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Insights and Observations
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Henry's Highlights
Monday, February 20, 2006

By Henry Hinton

New team in town soaking up attention

©2006 Bonesville.net

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This past weekend was an East Carolina sports fan’s dream in Greenville. There was something for everyone as Ricky Stokes’ guys got a win in hoops, Billy Godwin’s baseball Pirates took 2 of 3 from Charleston and Wayne Cox’s skaters took 2 from Wilmington.

WHAT?

Skaters? Hockey?

In Greenville? At ECU?

Yes, it’s true. The Skating Pirates, now the new sports stars on campus at East Carolina, are for real. The ECU Hockey Team is not an NCAA sanctioned team, of course. It’s a club team put together by a group of student hockey enthusiasts... but hold on a minute. It’s really catching on in Greenville. And they’re winning!

When club president Brent Falco, the team’s goalie and one of three original organizers, started recruiting players for the team back in October, he had no idea how the popularity of ECU Hockey would explode, or how good the team might be.

Falco played club hockey in high school in Raleigh after spending his early childhood years in upstate New York, where kids playing hockey is commonplace.

Coming to ECU, Brent assumed his hockey playing days were over.

“Around October we heard that Bladez on Ice was going to open so we started kicking around the idea of a team,” said Falco.

Greenville businessman George Wilkerson opened Bladez in the old Sportsworld roller skating rink on Red Banks Road. Wilkerson, who has been perhaps the largest supporter of the ECU team, has a youngster interested in hockey and thought it was time the eastern part of the state had an ice rink again. Greenville had a rink for a short while in the early ‘70's.

Now the guys had a place to play… but no coach. Enter Dr. Wayne Cox, a Canadian educated physician who played college hockey north of the border at St. Mary’s College.

“Coach Cox fell into our lap really,” said Falco. “We were out at a pick-up hockey session one night and someone introduced us and, basically, he said I hear you guys need a coach and he offered his services. We are extremely lucky to have him.”

Cox immediately put his heart and soul into putting together a team with the original founding members. Posters and flyers on campus yielded over 50 interested ECU students for tryouts. The new head coach had to cut over 15 players to get the team to a manageable size of 35.

“It’s been more than we could have expected,” said Dr. Cox. “The kids have played great. The exposure for them has been fantastic and the exposure for the school has been fantastic.”

With two wins this past weekend over UNC-Wilmington, the Skating Pirates finished the regular season with a 12-6 record.

ECU is a member of the Blue Ridge Hockey League, a conglomeration of other college hockey clubs. The Pirates now head to the divisional playoffs this coming weekend at Wilmington.

ECU will start the Blue Ridge divisional tournament Friday evening with a game against VMI, a team it split with during the regular season.

Meanwhile, the players have experienced an amazing transformation from a group of “nobodies” on campus to real stars.

“We wear our ECU Hockey shirts around and we get a lot of comments from people, so the excitement is definitely there on campus and there is quite a buzz,” said Falco.

Since the club team receives no money from the university, the players and coach have had to fund the cost of uniforms and travel expenses out of pocket and by hustling up a few corporate sponsorships.

One advantage has been Wilkerson’s donation of ice time for which some teams in the league pay as much as $800 per session.

The popularity of the team exploded exponentially on January 27th when ECU hosted and defeated UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We were originally expecting parents and maybe another hundred people, but then for the UNC game it was standing room only,” said Mark Lindzer, another transplanted northerner on the ECU team. “There wasn’t a bit of space left in the building.”

The Pirates defeated the Tar Heels 4-2 that night but Cox feels like the ECU victory could have been even more impressive.

“Well, I don’t think ECU gets a chance to beat UNC very often,” said Cox. “We played well in that game. They’re Division 2 and we just dominated. The score could have been 7-1.”

The only downside to the finish of the season for ECU is that the club is not eligible to move on to the nationals after this coming weekend regardless of its showing at the divisional level. Since the program is in its first year, the Pirates must wait one more year to be eligible to move beyond this level.

But Cox is hoping for an opportunity to bring a division trophy back to Greenville in the first year of competition. To succeed at that, ECU must not only defeat VMI on Friday but also Clemson and Richmond, two teams which defeated the Pirates during the regular season.

The first game of the divisional playoffs versus VMI will be played at 7:30 Friday night in Wilmington.

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04/21/2008 07:03:31 PM

 

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