GVSU program founder, 2009-10 Coach of the Year, Whitaker moving onto Lindewood
After starting the GVSU women's program in 2006, Cory Whitaker is taking the next step of his career with a NCAA program. Whitaker is moving on to work with a former ACHA club, Lindenwood.
For the first time in the history of Grand Valley State University Women's Hockey, Cory Whitaker will not be shadowing the Lady Lakers behind the bench as Head Coach.
After establishing the GVSU women's hockey program in 2006, leading the club for five seasons and qualifying three of his five teams to the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament, Whitaker is stepping down.
On June 7, Whitaker accepted a position to coach the goaltenders and handle recruiting responsibilities for Lindenwood University (NCAA) in St. Charles, MO.
For Whitaker, the difficult decision to step down from the helm of his alma mater has given him the opportunity to take an even larger step forward.
"To be honest, this is the ultimate goal for me," Whitaker said. "When I started the program I never thought in a million years it would present the opportunity for me to coach full-time."
Whitaker reiterated the decision to resign was difficult to make not only because he started the program and graduated from GVSU, but because he once played between the pipes for the Lakers as a goaltender from 1996-2001.
"Everything that I have has been a result of the doors that have opened up from Grand Valley hockey, both as a player and as a coach," he said. "There is no amount of gratitude I can say to everyone involved who has helped us, thank you."
As a former Laker goalie, perhaps no one will be affected more by Whitakers absence than the Lady Laker netminders.
Sharing time in the crease this past season with junior's Kajsa Trollsas and Karen Sloboda is fifth-year senior goaltender, Michelle Wyniemko who says she developed a very close relationship with Whitaker over the past 4 seasons.
"Cory leaving came out of left field, but I understand it is in his best interest," Wyniemko said. "I am mad at him for leaving me in my final year because he knows my strengths and weaknesses, it's a big loss. I appreciate his dedication and all his help these past four years and I will miss him."
Along with Wyniemko, Senior, forward, Shelby Kucharski who was recruited and coached by Whitaker for the past three seasons says she was speechless when she received word of Whitaker's eventual departure.
"I talked to him [Whitaker] for about half and hour and I couldn't get a word out because I was so shocked," Kucharski said. "He was such a good leader, everyone looked to him when there was an issue, he was the backbone basically."
Former assistant coaches for Whitaker, Sean McKernan and Darrell Gregorio look to fill the backbone as co-head coaches for the 2012-2013 season.
Gregorio, who has coached alongside Whitaker for about 7 years spanning the high school ranks and at GVSU says Whitaker leaving is going to be a huge change the program must and will overcome.
"Without a doubt he is one of the biggest pieces of the program," Gregorio said. "I don't know if we are going to find a replacement for Cory just because that type of person is almost irreplaceable for all he has done to help build this program. Before, no one knew about Grand Valley, now we have players from Winnipeg, players from Sweden."
In addition to coaching with Whitaker, Gregorio, along with McKernan, played alongside Whitaker at GVSU for two seasons.
When Gregorio first heard he would be losing Whitaker, someone he had been associated with for over a decade, he says he had nothing but a smile on his face.
"The opportunity of what he is going to be able to do there is huge," he said. "I think his recruiting budget alone is more than our entire operating season. To have that and be able to go out and find players who want to perform at the highest level, he is going to excel at it."
Whitakers history may suggest he indeed will excel while at Lindenwood.
His resume includes taking his second team to the ACHA National Tournament after a first season record of 1-20. In 2010 he was awarded Coach of the Year by the ACHA and over five seasons at GVSU, Whitaker finished with a career winning record of 64-63-7 despite the difficult first year.
Both Gregorio and Kucharski say they agree GVSU will be losing someone tough to replace in Whitaker and that he will be greatly missed.
However, Kucharski says what she will miss the most about Whitaker is not what he succeeds at, but rather what he breaks.
"I'm going to miss him breaking his stick at practice," Kucharski said. "I think every year he has broken a $200 stick at practice because he was so mad. We all wondered when it was going to happen next."
It is likely this is the only void left by Whitaker that McKernan and Gregorio would rather not fill this season.