I recently had a chance to catch up with former Muskies Captain, and Oakwood Ontario native Mike Wills to follow up on his first school year, and NCAA hockey season at Merrimack College.
One thing that is immediately noticeable is that Wills is still as exuberant as ever when it comes to both his hockey, and his studies.
He said his first season was an exciting one. The team finished in the middle of tough Hockey East division with a record of 13-9-5. They finished 5th of 10 teams. Although the team eventually fell in a three game series in Maine, Wills said the busloads of Merrimack fans that made the trip made the series an exciting one.
His first season was not without issues though. Partway through the season Wills realized he was not feeling as well as he should, and toward the end of the season he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Although he tried to play through, he did have to miss a few games.
I asked what the biggest difference was in jumping from the OJHL to the NCAA. The biggest change is the speed and the quality of the play, he replied. Here every player was at the top of his junior team. He also added that there are no real blowouts. Every game is a battle which is great. He said there is also a lot of focus on playing systems. Things like touch passing, and quick decision making are key.
I asked him particularly about his time playing for the Muskies, and how it helped him prepare to move on, and he was quick to give credit to his former team. The coaching staff taught me a lot about getting up into the play, and the importance of strong passing. During his time as Muskies Captain he also learned the value of strong physical, and mental play to lead his team. His strong play in Lindsay also saw him selected to the 2008 World Jr. A Challenge, Team Canada East squad.
Hockey is not the only thing that's going well for Mike these days though. He is equally excited when talking about the first year in his arts, and arts history course that he is enrolled in. He has four courses each semester, with the classes for the most part being in the morning, leaving time for workouts and practice in the afternoon. It's mainly been core courses so far. A lot of art history and theory. Although now preparing for exams, he has maintained a 2.65 grade point average, which is important as good marks have to be maintained to remain n the hockey team.
I asked him how his painting was coming along, and he said he had two more pieces commissioned this year. Although Mike didn't mention it, it's worth noting that he recently donated two of his paintings to help raise money for a Lindsay area family who were recently devastated by a fire.
Wills chuckled when I asked him what life is like being away from home for the first time. It's definitely a big change. Not having a car means I have to walk everywhere. He lives on campus, and all the facilities he needs for school, and hockey are right there, and within walking distance. The campus is located in North Andover, which is about 40 minutes north of Boston.
When the exams are over his first of four years will be complete at the college.
We wish him continued success.