Leadership and academic excellence, as much as any attributes, defined Paul Weisgarber’s hockey career at the Air Force Academy.
Today, the 2012 graduate, who has the rank of captain, is back at the Academy double shifting as a business professor and volunteer hockey assistant.
Weisgarber’s path from Fargo, North Dakota, took him through three seasons of junior hockey before his standout career with the Falcons. His 73 points are tied for 76th on the Falcons’ career scoring list. A two-time captain, he was a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award in 2012, the same year he won the Athletic Leadership Award for the entire Academy.
He was a member of the dean’s list every semester and an Academic All-AHA pick all four seasons. Weisgarber also doubled up on team awards during his junior and senior seasons, winning The Vic Heyliger Award and the Larry Cronk Award both in 2011 and 2012. The Heyliger is voted on by teammates and recognizes the player whose dedication, character, leadership and work ethic best exemplifies Falcon hockey. The Cronk is given to the most inspirational player.
His hockey career was book ended by NCAA appearances in 2009, when the Falcons reached the second round of the Tournament for the first time, and 2012, when they gave eventual champion Boston College its toughest test in the tourney. Along the way, Weisgarber was selected to the AHA All-Tournament team in 2012.
Somewhat reluctant to talk about individual achievements, Weisgarber was all too happy to discuss the success of his class. “We won more championships than any other class,” he said. “That’s the data point our class is most proud of and the one I like to remember the most.”
He took time out before a game recently for an extensive interview with The Flight Path.
Where did you go after graduation?
I first went into the acquisition group at Hanscom AFB just outside Boston. I did that for two years then got a sponsorship scholarship from the business management department here so I got two years to go get an MBA from the University of Notre Dame. I studied business there and to pay that time back came back to teach in the business management department for the past three years. This is my second year. … I’m at that point of deciding if I want to make this a career, and if I do with the Air Force it will probably be in academia. Go pursue a PhD in a business discipline and ultimately come back and be a teacher again. That’s the road map if I stay in the Air Force. If I get out, that’s the big question mark.
With all of your free time, you’ve decided to come down to the hockey office and hang out. Describe your role as a volunteer assistant.
I give as much time as I can, which is not enough. I wish could give more, but I see my role more as a mentor or role model for the guys as opposed to a tactical coach, like Corey Millen or Steve Miller. I don’t bring their experience, but hopefully what I can bring is someone who’s been through the Academy recently as a student-athlete and can related to some of the struggles, the highs and lows of all the guys. Just help them navigate what is a slightly different experience than at other schools.
Players tell me over and over about the importance of time management – what are the keys to working through the challenges of the time pressure and the mental and emotional strain to balance all of these things?
The biggest key for me was utilizing the weekends, which is kind of counter-intuitive as a hockey player who has most of his competition on the weekends. Using the study tables on the road and using the Sundays, particularly in the afternoon, have your Sunday routine but get back to school as soon as you can. Use that day as your big study day. On top of that the coaching staff does such a good job here. I’ve talked to a lot of my friends I played junior hockey with that go to other institutions, and it’s more of an athlete-student role as opposed to a student-athlete role where they’re high priority is college hockey. Here the coaching staff does a great job allowing for studies, allowing time for mental recovery. It just gives us a nice balance of hockey and school.
You mentioned the amount of pride you have in the success of your class. Are there a couple of memories that stand out to you above the others?
Certainly my freshman year. It was the first time we’d broken through the first round of the NCAA Tournament. We beat Michigan, 2-0, and went on to lose a double overtime thriller to Vermont with the puck that went through the net. Beating a program like Michigan in the national tournament, a coach like Red Berenson, that was monumental game for the Air Force hockey program. That was a proud moment to be part of that. That was a highlight everyone is proud of.
Then I’d say senior year as a whole. You always want to leave the program in better standing than when you came to it as a whole. Our senior year we had a lot of ups and downs but by the end of the year we got the program back in the national tournament, ended up losing to Boston College, 2-0, and Boston College went on to beat everyone else by four or five goals and win it all. We gave them their toughest game. That was a really good feeling. The Air Force hockey program certainly wasn’t any worse. We at least maintained the upward trajectory that coach Serratore and the other classes had started, and we just maintained that as seniors.
It seems like the hockey staff here works so well together, and you’re part of that. How much of a role does that play in the success of the team?
It’s certainly instrumental to the program’s success. You see it but I don’t know if you understand it as a player. You’re just are trying to be the best teammate you can be and listening to whatever marching orders you’re given as quickly as possible. Now being on the other side of it, the way the members of the coaching staff complement each other is what makes it so unique, so invaluable to the program. Coach Serratore is obviously an amazing motivator and someone who has passion you just don’t find at other programs. Joe Doyle is one of the most charismatic guys you’ll ever meet, an amazing communicator. He’s able to get in guys’ face but he’s also able to build guys up. He’s a guy who has a lot of influence in that locker room. And Andy Berg, who I think is arguably one of the best recruiters in the country. He’s on the road quite a bit. He does such a great job finding talent, but not just talent but good team guys, guys that will do well, not just for the hockey team but for the Academy as a whole. Now you add Corey Millen, who has the NHL experience; he has that individual skill experience. He can pull guys aside and really make our individual players take big steps each year that they’re here in their skill sets.
When you look at the base of the alumni the program has and how they’re trying to enfold as many guys as possible. There’s a strong sense of history with this program isn’t there?
It’s one of those recruiting tactics that coach Berg uses – he used it on me. This is an alumni network that is second to none. Now I’m getting to that point of transitioning from the Air Force potentially, and being able to see that first hand has been amazing. It is a brotherhood, you have a bond like no other. Now seeing the fruits of that alumni network come to bear and being able to leverage those relationships is pretty amazing and something I certainly value.
How do you balance the teaching and coaching responsibilities?
The first few months I had to establish myself in my primary duty of teaching, and teaching is a unique skill. There is no student teaching at the Air Force Academy. Day 1 you’re in front of a 400 level class, in my case teaching seniors at a prestigious academic institution. I certainly had to apply all my time, all my resources to learn that craft and become the best teacher I could, but it’s one of those abilities that you get more comfortable the more you do it. Once I established myself and my credibility inside the classroom, I was able to step outside the classroom and impact the other mission at the Academy. Most of the academic departments in the Dean of Faculty, which is where I work, they’re very open to the faculty and staff branching out, whether it’s in the military aspects and the airmanship programs or in the athletic fields or courts or on ice. They’re open to that because they want us to get out and they want our students to see us in environments outside of the classroom because that makes the learning environment that much better. I think that’s one unique aspect of the Academy that adds a ton of value to our students’ academic experience.
What classes do you teach?
I teach a business strategy class. It’s the first part of a two-semester capstone. So trying to give them the basic necessities from a consultant’s mind, so really a problem-solver from a business perspective. Then the second semester we send them out into Colorado Springs and they’re essentially pro bono consultants for different non-profit organizations. So I teach the first half of that to get them ready. And then I also teach an operations research class, which is a fancy term for business analytics, so working a lot with Excel and teaching the powerful uses of Excel, particularly in a business environment. All of our students, no matter what career field they go into in the Air Force, Excel is a language almost every profession in the Air Force uses. It’s a great class because students can see the practicality almost Day One. It’s a skill set that will be value added to their career.
We’d like to thank Capt. Weisgarber for his time!
Please check out the Flight Path’s previous alumni updates
On Tom Starkey
Copyright First Line Editorial 2017-18