Photo Credit: Russ Alman/WildHockeyPhotos.com
WENATCHEE, Wash. – Luke Weilandt’s nickname with the Wenatchee Wild was “Wheels,” and though his time in the British Columbia Hockey League was short, his single season in the Wenatchee Valley was more than enough to win over the hearts of the Wild faithful.
Weilandt is recognized for his speed – his speed on skates, the speed at which he sees the game, and the speed with which his smile flashes across his face after scoring a goal, which he accomplished 19 times during the 2022-23 season. This year marked the end of a four-year run in junior hockey, three of which were spent in the United States Hockey League with the Sioux Falls Stampede and Green Bay Gamblers. He closed out his junior career with a lone, but impactful, season in Wenatchee that included 43 points, good for fourth on the roster.
The Northbrook, Illinois native comes from a family full of hockey talent – younger sister Anya recently wrapped up her first season at Long Island University, advancing to the NCAA tournament before bowing out to eventual champion Wisconsin. Younger brother Max made two USHL appearances for the Dubuque Fighting Saints while spending most of the season with the Chicago Reapers 18-and-under program. Turns out, Weilandt fell in “glove” with the sport at the age of four and has been on the ice ever since.
“I had a friend that was starting to skate, and I wanted to skate as well and give it a try,” said Weilandt. “My parents took me to the rink and we did open skate, and I wanted hockey gloves so badly. My mom told me that she’d only buy me hockey gloves if I played hockey, so I decided I’d start playing hockey for the gloves.”
After coming up through several Chicago-area programs, including two seasons with Chicago Mission, Weilandt earned a spot on the Stampede roster and posted 14 points in 40 games before the 2019-20 season came to its abrupt COVID-induced end in mid-March. Year two in junior hockey was a brief one – three games yielded two points, but also one major injury that never seemed to go away.
“Right after COVID, I had a really good summer of training, but during training camp my hips really started bugging me,” said Weilandt. “It took a while to get back, and then I got quarantined with COVID and couldn’t do anything for two weeks. When I stepped on the ice again, the problem in my hips came back, and at that point it was January and I’d have to start another recovery session, which would take a couple of weeks. I felt it would be best for surgery at that point, and it took a while to feel 100 percent, but this year, I’ve felt confident with my hips and my skating.”
A 16-point season last year with the Gamblers gave way to a chance with the Wild in his fourth and final year of junior hockey, which included his 100th junior appearance on October 8. That game coincided with the first win of the season for Wenatchee, a 3-1 victory on the road against the Cranbrook Bucks.
“The first thing that stands out about Luke is the professional attitude he brought to the rink everyday,” said Wenatchee Wild head coach Chris Clark. “You knew you were going to get a honest day of work everyday. He played with great pace and was someone we could count on in all situations.”
As the season heated up for the Wild, so did Weilandt, who had points in nine of 10 during the month of November and earned an honorable mention nod in the league’s Star of the Month recognition. He did have to battle through a sluggish January, posting just one point before wrapping up the regular season with points in 10 of his last 12 games.
“I just came to the rink and the gym, and worked my hardest every day,” said Weilandt. “I knew eventually I’d get rewarded, and when you have stretches like that, it’s hard to not get frustrated. I didn’t give up, and it paid off.”
Two truths of the junior hockey world showed themselves during his brief stay in Wenatchee – hockey is a small world, and junior hockey is meant to be an unforgettable experience in addition to a development opportunity. Those two collided while staying with Micah Berger, himself a former Sioux Falls forward – the “unforgettable experience” often came in the kitchen of the Morgans, the billet household for Weilandt and Berger.
“We do a lot of the cooking. We both really enjoy it,” said Weilandt. “We’ve made some exotic meals this year – some pasta, some chicken cordon bleu. I’ve really stepped up my game since he’s gotten here and I’ve learned a few tricks. I hope I’ve taught him a few tricks as well.”
Next year, Weilandt takes those talents – on and off the ice – to Merrimack College in Massachusetts, tucked between Boston and Manchester, New Hampshire. He joins a team that, like his sister’s, reached the NCAA tournament before dropping a first-round contest against the eventual national champions.
“It’s a lot of peaks and valleys, especially when you play four years of juniors,” said Weilandt. “I’ve developed a lot on the ice, and I’ve gotten back full confidence in my ability. I’ve learned a lot this year, and off the ice, I’ve met a lot of great guys.”