By Brittany Burke - Web Content Contributor
For most kids who grow up playing a sport it’s their dream to make it big and sign a professional sports contract. For Tom Castle, a left wing freshman out of Northern Michigan University that dream was fulfilled.
Castle, a native to England came back from NMU’s winter break with news for his coaches; he had been offered a professional contract with the Telford Tigers in his home country.
“We kind of knew when we brought him in that he was going to go to school, but at some point [he could get signed],” said NMU Head Coach Carl Trosien. “There had been talks and he came back from semester break and said ‘Hey they made me an offer,’ and for us as a coaching staff at one time playing juniors and playing college hockey wanted to taste pro hockey so we gave him the blessing to go.”
With their blessing Castle left the United States and went back to England, where he holds a dual citizenship, in attempt to make his lifelong goals come true. Now, as Castle continues expand his career and play overseas for the English Premier League, his former team is doing the same in Northern Michigan, with his help.
“I don’t think we expected [the growth of the program] to happen this fast,” said Trosien. “To have the talent that we’ve had come in our freshman recruiting class this year was phenomenal and obviously they’re playing a major role in the turn around and then to have this, is just icing on the cake. I think to have a kid sign a pro deal it definitely happened quicker than we all thought.”
NMU’s ACHA program is still young in comparison, going back only seven years at the most, but the team and its coaching staff has already seen a difference and recognition occur on campus and amongst other team sports on campus.
“For the most part [the team is] treated like student athletes. I don’t think it’s as bad as it is with other sports. Yes, it’s still ACHA club hockey, but to a point we get a pretty good following,” said Trosien. “There’s not a whole lot of interaction, but we are recognized by the school and the varsity team.
"Obviously we’re not trying to become them, that’s not what this is about. But they understand that and it’s really working to put Northern Michigan on the map both at the club level and the varsity level.”
The growth around the school hasn’t been a necessarily easy path. Trosien has been head coach of the NMU squad for a year, after taking the position from its founding coach, a father of one of the team members.
“I give props to [him] for getting to the point where it went from being just a club hockey team to pretty competitive hockey team over those first five years, [he] did a really good job,” said Trosien. “I think [he] realized he had to give it over to a full time on campus coach to take it to the next level and I was just lucky enough to get the job now everything we do we’re looking to grow it and make it better.”
Now that the Wildcats have been able to get the team to that competitive level the coaching staff can focus on freshman recruitment while the athletes forge their way through the first season with the Western Collegiate Club Hockey Association. Joining the WCCHA, the club counterpart to NMU’s varsity league, is just another growth in the five year plan, but it doesn’t end there.
Trosien has big plans for the NMU team and it doesn’t stop with the club sport. NMU already has a varsity team, but he’d like to one day see a DII or III team competing at a high level as well.
“I personally would like to start a DIII program as well as a DII program,” said Trosien. “I think we have the players with recruiting and the access to players to make it happen. We’ll see how that goes, but that’s definitely a goal to have a second men’s program, so I have some goals. They’re lofty ideas for a small school up here in the middle of nowhere, but I think it’s possible, we are a hockey school.”
Growing a team isn’t any small feat, but the Wildcats are already off to a good start with the WCCHA and having Castle sign with the EPL.
“Tom’s situation was great, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean every kid who plays for us is gonna get a pro offer,” said Trosien. "You’re probably going to get one every 10 or 12 years, but I don’t think we’re gonna see a ton of kids go that route. It’s the exception to the rule, but it’s the exception to the rule that kids can come in and say ‘Hey I can do this,’ and that’ll only push them to get better.”