BURLINGTON — Wynn Paradee sported a different look from normal in the last Missisquoi girls hockey game he would coach, 18 years after helping launch the sport at MVU.
In the Thunderbirds’ third straight Division II championship game, March 14 at Gutterson Fieldhouse against Woodstock, Paradee shelved his usual team jacket and a baseball cap, opting for a special look to match the special occasion.
“I wore this suit coat the very first game Missisquoi had against St. Albans,” he said. “I figured tonight would be a good time to break it out again. I don’t know if I have worn it two or three times since. I found it in my closet, found the tie. So I figured, ‘I had it the first game, so let’s wear it for the last game.’”
The suit might have brought the team some luck, as Thunderbirds skated away with a 3-1 victory to bring just their second title back to Swanton for the last of the program’s original three coaches.
It was quite the sendoff for Paradee, who has been varsity head coach for three seasons — after Matt Laroche stepped down — and assistant coach for the 15 seasons before that with founder Mike Gagne and others.
After reaching the finals the previous two years and coming up just short, this year’s team had extra motivation.
“There are so many emotions inside of me right now, but I am so happy with could get this win for Wynn,” said senior Callie Parks. “It means a lot to be able to send him off with this championship.”
Paradee might not be done coaching altogether, as he is pondering other plans of sticking around the ice.
“It’s going to be hard to walk away, but I’ll have three grandsons at MAHA next year so I might try and dabble in that a little if they want some help,” he said. “Being on both sides of coaching — the youth program and coaching at high school — maybe help them out and show what would be beneficial to work on at the youth level to carry over to high school or something along those lines.”
Paradee started coaching hockey well before the varsity program started up in 2001. The Missisquoi Amateur Hockey Association started it with an initial girls team in the mid-1990s.
“Mike Gagne got the girls program at MAHA started up in 96-97,” said Paradee. “My girls wanted to play, so I offered to help him.”
Missisquoi Valley Union started the program in 2001-2, with Laroche at the helm for the first 14 years and Paradee at his side. When Laroche left before the 2016-17 season, the Thunderbirds didn’t have to search too far.
“I actually didn’t want it at first, but was willing to help whoever wanted it,” said Paradee. “Then I thought about it and decided that it was something I could do and had the time for it, after I had sold the farm.”
Once Paradee decided he was interested, it was an easy decision for MVU athletic director John Lumsden.
“Wynn was excited to get the position and we knew he had such a good connection with those players,” Lumsden said, amid the celebration at Gutterson. “I’m so excited for him right now. It’s a great way for him to go out after 18 years and it couldn’t have gone to a better person. I’m so happy for him.”
Lumsden wasn’t the only one happy that Paradee took the job.
“It was a pretty simple transition when Wynn took over the program because he had been in the program since the beginning,” said former player Olivia Thayer, a senior when Paradee took over. “He knew the team dynamic and the ways we worked best together.
“No matter what challenges are thrown at a team he is coaching, he seems to find a way to adjust as needed and set the players up for success.”
The success included three state finals in his three years as head coach.
After dropping the first two against strong programs in Rice and Stowe, both of whom played in the Division I tournament this year, the Thunderbirds finally won the big game to send off Paradee.
“Wynn is such a kind person that genuinely cares about all of his players and has been around the game a long time,” said assistant coach Brian Fortin. “He builds a true connection with all of his players, which makes him such a great coach and is one of the reasons we have had so much success over the past three years.”
Paradee finishes with a 41-22-2 record as head coach, with 10 of those losses coming this season for a young team playing a rough schedule.
With a number of players who had little or no experience and a realignment that saw the Thunderbirds face 10 D-I teams, it wasn’t a smooth season. Paradee was all about the big picture kept the team focused on playing in mid-March rather than worry about a tough mid-season stretch, or injuries that followed.
“I figured that when we finally got everybody healthy, we would be a team that could go far in the playoffs,” said Paradee. “I told the girls that were new to skating in the beginning of the year that they were preparing themselves for next year, but toward the end of the year they took big steps toward that. And now they all know what it takes to be successful.”
Paradee also wanted to bring a championship trophy back to Swanton for the first time since 2012, when the field hockey team won. It was the first girls hockey championship since 2008.
Watching his players celebrate on the ice with a big crowd of supporters cheering was a special moment for Paradee.
“This is a dream come true. I’ve never wanted to win a game as much in my life,” he said. “I was thinking of getting done last year and some of the seniors talked me into staying for one more year, so I decided to come back. So I’m glad I did that and am happy to go out with the seniors like this.”
“The school, community, players, and parents have been so supportive over the years. I’ve been very fortunate to make a lot of great friends with players and everyone else in the community. Hockey is family and this has been a great family.”
The suit never looked better, even 18 years later, with a championship medal completing the look.
Stay informed. Subscribe to the Messenger.