Cole Woodliffe took the unconventional route to secure a hockey scholarship, showing perseverance and courage along the way.
The 21-year-old Vernon minor hockey product will play for the NCAA Division III Northland College LumberJacks in Wisconsin next season. Northland is situated in Northland, a small city of 15,000 on the shore of Lake Superior. The school is 10 blocks from the lakefront.
Woodliffe, a consummate 205-foot centre, was a point-per-game player for the Weyburn Red Wings of the Saskatchewan Junior League last season, compiling 33 goals and 90 points in 135 career regular-season games. The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder missed two months last year with a groin injury and a concussion, amassing a dozen goals and 36 points.
He chose the Jacks over the Norwich Cadets in Vermont and the Wilkes University Colonels in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. He met Northland head coach Seamus Gregory multiple times.
“He saw me play 10 times and he was the most keen on me,” said Woodliffe. “He likes my game. He likes the way I think the game and how I play physical and that I’m a complete player.”
Woodliffe went from Midget AAA in Vernon to Junior B in Summerland (Heat) before joining the BCHL West Kelowna Warriors, going back to Summerland and finally landing in Weyburn.
Gregory, who is also the school’s associate athletic director, was elated Woodliffe chose the Jacks, who will play in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for the 2019-20 season. The LumberJacks (9-13-3 overall last year) will join UW-Superior, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout in 2019-20.
“To receive word that Cole has decided to attend Northland College to further his education and play for the Jacks is an addition that makes our hockey program better on many fronts, we have been searching for a player of his skill set to play a role here and we couldn’t be more excited,” said Gregory, a 2003 graduate of St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, in his fifth year with the Jacks.
“Cole is a player who we feel can play in any situation, he has a very high ceiling and will be an impact player at our level. We have Red Wings here in our lineup now and to add another is very special – Cole is also a very serious student which will make the transition from junior very seamless.”
“Weyburn was different,” said Woodliffe. “I was 17 and I drove all the way and didn’t know anybody there. It was easy to get along with everybody; it’s a tight-knit community like Ashland. Everybody goes to the rink. Jacob Jeske played in Weyburn and is going into his junior year. He loves it and he’s really excited to reunite.”
A student of hockey and life in general, Woodliffe is high on the education he has realized from hockey.
“I learned that there’s more to hockey than just hockey. You learn how to carry yourself on and off the ice professionally and keep your emotions in check. You learn what hard work can do. I’m also very proud I did it on my own and am taking hockey and my education to another level.”
Woodliffe, who wore No. 22 for the Red Wings, also learned that life can change on a dime as it did for many in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April.
“It hit home instantly; it was the same league I played in for the past three years,” said Woodliffe. “It was the kids I’ve played against directly, face-to-face, over and over, and I had relationships on the ice with those guys. I’ve been on those exact same roads, in buses, like all hockey players. I know everyone on sports teams will be thinking about the Humboldt tragedy every time they step on a bus for a very long time. My heart goes out to the families and everyone that was affected.”
First-line Midget linemates with outgoing Vernon Viper captain Jagger Williamson, Woodliffe plans to study engineering. He used to play soccer and volleyball and enjoys golf. He is working the summer as a labourer for Kalco Construction.
He’s stoked to be facing Vernon’s Blaine Caton, who signed a Division 3 scholarship deal with the Marian Sabres in Wisconsin.
Founded as the North Wisconsin Academy in 1892, Northland College was established in 1906. Originally affiliated with the Congregational Church, the college remains loosely tied to the Congregational Church’s descendant, the United Church of Christ (UCC). The college currently enrols 600 full-time undergraduate students and employs 60 faculty members and 99 staff members.