The Bowling Green hockey facilities were empty when Ty Eigner walked in on Monday morning. There were no low undertones of the TBS morning comedy block emanating throughout the player’s lounge, a known go-to channel for Chris Bergeron, who after nine years of leading the hockey program at BGSU, made the decision to take his career to Miami University as coach of his alma mater. There was no film from a previous game being digested by former assistant coach Barry Schutte, who will also be joining Bergeron in Oxford. There was only silence.
Underneath that silence was a sense of completeness. Ty Eigner had just completed a mission that he seemed destined to accomplish. He was now officially an NCAA Division I men’s hockey head coach, the eighth head hockey coach in BGSU’s history, and was formally introduced at his inaugural press conference on Tuesday at the Stroh Center.
“I wouldn’t be standing up here today if Berge didn’t take a chance on me nine years ago,” said Eigner through pauses and sobs. “I was coaching high school hockey in Minnesota with the goal of eventually being at this level. I’ve always thought this is what I want to do and I would love to be at that level if I could … and 100% owe this opportunity to him.”
It is a journey that started with Chuck Grillo in Rosemount, Minnesota. Grillo, or “Gringo,” was the high school hockey coach at Rosemount High School that first introduced the game to Eigner at the age of nine. He has since worked in the NHL as a scout and general manager.
Before his family moved to the hockey hotbed of Minnesota, Eigner lived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and was had virtually no ties to the game until Grillo adopted him into the close-knit family that is hockey coaching.
“I would have coffee in his office pretty much every morning and just talk about hockey … I remember my first year I taught at the high school, but my classes didn’t start until 10 o’clock in the morning, so I had two free periods and I would go to Gringo’s office and just talk about hockey every day,” said Eigner.
Now his passion for the game is best shown in his love for Bowling Green hockey. A regular presence on Twitter, Eigner’s feed is a virtual billboard for BGSU hockey, showcasing the past, present and future of the program.
“Everyone has to be themselves, and I feel that anytime I can promote what we are, and promote our past players, our current players (or) our future players, I want people to know and I want people to be as proud of this program as I am,” Eigner explained.
Eigner, a former captain of the Falcons, is not alone in sharing his thoughts on the state of the team. A group of fans started a petition on Change.org for Athletic Director Bob Moosbrugger to offer the vacant head coaching position to former Falcon and Stanley Cup champion Dan Bylsma. Only 27 people signed it, but the message was clear that fans wanted an alumnus who would not be at risk of leaving the university to return to their alma mater, as was the case with Ron Mason, Jerry York, and most recently Chris Bergeron.
“When (Bergeron) brought me in to kind of fill the void, that’s probably why he brought me to be perfectly honest,” Eigner said. “Because I was an alum of Bowling Green and he knew it mattered to me … and this time there was more than just me in terms of alums that wanted to be a part of this.”
Even if there is a slight disappointment in not landing Dan Bylsma, which there should not be, that does not mean he won’t have an impact on the program.
“My first year here Dan Bylsma invited me to come to Pittsburgh and be a guest coach, and it was the year after they won the Stanley Cup, and Pittsburgh was the place to be,” he said. “So that week I was there, it opened my eyes up to a lot of different things in terms of how they run practices and how they do certain things on the ice.”
It is no surprise there were multiple candidates knocking on the door this time around. Nine years ago, when the program was at rock bottom, it was almost impossible to find someone who would be interested in attempting to steer Bowling Green hockey in the right direction. The program’s new standard, returning to national relevance and potential contention for a national championship, made this vacancy a very attractive position.
As far as what is next for this team in order to live up to this new standard, the transition between this past year’s blue line and next year’s blue line will need to be flawless. Three key penalty killing seniors on the defensive core in Adam Smith, Connor McDonald and Chris Pohlkamp are graduating, and starting goaltender Ryan Bednard signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers and will not be returning for his senior year.
There needs to be extensive trust between the coaching staff and the players, and having someone who has spent the past nine season dedicated to Bowling Green hockey will bode well for chemistry and stability on both sides.
“For the most part I think we’re just going to carry on with our day-to-day,” said sophomore winger Brandon Kruse on Tuesday. “Since the first day I stepped on campus with Eigs, we’ve had a really good relationship and been really close with one another … He’s a good person to talk to just have a conversation with during practice or away from the rink.”
The same can be said on the ice. In the middle of this head coaching search, the team had Cam Babiak, an incoming freshman out of Saline, Michigan, commit to the university to play this upcoming season. This begs the question: regardless of who the coach is, has the culture and environment been set in stone?
“As much as I hoped to be the coach, our guys were going to get a good coach because good people want to be involved with this program,” Eigner said confidently. “It is in a really good place. Probably in (as) good of a place as its been in every facet of Falcon hockey in 29 years.”