Named after a warrior like his older brother, Hannibal, Wyatt George lives up to his moniker.
Standing only 5-7 and weighing a mere 157 pounds, the Mt. Lebanon hockey player must be brave in battle.
“Because I’m a little below the average size for a hockey player,” George said, “I have to be a fighter.”
George certainly fought hard to become the best. He is one of only two players in the South Hills to sign a contract to play for the Trenton Golden Hawks in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. The league can be a stepping stone from which local players often earn Division I ice hockey scholarships.
“There are always scouts at games watching you and colleges looking to recruit you,” George said. “My plan is to play one or two years of juniors and get picked up by a school and play hockey. But, I have to make the team first.”
George will leave for training camp this summer. By the end of August, he will learn if he made the final cut.
The season begins in September and runs through May. While the Golden Hawks won back-to-back Dudley-Hewitt Cup championships in 2016 and 2017 and captured the OJHL title in 2016, they lost last year in the conference quarterfinals and finished 24-26 overall.
“It’s important to make the team first, but I am looking forward to making many memories. That’s been one of the greatest things I cherish about playing hockey. I have had some of the greatest times of my life playing with my buddies and winning,” George said. “In hockey, you are always chasing a cup. So definitely a goal is to help them win that. Winning as much as you can is always the goal.”
Since starting playing at age 5, George has enjoyed 13 successful, yet competitive, seasons of hockey. He played scholastically for Mt. Lebanon and competed on the amateur level for the Pittsburgh Predators.
A four-year letter winner, George led the Blue Devils to two playoff appearances, the last one ending in a sudden-death overtime loss to Peters Township in the 2019 PIHL semifinals. A winger, he scored 77 career goals and finished with 50 assists.
George captained the Predators this season. He scored 49 goals and 34 assists for 83 points. George finished with 96 career goals and 52 assists during his three seasons, two in the NJPHL and one at the Midget Level.
“Wyatt put the puck in the net,” said his amateur and high school coach Gary Klapkowski, “but on top of being a top scorer, he’s a natural leader and motivator. He puts the work in and does the extra things to improve. He puts his heart into everything he does. Those things got him to this point.”
George reached this point in his hockey career because of Klapkowski. He agreed he made monumental strides when Klapkowski became his singular coach as well as trainer.
In addition to weight training and off-ice drills, George participates in hockey specific workouts at Klapkowski’s Advanced Edge Hockey Training LLC, located in Castle Shannon. The training’s focus is on speed work, squats and lunges to build up strength, endurance and speed.
“Besides my parents, Coach Klapkowski is right up there,” George said. “By working with him, I have become bigger, stronger and faster. Coach Klapkowski has been one of the most influential people as far as why and how I play.”
While his father played hockey for Sewickley and in amateur leagues in the North Hills and his mother cheered at Brentwood High School, Klapkowski cultivated George’s skills. For starters, he moved him from center to wing and his statistics and prospects took off.
“I came from an athletic family so when my dad put me on skates it worked out,” said the 18-year-old son of Ian and Devon George, “but when we moved from Baldwin and my Predators coach also became my same coach at Mt. Lebanon, that made things easier. It was great after that.”
George was also okay with the move from center to wing because it was a more natural position for him. While a center can act more like a third defenseman, a winger fit George’s style of play.
“That’s my game,” he said. “I love scoring goals. I have always loved putting the puck in the back of the net. There’s nothing like seeing it go in.”
Pucks go in the net for George because he works on his shooting.
During the off-season alone, he practices five times a week, firing 100 pucks on goal during each workout. Admittedly, he said he misses a “good amount” of the time.
“My strategy behind practice is odd,” he said.
George explained he bases his technique on a quote from his favorite movie. In “American Sniper,” Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, advises “aim small, miss smaller.” In his practices, for example, George may zero in on one square of the net in the top right corner of the goal.
“I aim for a certain spot,” he said. “I try to hit places where I know the goalie isn’t going to be. It’s more about finding a place where I can put the puck.”
Sometimes, however, practice isn’t enough. Sometimes goal-scorers hit a slump. George suffered one that lasted the entire month of November. He said he expects to encounter similar situations when he takes the next step up in his game.
“Adversity is part of the game and it helps take you to the next level. It’s possible to get through it and step up your game,” George said. “To break out, you have to calm yourself down. Be stress free and not overthink everything. You have to remind yourself that you do this all the time.”
Within two years time, George plans to be playing hockey in college. He prefers to play in the Big 10 while pursuing a business degree with a focus on finance. Anything beyond that is a fantasy.
“Playing in the NHL would be a stretch. That would be a dream,” said George, who could though imagine parlaying his junior and collegiate career into being picked up by an NHL farm team.
“My plan is to play hockey at the highest level and for as long as I can because I love the game.”
Klapkowski anticipates George will be playing hockey for at least six more years because of his work ethic, desire and potential.
“Wyatt is always working on his game. Everything he does is 100% whether for his development or his team’s improvement. He puts the extra time in. The hockey sense is there, too. Wyatt is one of the smartest players I have coached and that will go a long way as he moves up in levels.
“It’s a dream for all of us to play at that next level,” Klapkowski continued. “Wyatt definitely has Division I potential but you can’t rule anything out. For him, the possibilities are endless.”
Whatever awaits George, he will negotiate it because the game has prepared him for the future. He said hockey has taught him how to handle bounces.
“In hockey, there are bad bounces off the board and in life, things don’t always go the way you expect either so you have to figure out a way to handle that and come back, not feel angry, but approach it in a positive way,” he said.