By Pat Payton
It’s been 25 years since Dan Wildfong (1992-95) was a member of the St. Marys Lincolns.
But he says it seems like it was yesterday. Playing for the Lincs and living in the Stonetown for parts of three years left a lasting impression on his life.
Lincolns have had a lot of peaks and valleys in their long, storied history. When Wildfong played in St. Marys, Lincs were one of the top teams in the Western Jr. ‘B’ Hockey League and he was a big reason for their success.
In his rookie season (1992-93), Wildfong and the Lincolns won 42 games under coach Dave MacQueen and reached the league final. The next year, Lincs again won 42 games and captured the Western title under coaches Terry Uniac and Gerry Seguin. That 1993-94 squad is the last St. Marys team to hoist the league trophy. It happened on a March night in Petrolia after Lincolns defeated Mark Hunter’s Jets in six games.
Remembers tight-knit community
“I have lots of great memories of St. Marys,” the 44-year-old Clinton native said in a recent interview with the Independent. “It was such a tight-knit community and a beautiful place to live and play hockey. Especially the first couple of years, (Lincolns) gave me the opportunity to play at that level.
“The Lincolns were ingrained in the town, and I loved how the community treated us and supported us. I remember the team doing promotions at grocery stores and at the hospital. It was a great time.”
As a first-year Junior, Wildfong remembers MacQueen as being possibly the best coach he ever played for. MacQueen has gone on to coach at the Major Junior and professional levels.
“He’s one of the coaches I try and model myself after,” Wildfong said without hesitation. “He was tough on us, but very fair. What I loved about Dave, he never yelled at one individual. He would yell at the group together. You knew he was talking about you, but he yelled at the whole group instead.
“I liked the standard he set. Dave let a couple of the best players in the whole league go, just because of his principles. He didn’t care, and we still ended up winning without those two players.”
When Wildfong scored a goal at home, Lincs often played ‘Wild Thing’ from the scorekeeper’s booth. It was a song recorded by the British rock band, The Troggs.
He remembers playing with teammates such as Jason Heywood, Gordie Dulmage, Nathan Perrott, John Tripp, Jason Martin, Mike DeGurse and Ryan Lindsay, to name just a few. “Lindsay was one of the most dynamic rookies in our league,” Wildfong recalled. “He was so good.”
In Wildfong’s final season with the Lincolns (1994-95), he scored 45 goals and finished with 107 points. It earned him a full Division 1 scholarship at Colgate University in upstate New York.
After four solid years at Colgate, Wildfong headed for pro hockey in Shreveport, Louisiana. The left winger spent eight seasons with the Mudbugs, and was often described as the team’s “inspirational leader.”
Mudbugs’ all-time leading scorer
During his career at Shreveport, the Mudbugs won the Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL) title and another championship when they joined the Central League (CHL). Wildfong retired as the Mudbugs’ all-time leading scorer, averaging better than a point a game in his 488 career games played. He also picked up over 100 penalty minutes every season.
After retiring as a player following the 2006-07 season, Wildfong was immediately offered a coaching job in North Richland Hills, Texas. He guided the CHL’s Texas Brahmas for six seasons, winning a league title in 2008-09.
When the CHL team folded, the Brahmas’ owner entered a team in the North American Jr. ‘A’ League (NAHL). The Lone Star Brahmas are also based in North Richland Hills, and Wildfong’s been their head coach for the past seven years. Brahmas won a league title in 2016-17 after a 44-14-0 regular season.
“Last season, we had 14 of our players go on Division 1 college scholarships,” Wildfong noted. “Every year, we have at least 12 guys get Division 1 scholarships.”
This season, the Brahmas were 42-9-1 when the NAHL season (including playoffs) was suspended because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Wildfong also received news last week that he has been named the league’s coach-of-the-year.
Visited with former trainer
Reflecting back to the Lincs, Wildfong returned to St. Marys last summer to visit with former team trainer Mike Bannerman and his wife Ann. He boarded with Mike and Ann while playing for the Lincolns.
“Mike looked exactly the same, like he had never aged . . . even a little bit,” Wildfong said with a laugh. “I also took my family to get some chicken wings at the Creamery. That was another big memory of mine when I played in St. Marys.”
Wildfong and his wife Meagan have two children, Nolan, 11, and Riley, 9.
Wildfong has now lived and coached for 13 years in North Richland Hills. He said only a great coaching offer from a Division 1 university in the U.S. would entice him and his family to move.
“I have a really good opportunity here to run the team and it’s gone well,” he says. “We’re one of the top teams in the NAHL every year.”
–One of Wildfong’s first jobs as a teenager was “roofing” for Scott Driscoll’s father Ron in Seaforth. Ron’s son Scott, also a former Lincoln and a retiring NHL linesman, gave Wildfong his first penalty in minor hockey. “I started crying in the penalty box,” Wildfong remembers with a laugh.
–Shreveport Mudbugs retired Wildfong’s No. 10 jersey last season.
–Wildfong renewed acquaintances with John Tripp last season at an NHL coaches meeting in Dallas. Tripp now coaches pro hockey in Serbia. “We talked about a lot of memories from our Junior days,” Wildfong said.
–Wildfong also remembers playing a lot of minor pro hockey against Jeff Bes, another former Lincoln from Tillsonburg. Bes was a member of the Laredo Bucks of the Central League. “It’s interesting all the guys you meet who came through St. Marys and the Lincolns,” he says.