By Ross Forman
First-ever Robert Morris head coach, also inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame
Wendlandt and his wife, Lynne, founded the Prospect High School Hockey Team in the 1990s, which he coached for six seasons as the team competed in Metro Northwest. Their son, Geoff, played on the team.
In the late-1990, Wendlandt replied to an ad that he saw in a local hockey newspaper from Robert Morris College, as it was known at the time, which was seeking its first-ever hockey head coach. Wendlandt applied, was one of three finalists, and ultimately was offered and accepted the position.
He was the head coach for the school’s top-tiered Gold team for its first seven seasons, starting with the 2000-01 campaign, and in 2002 he was named the school’s director of hockey operations, a position he still held, which involved recruiting, scheduling, hiring coaches, travel logistics, and more.
Wendlandt compiled a 110-96-10 collegiate coaching record and is an inductee into the Robert Morris Athletic Hall of Fame. In his second season on the Eagles’ bench, he led the No. 2-ranked team to a first-place finish in the MACHA, and the university’s first-ever ACHA National Tournament appearance. He also earned ACHA Division 2 Central Division Coach of the Year honor in 2002.
“He was a great coach, official, administrator and, more importantly, a role model to so many. The hockey community has suffered a huge loss,” said Bill Fehrman, of Indian Head Park, who is the AHAI officials’ assignment coordinator and has known for Wendlandt for 25 years.
“Tom took the vision of the (former) athletic director and president (of the school) and grew the hockey program to what it is today,” said Andy Storz, who is the school’s director of game day hockey operations. “Tom provided so many opportunities for high school students, particularly from the Chicago area – to continue with their education and to play hockey.”
Wendlandt helped grow the Eagles hockey program from one team with 30 players its first season to six teams this season, including a women’s team and team for the Peoria campus. He has impacted the college career of more than 2,000 hockey players in 17 years.
“What an amazing run – from watching him coach with the Rolling Meadows Park District to becoming the architect of, arguably, the greatest ACHA college hockey program in the United States,” said longtime hockey coach Bill Martin, of Rolling Meadows, who had a stint on the Eagles’ bench among other local coaching jobs.
“Robert Morris has given college students (of so many) different levels of ability the chance to get an education and still play hockey. What a gift for so many families.”
Wendlandt had a key role in Robert Morris playing host to three ACHA men’s and women’s National Tournaments, most recently in 2016; and also for the annual November Showcase the past 10 years.
“Tom was genuine a person; he told it like it was,” said John Connena, who coached locally, including for Conant High School. “He truly had a passion and he loved Robert Morris hockey. We lost a great one.”
Some of the top players he coached at RMU included forwards Tom Boudreau and Rudy Moser, and goalie Aaron Merkle.
RMU had seven teams at one point, including a Springfield-based squad.
The women’s team began during the 2004-05 season.
“Tom was a stickler on paperwork and homework,” Martin said. “He had a demanding job making sure of all the games, practices (and) road accommodations (were arranged, and also) monitoring (students’) grades and helping the players navigate the college system.
“Players did not realize all he did for them to make the (college) experience so great. You have to put in the time in the classroom, (and) Tom took care of the rest.”
Wendlandt was born in Ohio and grew up in south suburban Bridgeport, which certainly explains his other true passion: the Chicago White Sox.
He was rarely seen not wearing a White Sox hat.
Wendlandt, who took annual trips to watch the Sox in spring training, was a season ticket holder and also went on the road to cheer his beloved Sox.
Wendlandt had an impressive autographed baseball collection and once had lunch with Steve Stone at spring training – at Stone’s request, which was a thrill for Wendlandt.
He also played semi-pro baseball – a first baseman who bat and threw left-handed.
Wendlandt’s hockey playing career was limited. He was a goalie for the St. Viator intramural team in the 1960s, played pond hockey, and then from 1988-93 played on a men’s league team that was captained by Storz in Rolling Meadows – and the team twice won the league championship.
Wendlandt officiated local games, too, wearing the stripes for about eight seasons. And yes, his officiating trademark was, he wore goalie skates.
Off the ice, Wendlandt had a passion for playing the guitar and he played in a rock band in the 1970s.
“Tom positively touched and impacted the lives of so many, especially in the local hockey community. Hockey was his passion,” said Storz, 47, who lives in Carol Stream.
“Tom Wendlandt’s legacy is the many individuals who played for RMU, officiated with him or were scheduled by him to officiate. Tom represented all that was positive with hockey and why we all so passionate about the best pastime in the world,” said Sean McCormack, a former local referee.
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.