In order to understand Wade Megan’s slow but steady rise to hockey’s pinnacle, you need to know that the Chicago Wolves center graduated from Boston University in 2013 with a History degree.
Sometimes this means he’s curled up with a book about Cicero — the Roman philosopher and politician who hailed from Julius Caesar’s time before Christ was born — when the Wolves travel on their road trips.
Sometimes this means he’s studying maps in an effort to find hidden lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Mountains — because he’s an avid fly fisherman who enjoys the idea of finding places that haven’t been fished in years.
“If you’re fishing for trout, they’re pretty finicky,” Megan said. “They have good eyesight. They’re not super-easy to catch. You might be able to see 30 of them in a stream and you can’t get them to bite anything. That’s half the fun for me, anyway. Reading about locations, reading about flies, when the fish are eating — and then just trying to put it all together to catch them. To catch a fish is fun for me, so I spend a lot of time on it.”
Sometimes this means he’s canvassing the corners of his mind to remember specific hockey plays from the previous season — because this is the best way he knows to improve his game during the offseason.
During the summers, Megan rents a cabin along the St. Lawrence River near his boyhood home in what New Yorkers call the North Country. While many hockey pros congregate in Toronto or Chicago or Los Angeles and can find a big workout group anytime, Megan’s remote location means he prepares for each hockey season by working out at SUNY-Canton in August and September with his buddy, Binghamton Senators center Kyle Flanagan.
“A lot of times it’s just him and I and we’re doing stick-handling stuff on the ice and Shooter Tutor and then it’s ‘OK, what do you want to work on?’” Megan said. “And he’ll come up with something and we’ll do that drill for a while and then he goes to me, ‘What do you want to work on?’ And I’ll say, ‘This is what I want to work on.’ We just do reps continuously until you get better at it. That’s the only way to get better.
“I would go back into my head and think about passes that I got that I should have scored on — or plays that I should have completed. Then you take that from the game and put it in the practice rink and develop a drill that would help you work on that particular situation. It’s a never-ending process.”
Have those drills worked? You be the judge.
Prior to this season — his first with the Wolves — Megan scored 51 goals in 211 games split between the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage and Portland Pirates and the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones.
This season, Megan scored 27 goals in his first 57 games with the Wolves – which made him the leading goal-scorer in the American Hockey League.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Flanagan, who’s in his fourth AHL season. “He has worked so hard for this. I’m so happy for him. There’s no secret to his season: Hard work has paid off.”
Megan’s sterling play wasn’t just noticed by his buddies and the statisticians.
On Dec. 22, he was rewarded with his first chance to play in the National Hockey League and he scored a goal in his first period of action — just like he visualized it.
“Yeah, I did,” said Megan, who scored for St. Louis at Tampa Bay. “I just remember thinking, ‘It’d be something if I could score a goal this game. It’d be pretty cool if I could find a way.’ I just had these normal in-game thoughts that I have in Chicago. Just picturing yourself scoring a goal. I just had that self-confidence somehow to find a way to try to score a goal.”
As you can tell, Megan believes a sharp mind is just as important on the ice as quick hands and a swift stride.
“I think your state of mind is pretty important for anyone — not just hockey players,” Megan said. “What dominates your thoughts is what’s going to happen more often than not. If you’re thinking negative all the time, then negative things are probably going to happen.
“It’s not always easy, obviously. Everyone has those days when they’re down on themselves or whatever the case may be. But for me, it’s trying to stay positive.”
It’s also been about maximizing his opportunities. During his four years at Boston University, Megan finagled his class schedule to ensure he could pursue all of his interests in History while getting more ice time than his teammates. At BU, the history department is part of the Metropolitan School — which was geared toward adults learning after work, so many of Megan’s classes met at night.
“I’d have all morning to do what I wanted at the rink — whether it was skating, a workout, shoot pucks, whatever I wanted,” Megan said. “Pertti Hasanen (now the skills coach for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils) was at BU and he was our skill coach. I just remember spending a ton of time with him in the mornings. Then practice would be at 2 o’clock or whatever. Then you’d have class from 5 to 7:30 or 8. That was kind of my daily schedule in college.”
Meanwhile, the history curriculum allowed Megan to focus on the topics he found the most compelling. His favorites are Ancient Rome and its political system as well as New World history that explains how immigrants came to America and transformed our country.
His desire to read and learn didn’t end when he earned his diploma. Any time the Wolves are in an airport waiting for a flight, there’s a good chance Megan and some of his teammates are browsing in the bookstore. He has read everything Malcolm Gladwell has written. He enjoys the works of novelist Robert Harris, who focuses on historical fiction.
“I have a Notes section on my phone,” Megan said. “A lot of times you read books and they’ll quote someone from another book, so then the list is never-ending. ‘Oh, I want to look at that book.’
So I put that in my phone and I have books that I’ve read and books that I want to read.”
Megan jokes that Alex Casstevens, his girlfriend and fellow BU graduate, calls him a nerd because he carries around 30 books with him whenever they move. But she also indulges the rare occasions when Megan isn’t about plotting and scheming and checking the history books in order to make a move. Yes, there are times when he pursues one of his passions on a moment’s notice.
“I pretty much always have my fly fishing stuff in the car,” he said. “My girlfriend and I will be driving out of town or around the Adirondacks or whatever. We’ll pass a place where the stream comes close to the road and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to pull over for a second.
“So I’ll get my fly rod out and zip a few casts in there to see if I can get anything. I’ll fish a spot for 10-12 minutes or what- ever and she hangs out. She’s pretty tolerant, but it’s funny. She’ll be up by the road and I’m zipping flies halfway across the road into traffic and into the streams. It’s pretty funny.
Megan could catch the biggest fish in the stream — and it still wouldn’t be as big of a catch as when the Wolves convinced him in the offseason to be a part of this organization.
By Lindsey Willhite, Photos by Ross Dettman