If there was a Mount Rushmore for CIS hockey, Graham Wise would have his face front and center.
A total of 29 seasons as a head coach between the York Yeomen/Lions and the Ryerson Rams, and another six as an assistant with the York Yeomen, makes Graham Wise the most experienced coach in CIS men's hockey history. A career record of 407-387-55, Wise captured the University Cup twice as a head coach with the York Yeomen, in 1987-88, and 1988-89. A five-time OUA coach of the year, and a two-time OUA champion, Graham Wise is one of the most decorated coaches in CIS hockey history.
"I haven't really had a break from hockey," says Wise, "I started playing when I was eight years old, and I haven't had a season off. There's been a lot of things put on the back-burner and [retiring] will give me the opportunity now to get some of those things done."
To spend 35 seasons coaching in the same league is a feat so extremely rare, people wonder why Wise never moved on from the CIS. For Wise, his decision to spend his whole career coaching varsity hockey in Canada was made easy by the people he worked with.
"The thing I liked the most about the CIS was the players I coached," says Wise, "They didn't get older. It was them who kept me young, dealing with them and helping them along the way. It was the age group of the kids that I really enjoyed, and watching them go through school."
Wise's dedication to his players in not only making them better athletes, but better people off the ice paved the way for the coaches of today in the CIS. As Western Mustang's head coach Clarke Singer recounts, Graham Wise was the standard for young coaches when he broke into the league with Western in the late 90's.
"Graham was someone you looked up to, someone you wanted to emulate," Singer says. "One of the things I learned from Graham is that it's about how good of a person you have in your program. "
Singer also cites Wise's passion for the game and the league as something that rubbed off on him.
"You wanna enjoy your job, and have passion for your job. I know Graham has had that, and I try to carry that through with what I do with my team."
Filling a trophy case with various accolades from 35 years of coaching is something Wise will take pride in, but even more so, the effect he had on developing his players into more mature men.
"He helped me keep everything in perspective as far as life outside of hockey, and hockey itself," recounts Ryerson captain Michael Fine, "I knew when I came to Ryerson, I wasn't thinking too much about school, I just wanted to play hockey. I remember the meeting I had with [Wise] in my first year, and basically he just said 'you're not here just for hockey' and he helped me mature in the sense that I realized how important education is."
Michael Fine has become a large part of the recent success of Ryerson's program, success which he expects to continue even in the absence of Graham Wise. But the arrival of the Rams as a threat in the OUA certainly didn't happen over night.
Graham Wise made a splash in his first season as a CIS head coach in 1987-88. A record of 20-1-5 brought York both an OUA title, and a national championship. Fast forward to Wise's first season at Ryerson in 2006-07. A 2-24-2 record in a consistently empty George Bell arena made the prospect of turning the Rams into winners a daunting task.
"I was always lead to believe when I came to Ryerson that they were going to build a rink close to campus, and Sheldon Levy was true to his word," says Wise, "We felt we were a good team prior to moving into Mattamy Athletic Center, but having that terrific facility has really helped us in the area of recruiting. It was a building process, but it was a lot of fun doing it."
Part of the decision for Wise to come and reconstruct a Ryerson team that had just two wins combined in the two seasons prior to his hiring, may have been in part due to his inheritance at York. For Wise's back-to-back national championship seasons, he had the services of University Cup MVPs, forward Brian Gray and goaltender Mark Applewhaite. Wise would go on to coach notable York stars such as the Dr. Randy Gregg award recipient in '00-01, Mike Williams, and future LA Kings director of player personnel, Michael Futa.
But of all the players Graham Wise has coached, the one he may be most proud of is his son, Jamie Wise, who scored a CIS-leading 21 goals in 2013-14. Although he never coached him at a CIS level, Graham Wise is also very proud of the five year CIS career his other son, Brendan Wise, forged for himself at UOIT.
What many people don't know is that Graham Wise also had success as a player at the CIS level. Although he spent four years at Michigan Tech University playing hockey and working on a degree in forestry, Wise suited up for the U of T Varsity Blues in 1975-76, a season which saw them go all the way in taking home a national championship.
"I'm pretty lucky," says Wise.
Lucky as he may have been, a 1975-76 U of T team coached by the legendary Tom Watt and highlighted by future NHLers in Larry Hopkins and Kent Ruhnke was designed to do well. Graham Wise just happened to find himself in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
But maybe it was that chance with U of T that told the story of Wise's whole career. In his coaching days Wise put himself in the right place. He made sure he was there at the right time, and he brought with him, the right people.
Now that this chapter has come to a close, Graham Wise is moving on to another place. There won't be sweaty hockey players sitting at his feet, white boards to draw up plays, or referees to reason with. But Graham Wise knows...
He's going to the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
Happy retirement Graham.
Written by: Victor Findlay (@Finder_24)