Hockey set to hit the rink

Just a little over two years ago, Wilkes University President Patrick Leahy delivered some exciting news that all ice hockey fans here at Wilkes were excited about – Wilkes University would be adding both men’s and women’s ice hockey to their Division III selection.

Not only is it exciting to be starting a new program, but the Colonels will be playing and practicing at the Toyota Sportsplex in Wilkes-Barre, Pa, where the minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins practice.

Several months after this news was released, President Leahy informed the Wilkes community that there would be a delay in the start of the men’s ice hockey program until the 2018-2019 school year. This was the result of trying to finding a coach. Wilkes had their candidate, but unforeseen circumstances prevented the coach from coming to Wilkes.

In 2017, Wilkes University announced the hiring of the men’s ice hockey head coach Brett Riley, a man of grit and hockey history.

Riley has deep hockey roots, and it all starts with his family.

“My grandfather was the coach at Army/West Point for many years and then my father was also a coach at West Point for some time as well,” said Riley.

If this is not enough hockey fame, Riley’s grandfather was the coach of the 1960 Olympic USA ice hockey team, whose team won a gold medal.

The Riley legacy in hockey continues on here at Wilkes, as Riley follows in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

He is certainly excited to start a new hockey team here at Wilkes, but the program took a lot of time to be put together – 15  months of constant travelling and recruiting.

“The key thing I was looking for was players who want to start something and players that not only play the game good, but have hockey-sense,” said Riley, noting that the players need to think about the game thoroughly when playing.

Riley noted that putting together the team was like piecing together a puzzle, stating, “We wanted to build a team with depth and plenty of mixture overall.”

The long, 15-month recruiting process had coach Riley travelling around North America, from Western Canada and as far south as Florida.

The Colonels roster as of right now has 31 players, including four transfers and 27 freshmen from 12 different states and Canada.

Although he has recruited his team, Riley wants to refrain from releasing the finalized roster until a day before the Colonels first game on Oct. 26.

The plan for this is to prevent other teams from learning who the Colonels are and not allowing other teams to be as prepared for what they’ll bring to the table.

Freshman defenseman Michael Gurska said, “We want to be competitive right out of the gate and be ready to compete in our first game.”

Riley elaborated, “We want to be kind of unknown to opponents, so they don’t know who we are.”

This tactic and skill of coaching has helped along the recruiting process, and helped build the team, especially for Gurska.

Gurska was a former player for the Connecticut Junior Rangers hockey club. He played there for two years after prep school ice hockey as a defenseman.

Riley was a big reason Gurska came to Wilkes, his dedication to the program and his pride were big factors in Gurska’s decision to play hockey at Wilkes.

“I like the idea of coming here because we are starting our own tradition,” said Gurska. “No one else before us has played hockey here and I like the idea that we are apart of something new.”

Another player Riley was able to recruit was Taylor Bommarito, a forward who is actually one of the transfers for the team. Bommarito played for Manhattanville last year, scoring 10 goals and having nine assists in 26 games during the season with the Valiants.

Although the full roster will not come out until right before the Colonels first game, there is plenty of talent to be excited about for Wilkes hockey fans.

The men’s ice hockey team has yet to start on ice practices, but they have been working hard in the weight room preparing for the upcoming season. The anticipation is building as they approach their first game against SUNY Canton in October, where they will travel to New York for their debut.

The Colonels come home to the Toyota Sportsplex for their first home game against Stevenson on Nov. 9.

With the players prepping in the weight room and fall practices starting soon, coach Riley and the rest of his men’s ice hockey team could not be more excited to start their inaugural season.