Wilton grateful for experience in Neepawa

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It doesn’t take much for Dallon Wilton to share his enthusiasm about his time with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Neepawa Titans.

“This past year was the most fun that I’ve had playing in a long time,” Wilton said.

“I felt like my old self again out there. I was getting opportunities that I hadn’t during my junior career and I took it and ran with it.”

Lucas Punkari/The Brandon Sun Dallon Wilton’s 53 points in 54 games was the most by a member of the Neepawa Titans since Jordan Martin had 68 points during the 2017-18 Manitoba Junior Hockey League season.

A lot of what made the 2021-22 season a fun one for the Beausejour product got to showcase the offensive side of his game after playing more of a physical role over the course of three campaigns in the Western Hockey League with the Kelowna Rockets and the Vancouver Giants.

The 21-year-old led the Titans in scoring with 53 points — 17 goals and 36 assists — in 54 games, which is the best season he’s had on offence since a 52-point year with the Eastman Selects under-18 AAA program in 2017-18.

Wilton says much of his success came from the bond he had with third-year forward and linemate Jaeger Lapointe, who was second in scoring for the Titans with 47 points.

“We got along so well,” Wilton said. “We became the best of the buddies as soon as I joined the team.

“Once we got on the ice, we could just feel the chemistry between us. We were always talking about plays and we just seemed to know where each other was at all times.”

In addition to finding the back of the net, the six-foot-three 230-pound Wilton also showcased the speed and hitting elements of his game, which he honed in on during his time in the WHL.

“I’ve always been a big guy since I was playing in bantam (now known as under-15) but that physical part wasn’t really there until I went to Kelowna,” Wilton said. “I had a couple of conversations with some coaches there who said that I could use my body more and I really tried to mould my game and do that ever since.

“Obviously there’s a bit of a difference with how things are in the two leagues, but I felt like my pace stayed the same when I got to Neepawa, which was important for the role that I played.”

The only drawback for the 2021-22 campaign for Wilton was that he missed out on the playoffs as the Titans finished two points behind the Swan Valley Stampeders for the fourth and final post-season berth in the MJHL’s West Division.

“I haven’t played much playoff hockey in my career, but the final eight games of the season sure felt like it,” Wilton said. “The boys all bought in and we battled so hard, which made it really disappointing for all of us when we came up short.

“We were so close to getting it done and I know that the guys that are coming back to Neepawa next year have what it takes to make it to the playoffs. They know how to lead and take the young guys under their wing to do the job. I’m really excited to see what’s ahead of them.”

Wilton’s lone playoff experience in junior hockey came in the spring of 2018, as he suited up in three contests for the Rockets in their opening round loss to the Tri-City Americans.

He also suited up in a tiebreaker game for a spot in the 2019 WHL post-season, but Kelowna dropped a 5-1 decision to the Kamloops Blazers.

The Rockets were slated to host the Memorial Cup in 2020, only to have that opportunity dashed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That still stings,” Wilton said. “It’s not every day that you get to play in that tournament, let alone on home ice, so it was really disappointing for all of us that we didn’t have a chance to do that.”

After being released by the Rockets, Wilton was picked up by the Vancouver Giants and suited up in 22 contests during the shorted 2020-21 season.

“I felt pretty fortunate to be in the bubble,” said Wilton, who recorded 14 points in 132 games during his WHL career.

“I was a last-minute addition to their roster and it was really great for me to get some games in, otherwise I would have been out of action for over a year.”

Now that his junior hockey career is over, Wilton in joining the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference’s Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder this fall.

“I was trying to find the right fit between academics and hockey and Concordia stood out the most for me,” said Wilton, who will be enrolling in the open studies program before eventually transferring into business.

“When it comes to hockey, I just wanted someone to give me an opportunity to play the game the way I want to. During my conversations with the coaches, I felt like this was the best place to play right away and make an impact.”

Before he makes the move to Alberta’s capital city, Wilton is keeping active during the off-season by playing golf and slo-pitch, getting into the gym as often as he can and taking part in a summer hockey league in Winnipeg.

All of those activities will play a key role for the forward as he transitions into being a rookie once again.

“That’s actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot here lately,” Wilton said.

“I think it’ll be a little bit different from when I made the jump up to junior. At that point, I really didn’t know what to expect, but now I have a better idea of what my role is going to be and all of those little things that you have to get used to when you move to a new place.”

» lpunkari@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @lpunkari

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