Co-coaches lead women’s club hockey into season

Judson Rodriguez

After six seasons with Cory Whitaker as head coach, the Grand Valley State University women’s ice hockey team will be led by two former assistant coaches, now head coaches.

The coaches, Darrell Gregorio and Sean McKernan, have been with GVSU throughout Whitaker’s tenure, and both coaches played for the men’s club ice hockey team between 1999-2002 — but their hockey relationship goes even farther back to high school.

“Darrell and I have been together for such a long time, it makes this new job a lot easier because we are both on the same page,” Mckernan said.

Having served under coach Whitaker, both coaches feel comfortable leading the team onward after the departure of the founder of women’s hockey at GVSU.

“We have the same ideas (as Whitaker) and strategies as far as how we want the game to be played,” Gregorio said. “But of course it’ll be a little different just because we’ll be giving out orders a little differently.”

With a 3-0 start and wins against Central Michigan University (16-0) and the University of Michigan (5-4), the Lakers haven’t seemed to miss a beat.

“They’ve been really good so far this year,” McKernan said. “It wasn’t ideal to give up a 4-1 lead at Michigan, but we came out with a win.”

The Lakers use a system that is modeled after the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins.

“We run a very skilled system that we have taken from the pro game,” Gregorio said. “Our thinking being if it works at the highest level of sport then it will probably work on our level, too.”

Women’s ice hockey is a pay-to-play sport, and the women that make up the team must pay the $1,500 fee that covers travel, ice time and other costs. It also is a club sport, which can really affect practice times, making the job of the coaches difficult as well as the players.

“We have limited practice time and it’s usually at a pretty late time,” McKernan said.

Senior goaltender Michelle Wyniemko is excited about the coaching change and thankful to have Gregorio and McKernan still on board with the team. “I’ve been with them since freshman year because they were my assistant coaches,” Wyniemko said. “They know my strong points and weaknesses.”

Growing up outside of Hockeytown, Wyniemko started playing on an outdoor rink her Dad would build each year. She wanted to take after her hockey-playing brother. At 10 years old, she began her career as a hockey player.

“My first year I played the center position,” Wyniemko said. “After that first season I moved to goalie.” Wyniemko believes that the team is on its way to great things this year.

“The team is capable of ranking highly and making it very far this season,” Wyniemko said. “It’s my final year, so I am going to do everything possible to that final game in the playoffs and then compete in Nationals.”

Gregorio thinks that’s the hardest thing about coaching; getting the girls to realize this is their last shot at sports. “This is like their final hurrah,” he said. “There’s nothing beyond this for them, so getting them to realize that they need to leave everything out on the ice is super important.”

GVSU takes on rival Robert Morris on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Georgtown Ice Arena.
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