Schafer's antics while a player are the stuff of legends. We know that the Broad Street Bullies chose Willcox in the 2012 NHL Draft, but does that make him of stern enough stuff to live up to the reputation of Schafer?
Schafer was a player who famously broke a hockey stick emblazoned with "Harvard Sucks" on it over his head before a game against the Crimson in Lynah. A showman who shot a puck at Harvard's Cleary for elements of his sportsmanslike attitude toward the Big Red. A defenseman whose competitiveness and tenacity was so great that the Faithful felt obliged to propel him onward with chants of "kill, Schafer, kill." A leader who donned the captain's C and led his program to its seventh ECAC Championship in program history and in so doing overcoming the doldrums of 13 years without a title. Then, because his role as player was not sufficient somehow in his mind, he returned to his alma mater and resurrected a program that had begun to fall asunder to the cheers of "thank you, Schafer" in Lake Placid as Cornell claimed its first ECAC Championship in a decade.
Schafer is known to make new players learn the histories not only of the Cornell hockey program but the players who wore their chosen numbers before them. Willcox will learn shortly, if he has not already, that he has quite the sweater to fill.
It is no surprise that a player memorialized for stick-breaking and tenacity has another statistical claim to fame. Schafer's aggressive play has him occupying two of the top 25 records for penalty minutes served in a season for Cornell. His times served of 91 minutes and 72 minutes from his senior and junior seasons respectively rank seventh and twenty-third. D'Agostino served the greatest number of penalty minutes of any defenseman from last season. His total penalty minutes served during his junior campaign was 26% of the total that Schafer served his senior season and 33% of the time that Schafer occupied the sin bin his junior year. Willcox has much to live up to at both ends of the ice.
Foremost, it must be noted that Willcox has displayed the character already that should make the Lynah Faithful very proud that in a few short weeks he will don the carnelian and white. The Portland Winterhawks of the Canadian major junior Western Hockey League drafted Willcox in 2009. He decided that he would not want to forsake the college hockey route by suiting up for the Winterhawks so he chose to wait for other opportunities. He hoped still that college hockey would be in his future. Such an opportunity arose in the form of being offered a position on the Merritt Centennials of the Junior A BCHL. Willcox joined the Centennials and the rest is the most recent chapter in his hockey career until he takes the ice in Lynah Rink on October 19, 2012.
Willcox had a successful career in Merritt, BC. He played in 105 games in the BCHL. His stat sheet indicates that he scored 10 goals and 27 helpers over his BCHL career which amounts to an average of 0.35 pts/game. His 42 penalty minutes over his BCHL career amounts to 0.40 PIM/game.
Statistically, the comparison between Schafer's Cornell numbers and Willcox's BCHL numbers seems lopsided. Schafer's numbers outpace those of Willcox by 186% for pts/game while Schafer's rate of penalty minutes served per game during his senior year eclipses the time served of Willcox by a margin of 710%. Yes, Schafer's earning of penalty minutes are greater by more than a 7:1 margin to a future Philadelphia Flyer. That is eye-opening for anyone who could not imagine what Schafer was like on the ice as a player. So, the statistics are fairly one-sided. It appears that stastitically that Willcox has much room for improvement to carry the mantle of the number 3 that Schafer wore.
Statistics are not everything. Schafer brought far more than statistical contributions to the Cornell hockey program. This is not to say that Willcox will not meet or surpass the precendence of Schafer during his tenure at Cornell because he has unquestionable upside. However, this leaves far more ways that Willcox will be able to rise to the challege of carrying the mantle now accustomed with wearing number 3 for the Big Red.
Schafer's greatest contribution to the program was a change in outlook and attitude. Schafer inspired faith in a program both as its captain in his senior year of 1986 and as a coach from 1996 until the present. This attitudinal shift that Schafer inculcated is for what the Lynah Faithful should be most grateful to the coach. It is in this respect that Willcox can and has shown the propensity to be Schaferian.
Willcox did not serve in any formal leadership role on the Merritt Centennials, but he did play on Team Canada West and assisted in their attainment of a gold medal in the 2011 Junior A World Challenge. Furthermore, his choice to turn down a path in major junior hockey for the dual rigors of hockey and education on East Hill can scarcely be overstated as a barometer of character. It is this strength of character and resolution that shows his potential to become a great leader like the most famous Cornellian to wear 3 in carnelian and white.
Willcox will have one season to develop, but his development arc may be required to be steeper than those of previous defensemen. Cornell graduated two key defensemen last season in captain Keir Ross and workhorse defenseman Sean Whitney. They will leave a void undoubtedly that will need to be filled and that will be difficult to fill on a defenseive core that now has a high representation of youth. The exodus of defensive talent was exacerbated when a less-played defenseman chose to depart from Central New York early to pursue his fortunes in professional hockey.
The younger defensemen, including Willcox, will be able to rely upon the skills of seasoned and reliable veterans in the defensive core like Ryan, Gotovets, Birch, and D'Agostino. However, the quick loss of Birch and D'Agostino after the 2012-13 campagin will require freshmen like Willcox to occupy leadership roles and it is in this respect that the character and intellect that Willcox has shown through his accolades (winning the Merritt Centennial's Academic Scholar Award) and choices that he can prove that he is more than worthy to wear the number of Schafer. Expectations on the program this coming season are exceedingly high and new talent, like Willcox, can give the Faithful more reason to believe.
Schafer is a figure who will continue to rise in the esteem of those who follow the program. He is the ninth-ranked active coach in college hockey in terms of number of wins and the seventh-ranked active coach in college hockey in terms of winning percentage. He is the winningest coach in terms of total wins in Cornell hockey history. He has meant so much more to Cornell hockey and the Cornell University community than any numbers can capture. His sweater will likely someday hang from the rafters alongside Dryden's number 1 and Nieuwendyk's number 25. It deserves to be there.
Willcox can carve out a niche within the history of the number-3 sweater at Cornell. He can prove that with his leadership and skills, both of which seem ample, that he deserves to be respected as a historic wearer of number 3 in his own right someday. We hope that Willcox's tangible, statistical, and intangible contributions to Cornell hockey become so great that Cornell hockey is left with the same dilemma that plagues other programs, that revere their history no less than does Cornell hockey its own, when an integral figure to a program and a noteworthy player wore the same number while playing for that program.
Willcox has given himself a large sweater to fill. It does not mean that he will not achieve that goal. His past indicates that he likes challenges and often rises to meet them. There is no reason to doubt that he will do the same this time.
If Willcox finds the opportunities and the ability to make the Cornell hockey community believe in itself and its greatness even more than it does currently, he will prove that he is more deserving to wear Schafer's number than any statistical comparison ever could bear out. We wish him much luck in the pursuit of such proof.