WATERLOO — When Garrett Wait walked into Young Arena in 2015, Waterloo Black Hawks head coach P.K. O’Handley made one quick observation regarding the Edina, Minn., native.
“He came here, and he was a pretty scrawny kid,” O’Handley said.
At 6-foot, 189 pounds Wait is no longer scrawny. The University of Minnesota recruit has grown into a vital veteran presence for a team that has big postseason aspirations and goals yet to achieve in the United States Hockey League regular season.
The Black Hawks head into tonight’s home game against Sioux City with a one-point lead in the USHL’s Western Conference standings and are just three points behind Team USA in the chase for the Anderson Cup that goes to the team with the most regular-season points.
Wait is playing some of his best hockey. He has scored goals in six of Waterloo’s last eight games. He says much of his success in year three in the USHL comes from his time in the Black Hawks’ strength and conditioning program.
“I was a pretty scrawny guy,” Wait said. “I’m pretty solid now, and I could get more solid. My hockey IQ has also gotten better, and a lot of people here have helped me, too.”
As a rookie, Wait played in 57 games with three goals, seven assists and a minus-6 plus-minus rating. A year ago, Wait appeared in 58 games and recorded 10 goals and 28 assists with a plus-8 rating.
“Every kid has to get into the weight room,” O’Handley said. “I think he fought it a little bit. He has natural ability and was an offensive guy growing up. So I think he fought it a little bit, then got into it and saw some results and really sees the results now.
“He was just a skinny, scrawny kid when he came here. He is still a skinny kid, but he is not scrawny.”
Paired on Waterloo’s first line with Ben Copeland and Jackson Cates, Wait has 22 goals and 17 assists in 51 games this season.
While he could return to Waterloo for a fourth season, neither O’Handley or Wait knows what new Minnesota head coach Bob Motsko has planned for him or current Black Hawks teammates Sam Huff and Jared Moe, who are also committed to the Gophers.
“That is something I can’t worry about right now,” Wait said. “My focus is here and helping this team finish the regular season strong, chase the Anderson Cup and then go after a Clark Cup.”
Wait, in many ways, was destined to end up at Minnesota. He’s the only child of Chuck and Joan Wait, who are long-time Golden Gopher season ticket holders.
“I grew up watching them,” Wait said. “I know the culture, and ever since I began watching them I knew I wanted to go there.”
O’Handley says the Black Hawks will count on Wait over the final stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.
“He has been a good leader, a good leader in the room,” O’Handley said. “There is not much he doesn’t know on how we operate here ... what the Black Hawk way is all about.
“He’s had some tough times, but he stuck with it and hopefully for him the rewards are great down the line.”