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Wayne State hopes swan song hits all the right notes

by James Murphy /

In the final year of hockey at the school,
Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson
will try to send the Warriors out a winner.

A lot goes into earning a scholarship to a Division I program. Perhaps even more goes into choosing among competing schools if the athlete is so fortunate.

So imagine the feeling of the 15 freshmen players on the Wayne State University hockey team when they were told last month -- just weeks before the beginning of the season -- that the school had decided to drop the hockey program after this season.

“We’re simply shocked,” Warriors freshman defenseman Brock Meadows admitted recently.

“It was obviously very disappointing to find that out after working so hard for all these years to try and get a scholarship.”

Coach Bill Wilkinson concurred, admitting he feels for the freshmen, and all the underclassmen.

“It is very hard for all of us and there’s no denying that,” Wilkinson said. “From our standpoint, as a team, the coaches and players didn’t know until the very last hour, so we are very shocked, for sure. Now all of these kids need to go out and hopefully get new scholarships or a shot somewhere else.”

After watching College Hockey America begin to lose members recently and hearing whispers of other schools making bids to leap to other conferences, Wayne State tried an unsuccessful, preemptive strike and applied for membership in the CCHA last season. That failed attempt, combined with financial restraints and the ominous signs that the CHA will fold after this season, prompted the decision that the Warriors hockey program could not continue past this season.

“There was so much hope for this conference when it started, and as is the case with many fledgling conferences, it’s a challenge to survive,” Wilkinson said.

“But the hope was that since we did have some very good programs and had gained some recognition nationally, teams from other conferences would be there to save these programs.

“But unfortunately, other conferences haven’t swallowed up our teams and taken them on. I really hope that the NCAA doesn’t allow this to continue and steps in here to try and help these great hockey programs survive. Some can probably go on for a few years as independents, but without that automatic tournament bid, they will never be able to survive recruiting-wise.”

After the initial shock, however, Wilkinson and his team have done their best to accept the reality of the situation and now are treating the season as an audition – or, as senior captain Mike Forgie compared it, to a free-agent year or tryout in the NHL.

“It’s my senior year, so I knew I had to impress the scouts. But for the younger guys, this is like a professional tryout as well,” said Forgie, an undrafted forward.

“It’s like playing for a multi-year contract, but they’re playing for a scholarship again. I just try to make them look at it that way.”

As Forgie pointed out, with 15 freshmen on the team, this originally was looked at as a rebuilding year. Now, however, the team finds itself in a situation where there literally is no next year.

“Ironically, this could be a bit of a blessing in disguise on the ice because we’re treating every game like it’s our last here,” Forgie said.

“For some of those younger players, they all of sudden have to play like veterans if they want to play somewhere next season. And for us seniors, it’s a chance to leave a legacy on a program that will be no more. So there’s no room for complacency.”

Wilkinson has approached the season the same way.

"Ironically, this could be a bit of a blessing in disguise on the ice because we’re treating every game like it’s our last here," -- Warriors' captain Mike Forgie

“This is really a chance for these kids to showcase their skills now for other Division I teams and we’ll do our best to help them find a new team for next year,” he said.

“This is a very young team and we -- the coaching staff and older players like Mike (Forgie) -- are doing our best to help them move on from that initial shock and make the best of this. Mike has been a huge help with that.”

Meadows appreciated Wilkinson’s and Forgie’s approach and efforts to secure a spot on a Division I team for him and the other underclassmen.

“They’ve both been great,” Meadows said. “Coach has really done his best to reach out to other teams for us and Mike is just such a great leader. I’ve only known him for a month or so, but I wish I could still be playing for him and coach the next four seasons.”

So after nine seasons, the Wayne State hockey program will fold, but the last team is going out with pride -- and as a team.

“We hope we can make this our best season, but I’m proud of the way these kids have handled this,” Wilkinson said. “They’ve really come together as a team under the gun and that’s been great to see as a coach.”

Campus Clips -- Congrats to New Hampshire coach Dick Umile, who earned his 400th career victory with the Wildcats in a 4-1 win at Boston University last Friday. Umile is the ninth active coach to accomplish the feat. …For the second time in two seasons, a game at Boston College was called because of poor ice conditions. With BC and North Dakota tied 0-0 after two periods, the game was called by Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna because of safety concerns. Last season, a game between BC and Boston University was halted in the first period because humid conditions caused fog and poor ice. That game was finished at a later date and resumed from where it left off. A power outage delayed the start of the North Dakota game. Reports indicate that de-humidifying machines, brought in to Conte Forum in anticipation of the humid conditions, contributed to the power failure. After another brief outage, power eventually was restored, but the foggy conditions forced the game to be halted. …On Campus match-up of the week: No.4 Colorado College at No. 7 New Hampshire, Oct. 26 and 27. Top 10

  1. North Dakota (2-0-1)
  2. Miami of Ohio (4-0-0)
  3. Michigan (3-1-0)
  4. Colorado College (2-0-0)
  5. Boston College (1-1-2) 
  6. Denver (3-1-0)
  7. New Hampshire (1-0-0)
  8. Michigan St. (2-1-0)
  9. Clarkson (3-1-0)
10. Wisconsin (3-1-0)

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