WILKES-BARRE TWP. — All the sorrow, frustration and emptiness Garrett Wilson felt during the most difficult week of his life came flooding out in one memorable period.
Actually, it was little more than 13 feverish minutes.
That’s how long it took Wilson to score more goals than he had previously hit from the start of the season, which proved a perfect way to honor his late mother.
Wilson returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with a hat trick Friday, John-Sebastien Dea roofed the overtime winner and new goalie Colin Stevens snagged a victory in his first AHL start as the Penguins messed up Milwaukee’s return to Wilkes-Barre with a dramatic 5-4 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It felt great to be back after missing a lot of time and help the team get off to a great start,” Wilson said.
He missed his mom even more.
Wilson was given permission to step away from the ice and return to his native Ontario, Canada nearly two weeks ago, when his mother fell gravely ill after a long battle with breast cancer. The Wilson family lost her last week.
“It was a lot of grief last week, with my mother passing away,” Wilson said. “This game was for her.
“I felt like she definitely helped me out there.”
In the process, Wilson helped the Penguins snap a two-game losing streak and overcome back-to-back losses to Syracuse last weekend.
His first goal came off a feed from Josh Archibald, who was just sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton from parent Pittsburgh on a conditioning loan earlier Friday, and tied the game 1-1 less than five minutes in.
“It was good to have him back,” Wilson said. “His speed is so effective. We found a way to get some chemistry last year. He’s a great player.”
Wilson’s second goal came on a one-timer from the outside, lifting the Penguins into a 2-1 lead midway through the opening period.
“When you get an early goal in the game, it gets some momentum,” Wilson said.
His third goal came on a head-first dive into the circle, as Wilson found a way to push the puck past goalie Juuse Saros and lift Wilkes-Barre/Scranton into a 3-1 lead with 6:55 remaining in the period.
In an 8:41 span, Wilson hit three goals, topping the two he entered the game with and leading the Pens to a commanding lead they desperately needed after losing ace goalie Casey DeSmith to a call-up to parent Pittsburgh.
“Willie’s a super kid,” Penguins coach Clark Donatelli said “He’s one of our leaders, he’s a warrior out there. Just really glad to see him get rewarded for his hard work.
“The team was really, really happy.”
The Penguins were just as thrilled when Archibald answered Milwaukee’s second goal with one of his own, giving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton breathing room with a 4-2 lead 55 seconds before the second intermission.
“He’s good, he’s fast, he’s real good on the (penalty) kill,” Donatelli said. “Archie was doing what Archie does. He’s hard to play against. He’s a good spark for us.”
That spark went out in the third period, though.
A Penguins team that typically gets stronger in the final period matched up against a Milwaukee team that has shown a tendency to fade at the finish indicated a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre victory was well in hand.
Then the Admirals — who last played at the home of the Penguins while sweeping the 2004 Calder Cup Finals from the Penguins — snatched it away, at least in regulation.
Mark Zengerle and Anthony Richard both slammed home slashing goals in the final 13 minutes, tying the game and sending the teams to overtime.
“Hey, it happens,” Donatelli shrugged. “But I like our ability to come back.”
The Penguins came back when Dea ended it 2:51 into the five-minute extra session, lifting a sizzling shot to the high, right side of the net to send the Penguins to celebration and mark a milestone for goalie Stevens.
Stevens was released from his professional tryout agreement with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton without seeing action on Nov. 27, then signed to another by the Penguins one day later when DeSmith was called up — leaving the AHL Pens without a goalie.
“He made some big saves down the stretch,” Donatelli said. “It’s his first game, I’m glad we got the win for him. He hasn’t played a game in a long time.
“We found a way to win it.”