Insights and Observations
Monday, February 20, 2006
By Henry Hinton
New team in town soaking up
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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
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
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.
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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