When the Harrisburg Lunatics took the floor at the 422 Sportsplex in Pottstown, PA a few weeks ago to start their 2011 PIHA campaign, a lot of the environmental details were the same as they always are when they take the floor. The Rocket puck was exactly the same as it had been the season before. The opponents were nearly identical to the same ones faced a year ago, with a changing face or two. Even the officiating crew was all familiar to the players. But this season was different…something, or should I say someone, was missing.
The Lunatics are without their leader, Head Coach and General Manager Todd Wiley for the first time in a long time. For those that don’t know, Todd announced his retirement from the Lunatics organization during the offseason to devote more time to his family and spend more time doing the things that interest him most. Todd has spent the better part of the last six years, devoting his time and putting all his effort into making the Lunatics the crown jewel of PIHA, spending long days and nights at the rink coaching or on the phone trying to help make the team schedules, or even just spending a few minutes chatting with a player about the past week’s game or upcoming game.
Todd is already greatly missed within the organization. When asked about what he is going to miss most about Todd, returning veteran defenseman Kevin Hollenbush stated, “Of all the great players and members of the Lunatics organization to come thru the doors, nobody will be missed as much as Todd-O. Not too many people can get away with telling (Jay) Mazer “you sucked tonight” or tell Biff (Scott Miller) “pull up his skirt and play”….of course using other words. Nobody will be able to replace his ability to help us pass a bad loss off or ground us after a big win. But most of all, I will sincerely miss making him the point on a lot of cracks, few take it so well, he knew it got us ready to play.”
Todd always knew his role on the pro bench. He knew he wasn’t there to be Scotty Bowman and try and coach a bunch of all-stars. He was more of an organizer, a peacekeeper and a motivator. But when items needed to be addressed, the team need to be woken out of a dreary slumber, Todd was right there to deliver that message too. He led they followed, but he also knew how to be quiet and let the players’ coach themselves. The place where Todd’s impact will be missed greater than any other will be with the two minor league teams. Todd almost had to be two different coaches at two different levels, being the aforementioned quieter leader with the Pros, and the hardnosed “do it my way or the highway” type of coach needed to coach in the minor league ranks of PIHA. Players at the minor league level are still learning, aspiring to reach the Pros, and Todd knew this very well. His ability to handle certain players with kid gloves or be tougher on some of the vets because he knew how hard to push them to get them going is a skill not easily acquired, unless of course you have years of coaching experience at many levels.
It’s not just within the Lunatics organization is Todd’s presence going to be missed. The league itself will also suffer, knowing that he won’t be around this season. When asked about Todd’s contribution to PIHA, both on a professional and coaching level, PIHA Commissioner and Head Coach of the New Jersey Grizzlies Denis Jelcic offered this statement, “I have been involved in the sport of roller hockey since 1997, a little over 14 years and have met many people along the way. When thinking about people dedicated to the sport, Todd Wiley comes to mind, and dedication to the sport, his facility and his organization goes right along with it. Todd has done great things in Harrisburg and has certainly been nothing short of a gentleman on and off the rink as an administrator, team leader and coach. I know he will still be around when I come to the rink, but seeing him behind the bench and hearing him on our league wide phone calls will certainly be missed. I wish Todd the best in the future with anything he decides to do, and only say that he will be missed greatly by all of us. Good Luck Todd.”
As the Lunatics prepare for this Saturday’s festival at Susquehanna Sports Center (AKA The Asylum), the spot behind the pro team where Todd would usually stand will be occupied by new Head Coach Ron Gilbert. Ron in his first season in professional coaching now has the reigns of the Lunatics organization, helped along of course by Jay Mazer and returning assistant Rick Canulli, Todd has left the Tics in very capable hands. For now, Todd still works at the SSC, where he can usually be found running the rink & turf field, and as always, arguing with Mazer. He will also be able to concentrate on one of his greatest passions in life outside of hockey and his family, Civil War re-enacting (or as some his players like to refer to it “playing cowboys & Indians”). He’ll also be able to spend more time with his devoted wife Lisa and their son Brett. Hockey is not totally out of his blood, as Todd will still lace up the skates from time to time, playing rec league hockey and helps out with the Tics where he is needed. One thing is for sure, Todd has left a lasting impression on the organization, the league, and most importantly his players. Thanks for everything and good luck Todd-O.