Castleton University men’s hockey coach Bill Silengo and an assistant were anxious to start eating into the miles of a long recruiting drive one day from Saskatchewan to Camrose, Alberta.
“I said, ‘’let’s get on the road and we’ll hit the first gas station we see,” recalled Silengo.
They had five or six hours ahead of them. They drove and drove.
“We saw maybe three cars in five hours and not a single gas station,” Silengo said.
The desolate landscape did not offer much promise as the trip unfolded.
“It was open land and lots of farm land,” Silengo said.
The city of Camrose with its populaton of 19,000 in central Alberta never looked so good.
“We pulled into Camrose on fumes. If we had run out of gas, I don’t think it would have been good,” Silengo said.
When you are recruiting for a program that currently is stocked with 15 Americans from 10 states, 10 natives of Canada from five provinces and three Finnish forwards, you collect as many stories as you do players.
Recruiting for a Division III hockey program involves long trips, motel living and eating on the run.
At least that is the way it is in a normal year. This COVID year is not the same.
“It is completely different this year,” Silengo said, “No overnight stays are allowed and we can’t go into certain counties or states.”
You still go where you can. Wednesday, Silengo was in New Hampshire recruiting.
“We must do a lot of it online this year, but other schools are in the same boat,” he said.
The coaches are not allowed to be on the ice with players in September and into October so normally Silengo would be at a three-day showcase in Canada this month, watching Junior League teams each day from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Every province in Canada has a Junior League and they are also sprinkled throughout the United States.
Following days of eyeballing those players and making connections, it’s back home to the office where the objective is to keep those connections burning.
“We start grinding the phone lines,” Silengo said.
One of the best examples of relationship building involves Castleton’s Calvin Moise who rang up eight goals and 20 points last season to earn New England Hockey Conference Rookie of the Year honors.
Silengo began to get to know Moise after first seeing him play at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River.
Not many coaches had shown interest in Moise at that time, but Silengo saw an upside in the Canadian.
He went to a Junior League in Ottawa where he played well. Other coaches were now on the trail.
“We had really gotten to know each other. He felt at home here,” Silengo said.
When the coaches begin learning about a player. they get a sense of whether or not Castleton and the Rutland area community is a good match.
“If a player wants to be in a city and wants an engineering degree, we cross him off the list,” Silengo said.
“We have strong programs in Business and Athletic Training. We focus on those.
“I tell every kid that Castleton is a hidden gem. I want to get them to see our beautiful campus and area and to see our beautiful rink.
“I tell them that they are not going to be in an auditorium with 300 other students for a class; that they are going to be able to build relationships with their teachers and that those relationships might lead to a job.”
The two other Division III hockey schools in Vermont have more impressive rinks. Middlebury College’s Kenyon Arena and Norwich University’s Kreitzberg Arena are palaces.
But Silengo points out that compared to other D-III rinks in the New England Hockey Conference, and throughout the country, Castleton’s Spartan Arena ranks in the upper echelon.
Former Castleton women’s hockey coach Bill Bowes once said that whenever he entered Spartan Arena as a visiting coach, he noticed that there had been improvements done to the facility every time.
“Steve Wolf, Mike Anderson and Dave Manfredi keep the place immaculate. Recruits are impressed when we bring them in here,” Silengo said.
“We run our program like a professional business. We have great community support and people like the way we run our games.”
He also sells the NEHC to players he is recruiting.
“It is the best Division III league in the country,” Silengo said.
The league which is also comprised of Norwich, Babson, Hobart, New England College, UMass-Boston, Skidmore. Southern Maine , Suffolk and Johnson & Wales, is well represented in the NCAA tournament every year. You are apt to find three to five of the league’s team residing in the national top 15 rankings.
The CU roster is filled with players from far-flung locales, but that does not mean Silengo and his staff are overlooking Vermont skaters.
The Spartans have Rutland’s Conner Ladabouche.
“We are happy to have him. He is a heck of a player,” Silengo said.
“If there is a good player in Vermont, we’re after them. We were recruiting two of them last year.”
The Castleton coaches also tap into Neutral Zone, a recruiting service owned by Rutland’s Steve Wilk with its office in Center Rutland. Rutland native Brendan Collins is Director of Scouting for Neutral Zone.
“Every rink, we see a Neutral Zone guy,” Silengo said. “I think with few exceptions, every school in the country uses their web site. We will use it a lot this year.
“Brendan Collins has an unbelievable eye for talent and he knows the kind of player we want.”
Whether it’s on a lonely road that Silengo hopes will eventually lead to Camrose, Alberta or a rink close to home, the Castleton coach is determined to find players who fit the Spartan mold.