As a three-time winner of College Hockey America’s Coach of the Year award, Wayne State women’s hockey head coach Jim Fetter has been sitting comfortably in his position for the past eight years.
“As of right now, I have no desire to get back to the men’s side,” Fetter said. “I haven’t looked back. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Fetter first found his niche behind the bench in college when he was asked to help run some drills for a junior B team with a few friends he played baseball with. From then on, Fetter said coaching became a passion.
Similar to most coaches, Fetter began his hockey career as a player at the age of 12 in his native Waterloo, Ont., with the help of an old neighbor.
“My neighbor was a big hockey player,” Fetter said. “He was three years older than me. He had extra equipment and he passed it down to me, so I got hand-me-down hockey equipment, and that’s how I started first year of ice hockey.”
Since then, Fetter pursued triple-A travel hockey up until his Midget year. Midget is a division in minor hockey for players who are 14 to 16 years old. He went on to play college hockey at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta for four years in Canada.
After his fourth year, Fetter called it quits to focus on school and his financial situation. Within that time his former coach at Lethbridge took another coaching job at the University of Saskatchewan and was replaced by Mike Babcock, current head coach for the Detroit Red Wings.
“I know I talked with Babs (Babcock) a little bit, and he wanted me to come out (and play),” Fetter said. “I explained to him it was pretty tough because then I would have had to go back for another two years to finish 13 classes. I just couldn’t afford it because I was paying everything on my own.”
After college, Fetter took on coaching a double-A team and was an assistant coach for a triple-A midget team. Yet, frustration began to build with the organization of certain teams, which made Fetter re-evaluate his decision to coach longterm.
In 1998, after taking a year off from coaching, his alma mater was just starting out its women’s hockey program. For weeks leading up to the new season, Fetter received continuous phone calls requesting he take the position as head coach, yet he refused.
“I kind of wanted to take the year off to evaluate what I wanted out of coaching if I wanted anything out of it, and during that time I was looking to go to major junior,” Fetter said.
Fetter admits he was skeptical about women’s hockey. By late August, Fetter received yet another phone call asking to help run a weekend practice.
“I went out to run practice on a Saturday, it was an hour and a half, and I was kind of impressed,” Fetter said. “Came back the next day designed the practice a little tougher, kind of put on a test physically, mentally and again they rose to the occasion and kind of impressed me.”
Fetter finally gave in and became the first head coach of the University of Lethbridge’s women’s ice hockey team. In 2000, Fetter left Lethbridge to serve as an assistant coach for WSU’s rivals, the Mercyhurst Lakers. Fetter came to Wayne State in 2003 and has put together some of the program’s most successful seasons.
In 2008, Fetter led the Warriors to their first ever CHA regular season title after a school record 22 wins. Even though they lost to Mercyhurst in the CHA Semifinals, the Warriors were nationally ranked for the first time in program history and set the longest winning streak of nine games.
Also in 2008, Fetter was recognized at the national level as the assistant coach for Team Canada’s Under-18 Olympic team. From 2008 to 2010, Fetter served as an assistant coach for team Canada’s Under-22 team before he was selected as head coach in 2010-2011.
“Anytime you get the opportunity to represent your country, when you’re standing on the line and you hear your national anthem play and just seeing the handwork the players put in and joy on their faces … It’s the most unbelievable feeling,” Fetter explained.
Fetter has said to have a good relationship with his players. However, he said as soon as he puts the whistle around his neck he’s a different person on the ice.
“It’s all business, let’s get to work,” Fetter said. “Let’s punch the clock. We’re here for an hour or hour and a half, whatever the case may be, and we’re here for a purpose so let’s make the most of it.
“I push them. I push them outside their comfort zone. I try to get them to a level where they don’t think they have or can get both physically and mentally and I think those are things that will help them later on in life.”
Fetter also mentioned that it brings him great joy that a few of his former players have pursued both medical school and law school. He said that hearing of their academic achievements makes his job a memory.
“It’s just rewarding, they’re like sponges,” Fetter said. “They want to learn. They want to get better. … It’s a good test to your character, and another great thing is my players that have graduated calling me and e-mailing me,” he added.
His current players have also gotten to know Fetter as more than just a stern, serious coach.
“Coach Fetter is a really funny guy, which you wouldn’t expect if you only saw him on the ice,” said junior goaltender Delayne Brian, who has played for Fetter for three years. “I know that the freshman are all really surprised when they hear something funny come out of his mouth for the first time, because they aren’t used to it based on how tough he is on the ice.”
One of Fetter’s most memorable moments at Wayne State came during against his former team when the Warriors picked up a 3-2 overtime win at Mercyhurst on Feb. 23, 2008.
“I don’t know how often I hear people complaining about their jobs,” Fetter said. “I look forward to going to work every day. It’s a new day, it’s a new challenge and as you know we’ve had lots of different challenges this year, but I think it makes you who you are.”
The challenges the Warriors have faced this season began before the season started, with the death of former Warrior Brandi Frakie, Fetter said. The team wrapped up its regular season on Feb. 19 with a record of 8-20-2. The Warriors have also suffered a plague of injuries throughout the season, which has challenged Fetter in terms of line changing.
“As a coach it’s been pretty tough that way trying to mix lines and defense pairings, trying to get the best combinations,” Fetter said.
The Warriors are set to travel to Syracuse, N.Y. for the CHA quarterfinals against Robert Morris on March 3. One of Fetter’s ultimate goals is to make it to the NCAA championship. He said he would not only like to win that for his team, but for Wayne State athletic director, Rob Fournier.
“With all of the support from Rob, I know how competitive he is as an athletic director. I would like for us to at least get to the NCAAs,” Fetter said. “It’s a one game playoffs so anything can happen; you know that’s where ideally we’d like to be.”