FRASER, Mich. – It’s difficult enough leaving home to play junior hockey at 18 or even 19 years of age, but Wylie Rogers moved more than 3,700 miles away from his Alaska home to play for the Metro Jets back in 2001.
The 16-year-old goaltender wound up winning a Silver Cup national championship that season with head coach Jon Cooper (now with the Tampa Bay Lightning) and found himself staying in the Mitten for the 2002-03 season with the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 Team.
Not too shabby for a self-described “kid from Fairbanks that just wanted to play hockey.”
“I was playing junior in Fairbanks and I wasn’t getting the ice time I was hoping to get,” said Rogers, now 30. “I got a call from (longtime Jets assistant coach) Randy Wilson and he told me a couple teams in Michigan (NAHL’s Capital Centre Pride, CSHL’s Jets) that had some openings. I flew down and tried out for both teams. I was told I could play for the Junior A team (Pride) and get maybe half the games, some of the games, or play for the Junior B team and try and get more of the games.
“Obviously, I was sick of sitting the bench, so I decided to play Junior B and that choice really sculpted my career. Being able to play for a coach like Jon Cooper, who I went to dinner with after Game 7 of the playoffs last spring between Tampa and Detroit, it’s amazing what decisions you make regarding your career really turn out positive and some set you back. Playing for the Metro Jets was obviously a huge step forward.”
With the Jets, Rogers led the squad to the franchise’s only national championship and said that when he reflects on that season, he sees that the move to Waterford was a high risk, high reward situation.
“It was more of a change for my parents,” laughed Rogers. “I was living in Mayville, which was about an hour and a half from the rink (Lakeland Arena), so I was living in a cornfield, going to school with a couple hundred kids, but I couldn’t ask for a better experience for my first year away. I got really lucky and had some amazing billets. I kind of knew that if I wanted to progress to the next level that I’d have to move away from home, take the path outside of Alaska, but I think I adjusted really well. My parents had the faith that I’d turn out alright, and it worked.
“It was a great group from the players, to the coaches, the billets, (owner-GM) Butch (Wolfe), everyone made that experience so special and so meaningful. I still keep in touch with a lot of those guys and I’ll always remember that season.”
After a year with the NTDP, then based in Ann Arbor, and a season in the British Columbia Hockey League with the Victoria Salsa, Rogers was able to return home for NCAA Division I hockey with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where he played from 2004-08.
After graduation, Rogers spent time playing pro hockey with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies, the Central Hockey League’s Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees and a season in the Netherlands. From 2012-14, he was an assistant coach for his alma mater in Fairbanks.
These days, Rogers is gearing up to go live with an invention he hopes will change the game of hockey from a goaltending perspective – The Wylie Post.
It’s a common occurrence in most every game at every level across the world – inevitably, the net pops off its pegs during action and the play (and flow of the game) is stopped. Rogers is banking on The Wylie Post changing that situation.
The prototype is a dual-spike peg with a short rubber post on top that won’t come free when goalies push against the post, but allows the net to come free when a skater runs into it. No drilling into the ice is needed.
Rogers first thought of the idea during graduate school at Fairbanks and when he was coaching the goaltenders during his stint with the Nanooks.
“During practices, the steel pegs weren’t holding up and before, you just learn to deal with the inefficiencies, but I really couldn’t ignore the problem any longer,” explained Rogers. “When you try to teach a movement and it’s difficult to do with the equipment given to you, your head starts to spin a little bit about different ways to make it work.”
During part of his master’s degree workload at UAF, Rogers took a class called “New Venture Development” where bringing an idea to life was the scope and go through all the steps to make a product market-ready.
“My professor, also my mentor and friend, Dr. Ping Lan, doesn’t know anything about hockey and speaks very little English, but when I came up with this concept of what’s now The Wylie Post, he was like, ‘We got a winner here,’” Rogers remembered. “He really pushed me to keep going, so I made my first prototype, which was basically just a peg with a spike welded on to it and we used it in practice and it worked so well that we couldn’t use it in games because it was so dangerous and the nets weren’t breaking free at all. One of our guys ran into it and the net didn’t even budge.”
Rogers then went back to Dr. Lan and with his guidance, made some adjustments to make the product safe.
“Dr. Lan said you’re not done until everyone can use this,” said Rogers. “That’s where the wheels really started turning and we started playing with different ideas on how to make this become a reality. It’s been a lot of years in the making since then, but it’s progressed fairly quickly. Not a process I’d like to do over and over with all the testing, reworking and redrafting, but we’re weeks away from releasing this thing and launching the product.”
Rogers, who was married to his wife, Sarah, in the summer of 2014, even made a stop at Fraser Hockeyland several weeks back to meet with his old team and to have them see what The Wylie Post is all about.
"It was great to see Wylie on his visit to Michigan and even better to see the success he is having in his post-playing days,” Jets coach-GM Justin Quenneville said. “I've known Wylie from playing against him and through the small world of hockey ties we have. I think his creation is going to be big and it's even more fitting to see another success story from the Jets family."
Once The Wylie Post is approved for usage in rinks, a set of two will retail for $249.95
More info is available at www.thewyliepost.com.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
The Jets and West Michigan Wolves wrapped their staggered home-and-home series Saturday night at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo with the Wolves taking a 5-4 overtime win.
Kevin Shand knotted the game at 4-all early in the third period for the Jets before Dakota Ulmer completed his hat trick with the overtime winner 24 seconds into the extra session.
"It's disappointing that we didn't grab the extra point tonight,” Quenneville said. “We had a few guys tonight that didn't have the strongest of games and it hurt us, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We had our chances to score and create separation and didn't take advantage of it. Forty-minute efforts just don't cut it at this level."
Jacob Drinkard, Mathias Tellstrom and newcomer Carter Woolley helped the Jets to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes before West Michigan rallied with three goals in the second period.
“There's always positives and negatives win or lose and tonight, we had a great start, but hockey is a 60-minute game and we learned a valuable lesson about that tonight,” said Jets forward Michael Tratar, held pointless for just the second time in 13 games this season. “We played hard, but in the end, you just can't let up no matter what the score is. We gave the Wolves a little sniff of life and they pounced on it.
“Losing is never fun, but you can't win every game. It's only one game of many more this season.”
Dylan Naumovski and Metro captain Matt Dempsey each contributed two assists and goaltender Kam Limburg finished with 32 saves in suffering the defeat.
Next up for Metro (10-2-0-1) is a home-and-home with the Toledo Cherokee starting Friday night at the Team Toledo Ice House with a 7 p.m. start time and concluding Saturday night at Fraser Hockeyland for a 7:30 p.m. opening puck drop.
Saturday night is also Trick or Treat with the Jets – all those in costume get in FREE and can trick or treat on the concourse from 6-7:15 p.m.
The games this weekend will also be available to stream on www.fasthockey.com.
Tickets for all Jets home games are available at the ticket office on game day starting at 6 p.m. for $5 or by emailing Nancy Krajewski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come to the ticket office on Tuesday nights from 6-8 p.m. and get tickets for any home game for just $2.
Woolley, a West Bloomfield native who turned 18 last month, is the son of former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jason Woolley, who played in Hockeytown from 2002-06. The younger Woolley started this season with the NAHL’s Aston Rebels and also saw a stint in the NAHL during the 2014-15 season with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Oakland University has always had a knack for recruiting Jets players and that again is the case this season with both the Grizzlies’ ACHA Division I and Division III teams.
Former Metro forwards Doug Andrews, Tommy Kilgore and Mike MacKinnon and defenseman Will Shier are members of the D-I squad, while forwards Matt Stirling and Chris Hellebuyck skate for the D-III team.