Ty Eigner will always treasure the emotional, exciting experience of receiving his No. 14 burnt orange and seal brown Bowling Green hockey jersey for the first time as his college career commenced in the fall of 1988.
The steady defenseman from Rosemount, Minnesota, proudly wore it for 123 games over the next four seasons, adding a captain’s C to the front following his junior year.
More than 30 years later, Eigner was presented with an updated version of that jersey on an even more thrilling and emotion-filled occasion.
This time, a beaming Eigner was clutching it along with Bowling Green president Rodney Rogers and athletic director Bob Moosbrugger as cameras flashed and clicked after he was formally introduced as the Falcons’ next head hockey coach on April 23.
The program's eighth head coach then put the latest addition to his wardrobe aside before beginning a 17-minute speech emphasizing how honored and humbled he is to realize the dream of coaching his alma mater.
Only 52 seconds elapsed before the emotion of the moment overtook Eigner, leaving him choked up and misty-eyed.
The 50-year-old paused, collected his thoughts and continued, expressing a burning desire to continue the program-reviving work of predecessor Chris Bergeron after serving as his defensive assistant for nine seasons. The two have been friends since spending a season as teammates with the ECHL's Birmingham Bulls in 1994-95.
After turning around a Bowling Green program which was on thin ice when he took over in 2010, Bergeron resigned April 5 to became head coach at his alma mater, Miami of Ohio. Barry Schutte, also an assistant throughout Bergeron's tenure, followed him there.
Eigner's voice began quivering twice more during his remarks. First, when noting how thankful he is to Bergeron for bringing him to Bowling Green and then when expressing how much his family, which includes a wife, son, and two daughters, means to him.
“After watching how emotional Bergs got during his press conference at Miami, I was really hoping to be the same position,” Eigner said. “I said during the interview process that nobody cares more or is more passionate about Bowling Green hockey. I live, sleep and breathe it.”
In his first departure from previous practices, Eigner concluded the press conference by naming WCHA second-team defenseman Alec Rauhauser next season’s captain and forwards Connor Ford and Frederic Letourneau his assistants. The surprised trio came forward to receive new jerseys embroidered with a C and As.
Captains are normally revealed after preseason practice begins.
“None of us had any idea that was going to happen when we showed up for the press conference, but all three us are very excited and honored coach Eigner is giving us the opportunity to lead this team,” Rauhauser said. “You could see from the press conference how much being the head coach means to him by what he said and the tears he was shedding. It's great to see him rewarded for all his hard work and passion.”
Looking back on that day nearly a month later, Eigner says he wanted to name captains earlier as a way of easing the transition to a new head coach. In fact, he had asked players who they felt should serve as captains during individual meetings with them before he was even offered the job.
“Regardless of who became head coach, I felt meeting with the players would be good for the continuity of the program,” he said. “Once I became coach, I felt it was good for all players to know who will be captains now, so they can help lead their teammates offseason activities. All three of those young men are very deserving and will be great leaders.”
Since being named coach, Eigner has been attending to a full plate of tasks in an effort to continue the momentum of last season when the Falcons won 25 games, the most since 1995-96, and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990.
Among other things, Eigner has reached out to committed recruits, emphasized to players what is expected of them during the offseason, traveled around Ohio as part of Bowling Green's Coaches Caravan, and began an exhaustive search for two assistant coaches.
Eigner has reaffirmed the commitment of top recruit T.J. Lloyd, who spent this season with the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Spruce Groves Saints and was recently named the Canadian Junior Hockey League's Top Defenseman.
Dangerous on both ends of the ice, Lloyd finished with 45 points (11 goals, 34 assists) in 53 games.
“We are not going retain all of next year’s recruits, but most are still coming,” Eigner said. “T.J. Lloyd is the kind of player who will jump in and help us right away. There is some scholarship money left for next season, so we’ll find the best way to use it.”
Eigner began sifting through about 75 resumes to find his assistants following the May 13 application deadline.
“There has been overwhelming interest when it comes to joining the staff,” he said. “That says a lot about how people feel about what we’ve done here over the past nine years. They want to be part of it. A decade ago, not many people wanted anything to do with Bowling Green hockey.”
What Bergeron, Eigner, and Schutte accomplished during their nine years together after taking over a program that finished 5-25-6 the season before, the fewest wins in its history, is remarkable. Bowling Green had not had a winning season since 1997 and rumors circulated the university was considering dropping the program that celebrated a national championship in 1984.
The coaching trio brought it back from the brink.
The Falcons doubled their win total in Bergeron’s first year and began its current streak of six straight winning seasons in 2013-14, winning at least 20 games the last five years. Bowling Green has finished in the top three of the WCHA regular season standings five times and has advanced to the WCHA Tournament final twice in the past three years.
Eigner has played a major role in Bowling Green’s transformation from one of the country’s worst defensive and penalty-killing teams to among the best in college hockey.
The Falcons allowed nearly four goals a game (3.83) the season prior to Eigner’s arrival before dropping to 2.94 his first year and becoming even stingier in subsequent seasons. Bowling Green has given up fewer than 2.50 goals in each of the past five years, including 1.83 last season, second-best in the nation.
The Falcons’ penalty kill was second-worst in the country (74.9 percent) in 2009-2010, but gradually improved to second-best in the nation (88.5) this season. Overall, Bowling Green placed in the top half of the country seven of the past nine years, including three top-10 finishes.
Still, Eigner was uncertain of his chances of landing the job he also applied for in 2010 when he was a high school coach in Minnesota.
After all, head college coach was not on his resume and Bowling Green legend Wayne Wilson, a key member of the national championship team, was interviewed. Wilson was also a Bowling Green assistant for 11 seasons before beginning a 20-year run as RIT head coach in 1999.
He oversaw RIT’s transition to Division I in the fall of 2005 and has guided the Tigers to three NCAA Tournament berths since, including the 2010 Frozen Four.
“There was no question I was going to apply when Bergs left, and I felt some confidence because of all that I helped accomplish the past nine years, along with the way I interacted with players,” Eigner said. “I was hoping that mattered more than maybe previous head coaching experience. It's the job I've always wanted.”
There was little time for Eigner to reflect on his future. He was still a Bowling Green employee with duties to fulfill.
With a decision looming, Eigner traveled to Chicago for a busy weekend of scouting a junior tournament and watching one of his daughters participate in a mammoth (900-team) volleyball tourney nearby.
Eigner was seated among a raucous volleyball crowd the afternoon of Friday, April 19, when he barely heard his cell phone ring. It was Moosbrugger.
“I saw it was Bob calling, so I scrambled to find a place to talk because there was like 120 courts of volleyball going on,” he said. “Bob just said he had some questions related to my interview and needed some other general information about what I might do if I was head coach.”
Barely 20 minutes later, Moosbrugger called again and Eigner finally heard the words he had been waiting for.
“Bob was like ‘We want to offer you the job,’ and I quickly became pretty emotional,” he said. “I shared the news with everyone I could before the announcement was made the next day.”
Eigner signed a six-year, $1.35 million contract and met with players the following Monday.
“That meeting went very well because of the relationships I've built with all the guys in that room,” Eigner said. “They had a sense of comfort knowing that things are going to continue as they have been. They don't have to get to know a new coach.”
And the best part?
“I don't have to move for my dream job, don't have to find a new house or a school for my kids,” he said. “I'll just be moving to a bigger office.”
Count Rauhauser among the elated players.
“Coach Eigner is easy to approach whether you want to talk to him about hockey or something else,” he said. “He is there to help everyone be the best they can be and meet their goals. He has made myself and many others better.”
Praise for the hiring poured in from around the college hockey world, including from Boston College coach Jerry York, who guided Bowling Green during Eigner's playing days. In addition to naming him captain, York presented Eigner with the Coaches Award his senior season.
“The first thing I remember about coaching Ty was how well-respected he was in our locker room—an outstanding teammate,” York said in a news release on Bowling Green's website. “His progression and growth in coaching has been very impressive from my viewpoint. He is an excellent hire.”
Eigner even received a citation from the Ohio State Senate.
“You are deserving of praise, for you bring to this new post a wealth of knowledge and leadership skills,” the citation read in part.
After moving to Rosemount from Wisconsin at age eight, Eigner was introduced to hockey by local coach Chuck Grillo, who later became a scout and executive with the Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks.
Eigner still ranks among Rosemount High School's top 10 career scorers with 111 points (43 goals, 68 assists).
Following his college career, he spent three seasons playing minor league hockey before moving back to Minnesota and beginning a 14-year high school coaching career.
Eigner coached his alma mater from 1996 to 1999, earning a Section 5AA Coach of the Year award in 1998. He then spent 1999 to 2008 at Brainerd, earning 7AA Coach of the Year in 2006 and finishing with a 135-87-10 record.
From 2008 to 2010, Eigner was associate head coach at Eden Prairie and was named Minnesota's AA assistant coach of the year in 2009 after helping the team win a state title.
The Falcons return 19 of 28 players next season, including their top four scorers: Max Johnson (19 goals, 24 assists for 43 points), second-team WHCA pick Brandon Kruse (10-31-41), Connor Ford (17-17-34) and Rauhauser (4-22-26).
The Falcons also retain three of last season's top six defensemen in Rauhauser, Tim Theocharidis, and Will Cullen.
The biggest losses are third-team WCHA goaltender Ryan Bednard, fifth in the nation with a 1.77 goals-against average, and top-line forward Lukas Craggs (13-12-25).
Eric Dop was solid in backing up Bednard, finishing with a 1.34 gaa, .948 saves percentage, and three shutouts in nine starts.
“There are guys who won't be easy to replace, but we feel great about next season's team and the guys leaving just opens the door for others,” Eigner said. “I know other guys will step up when given opportunities. We want to continue to show we belong among the country's best teams.”
Eigner will not have wait long to renew acquaintances with Bergeron. Miami hosts Bowling Green Oct. 6 in the season opener for both teams.