December 22, 2008 by Matt Loker
There’s no place like home for K-wings Willis
By: Mark C.McGlothlen
Who says you can’t go home again?
Kalamazoo Wings forward Tyler Willis did just that when he returned to the K-wings line-up on November 14th, after starting the season with the Newcastle Vipers in England.
After five successful seasons with the K-wings, Willis decided it was time to test the waters elsewhere.
Citing a number of reasons for the move, Will said the overall decision came down to one thing.
“I always thought to myself, ‘why haven’t I’”, Willis said in regards to playing overseas.
“I figured I would give it a try and mix things up a bit.”
The decision to leave the K-wings was not an easy one for Willis, especially with his former teammate and good friend, Nick Bootland becoming the new head coach of the team.
“That was the tough part of leaving”, Willis said. “I looked forward to playing for Nick. I felt like I was letting him down by leaving.”
When asked how he took care of all the loose ends in Kalamazoo before heading overseas, Willis laughed and said “don’t ask”.
“I moved, sold everything, rented out my house and drove 36 hours in eight days”, he said.
“I don’t know how I got everything done and I still do not know where some of my stuff is,” Willis said.
While enjoying the sites and the experience of playing overseas, Willis found that it was not everything he imagined or was told it would be.
“I just wasn’t happy going to the rink”, Willis said. “I felt like I wasn’t playing 100%, because I wasn’t happy.”
Admitting that maybe he was spoiled in Kalamazoo because as a player you get what you need when you need it and you are treated very well by the organization, Willis placed a call to Bootland.
Leaving Kalamazoo and his home was tough on Willis, but coming back was a breeze.
“It was easier to leave over there because I missed everything here”, Willis said. “I looked forward to getting back to the way things were.”
Traveling back to the states and signing with the K-wings, Willis made his “debut” in front of the home crowd on November 14th.
“I shouldn’t have been nervous, but you never know how people will react”, Willis said of the jitters he felt coming back.
Judging by the fans thunderous reception when his name was announced, Willis found he had nothing to worry about.
Since his return to the K-wings, the team has posted a 9-2 record and went from last in the standings to third.
“It was good timing for me to come back. I hope that I brought a little something to the lineup,” Willis said.
Playing for his friend and former line mate Bootland, Willis is quick to point out that little has changed in the way Bootland leads the team.
Bootland, who served as captain of the team for the past three years, always had attention and respect of the players.
“He works with the guys after practice” Willis said. “He obviously still loves the game and loves being on the ice.
It is not uncommon to see Bootland taking part in the drills during practice with his players, something that Willis likes to tease his coach about.
“I like to tell him that he has lost his step” Willis said with a smile. “He really hasn’t and I am sure there are times he would love to jump out on the ice during a game.”
Calling it a great honor, Willis was recently named as an assistant captain of the team, taking the place of former K-wing Jeremy Stevenson who retired from professional hockey after 15 years.
With the house he owns rented out, Willis now shares an apartment with goaltender Jason Tapp.
Poking his head out from the locker room, Tapp took a light hearted jab at his new roommate.
“We get it, you’re really good” Tapp said jokingly. “We’re so good because Tyler Willis is back”.
With a huge smile on his face Willis shot back, “Did I tell you how much I miss my house because I have to live with this guy now.”