Former Falcon great back in BG

For four years – 1980-84 – Wayne Wilson was an anchor on the blue line for the Falcons and he was part of one of the best defensive cores the program has ever seen.

It was a defensive core that included the likes of Dave Ellett, Garry Galley, Dave O’Brian and Mike Pikul – two of which went on to have successful National Hockey League careers.

Wilson wasn’t the most skilled player on the team or even at his position, but his competitiveness and his leadership made him stand out in a lineup full of stars during the 1984 season. He was chosen that year to be team captain alongside Pikul and together the two led the Falcons to the school’s only national championship during their senior season.

“He had what you want out of all your players,” BG coach Scott Paluch said of Wilson, who scored 101 points as a Falcon. “He wasn’t the fastest. He wasn’t the most skilled, but he was a true leader in how he played the game. He competed extremely hard and was a very smart player at both ends of the rink.”

Today, Wilson is trying to bring that same leadership of his to the hockey program at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where he has coached at the last seven seasons.

Things went well for Wilson and the Tigers in his first six seasons, as he became only the third coach to amass 100 wins in the program’s history, going 118-33-12 while winning four conference tournaments. The team also made four trips to the NCAA Division III tournament.

Then in 2004, RIT announced it was elevating its program to the Division I level where they would eventually join the Atlantic Hockey conference in the 2006-07 season. The team won’t be eligible for the NCAA postseason or a league championship until the 2007-08 season.

For now though, Wilson and his team are the midst of their first season of Division I hockey as the only independent team in the country and are having their struggles with the transition, going 6-17-2. The team that is still made up of mostly of Division III recruits is finding out why there is a gap between the divisions, but has had some positive moments, beating St. Lawrence and Canisius in their rookie season.

“I think the positive side of it has been our players have gotten better every weekend,” Wilson said of the transition. “We’ve had to learn that you have to compete every single weekend and I think our team has done that.”

Tomorrow night Wilson will lead his Tigers into the BGSU Ice Arena for a non-conference match-up with the Falcons. It’ll mark the first time he has been to BG in seven years and the first time he has ever coached against his old team.

The experience will also be special in that Wilson’s assistant coach, Brian Hills, is also a Falcon great, who finished his BG career second on the all-time scoring list with 270 points, just behind Nelson Emerson.

“We’ll enjoy going back,” Wilson said. “It’s a great atmosphere. It’s a great community and we’ll enjoy being back there in front of a lot friends and their families.”

“We’ve both had very enjoyable experiences there,” he added. “I know our wives and kids and everyone will be coming back as well, so it will be somewhat of a homecoming for us.”

Coach Paluch met Wilson on his recruiting trip to BG in 1984 and remembers what it was like getting to meet the team captain.

“I remember how friendly he was as a senior,” he said of Wilson. “He was someone almost four or five years older than myself, but he took the time to make all the recruits feel welcome. Over the years our families have become extremely close and it’s a real good friendship.”

When asked about how he’d feel once he was back at the Ice Arena, Wilson said he wouldn’t know until the game was happening, but he did admit that the game would be different than others his team has played due to the fact he was going against Paluch.

“It’s not like it’s a rival in your own conference where you might not like the guy (opposing coach) that well,” he said. “You’re social. You’re sharing things before and after the game and it’s not like your keeping your distance like in league games from the opposing coach.”

Paluch doesn’t need Wilson to share the fact that his team has a dangerous up-tempo style of play that lead to them leading most offensive categories in Division III. He knows the Tigers are a handful and that they aren’t some lowly Division III team.

“Their transition, as far as we’re concerned, is over,” Paluch said. “They are a legitimate Division I team that can compete in any conference and they’ve become a very good road team, playing a majority of their games on the road.”

With making the jump the Tigers were forced to schedule a lot of road games with opponents, but Wilson says that road trips added with the losing record hasn’t weakened his team’s spirit.

“We’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “We’re not playing to make the playoffs, get home ice, win a championship or anything like that, but I’ve been really impressed with our mind set and our approach to the game.”