his shoulders. He’s the local kid who everyone is paying attention to. He has family and friends in the stands on a nightly basis, and he’s been awarded a deeply desired fresh start in much the way that Disney scripts are written. Wild’s time in the Edmonton organization involved two frustrating seasons in Springfield, vast uncertainty about his role and multiple demotions to Stockton. Now, he knows that if he fails to live up to expectations, his homecoming could be short-lived.
“You don’t want to go down, but it’s still a part of the organization,” Wild said. “They obviously send you down for a reason, and that’s to develop. But you’ve got to shoot for playing in the NHL and play with that confidence that ‘I can play in this league. This is where I belong and this is where I need to stay and develop.’ Then, maybe down the road a couple years, I’ll get my shot at the NHL, or maybe I’m the next call-up.”
In his brief time in Providence to close out the 2009-10 campaign, Wild learned more about what it takes to play at the next level. He received firsthand tutelage from boyhood idol and current Boston assistant general manager Don Sweeney after games and at practices. And, equally significant, partner after partner showed him the ropes on a nightly basis on their own paths north to Boston.
“I played with [Andrew Bodnarchuk] first, and he got the call,” Wild reflected. “Then I was playing with [Jeff] Penner, and he got the call. And then [Adam] McQuaid was injured and came back, and sure enough, he’s playing in the playoffs. It’s great that you’re playing with those guys and they’re playing at that next level, and you know you can play with them. So it actually gives you a lot of confidence and makes you play better.”
The biggest key for someone in Wild’s skates when playing with the likes of Bodnarchuk, Penner and McQuaid was observation. Their NHL experience and continued growth provided lessons for success going forward for Wild.
“With them, they’re really consistent,” Wild said. “They’ve been developed really well by this organization. Game in and game out, they’re gonna do the right thing and make the right plays. Every night, they’re bringing something to the table, and you can’t take nights off. That’s what I’ve really learned from them so far. Up in the NHL, they’ve all played pretty well and got some good ice time. That’s the ultimate goal, to get to the NHL.”
The NHL is the dream for any player in the AHL and the many levels that trickle down below. For Wild, however, it’s not just about the NHL. It’s about Boston. From growing up in Providence to playing high school hockey at La Salle Academy, followed by three years at Providence College with the Friars, playing locally for the P-Bruins is only half of what it takes to make a dream truly come to fruition. Donning the Bruins’ bear logo on a jersey at the TD Garden, well, words just can’t describe what that would be like for the 23-year-old.
“I can’t even imagine,” Wild said of the possibility of being called up to Boston. “I’m sure on the ride up or the flight out, I’d enjoy it. But as soon as I get there, it’s gonna be, ‘You know what, I want to stay here, so I’ve got to be able to play my game’ and put the ‘Oh wow, I’m in a Bruins uniform, I can’t wait to show everyone, everyone’s gotta see this’ behind me. It’s got to be strictly business. I’ll be able to enjoy it down the road.”
In the meantime, Wild’s enjoying Providence just fine. After all, he’s home. He gets to go to the rink every day and, on the way, passes his old high school and college. There are constant reminders of where he’s been on what’s been a memorable ride to where he is now. And, best of all, he gets to share that with his family. At least that’s a good thing now that he has his own place.
“They were pretty excited,” Wild said of his parents finding out he’d be returning home. “It was pretty awkward too. First game, I’m trying to take a nap, and I’ve got the dog running around the house, parents coming in from work, and here I am sleeping in the old bedroom. It was pretty crazy. Now I’ve got more space, and I get away from all the drama at home, dealing with the dog barking and needing to go out at three in the morning, my dad working the late shift, my mom working and my sister being home from college, the whole bit.”
There’s something special about Providence for Cody, not only because it’s home but also because it’s been a launching pad for all of his successes, while also continuously pulling him back like a magnet. What happens next is up to him.