April 24, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Between the time that Megan Tancill was born and reached the fifth grade, her dad’s professional hockey odyssey took him from the Detroit Red Wings to the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Wings to the Dallas Stars to the San Jose Sharks to the Kansas City Blades back to San Jose back to Kansas City back to San Jose to the Kentucky Thoroughblades (Lexington, Ky.) back to Dallas and back to Kalamazoo.
After eight years of chasing his dream in the National Hockey League, Chris Tancill, who was originally drafted by the Hartford Whalers (long since defunct), moved the family to Switzerland. There he played one season in Kloten and five more in Zug before retiring and relocating to Madison, where he had graduated from the University of Wisconsin after starring on the 1990 national championship team.
Megan Tancill went to kindergarten through grade five in Zug, which is 22 miles from Zurich, Switzerland; 200 miles from Munich, Germany, and 4,445 miles from the Madison campus and Goodman Diamond, where she will be the starting second baseman for the Badgers this weekend when they play host to Purdue in a critical, three-game Big Ten softball series.
To say the least, Megan Tancill, a UW junior from Madison Edgewood High School and the oldest of Chris and Jill’s three children, has touched more bases in her young life, which reads like a travelogue, than most of her college teammates. “I’ve been all over the place,” she said.
No one can blame her for losing count on how many mailing addresses her family has had. But she has been enriched by her experiences dating to her early education in Zug. “I got to learn German when I was there,” she said. “And the best skiing in the world is there, so that was pretty amazing.”
Making friends then -- and keeping them -- was not a problem despite living by her dad’s hockey calendar and how his team, EV Zug, was doing. “It depended on the playoffs on how long we’d stay,” she said. “But at that age, it’s pretty easy to just kind of bond over the little things like sports or just being on the playground during recess. I think it would have been a little tougher if I was a little older.
“Back then, I didn’t think anything of it,” she admitted. “It was just kind of exciting to get to move to a new place. And it was kind of fun to get different experiences in different cities and watching my dad play hockey in different arenas. That was pretty cool.”
While she was in Switzerland, it was only natural for her to think about playing hockey herself. “I had a little bit of interest,” she said. “but my dad’s reasoning (against playing) was that he didn’t want my face ending up like his face after 14 years as a pro. That was his thing.”
• • • •
Chris Tancill, a high-scoring forward, tallied both of Wisconsin’s goals in a 2-1 victory over a talented Boston College team in the semifinals of the 1990 national tournament at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, which is about 25 miles from Tancill’s home in Livonia, Mich.
After the Badgers crushed outmanned Colgate, 7-3, in the finals to complete a “Drive for Five” (NCAA crowns), Tancill was named the most outstanding player of the tournament. He finished his collegiate career by playing in 173 games and scoring 81 goals, including 39 during the title season.
Tancill, 46, is now a senior vice president and financial advisor with RBC Wealth Management. He still follows the UW men’s hockey team “pretty intently” but more than anything else he has become a fan of Badgers softball and head coach Yvette Healy, who has taken the program to new heights.
|"Coach Healy really motivated us," Tancill said. "We knew the best was yet to come for our team if we strung a few wins together."
“The entire environment around UW athletics overall has gone to a new level,” Tancill said. “Especially seeing what Yvette and her staff has been able to do with the program. Being a dad -- not a player or a coach -- and being able to sit there and watch and just soak it all in has been a blast.
“The funny thing with Megan, I can’t really teach her how to hit a softball. But I’ve coached her more on the mental part of the game that’s transcendent to any sport. I’ve talked to her about her approach when things are going well and her approach when things aren’t going well.
“I’ve talked to her about her approach to practice and her approach to every game and every at bat. She’s a pretty tough cookie mentally and I think it has helped her. I’ve told her to never let the moment be too big. But never take anything from granted.”
Chris Tancill wore No. 22 at Wisconsin. In doing the simple math, 2 + 2 = 4.
Asked about her dad’s influence, Megan Tancill, who wears No. 4, mentioned almost the same exact things. “It wasn’t about changing my swing,” she said. “It was more about my approach going into the box and always having a great attitude, showing respect and never letting the moment get too big.”
Like father like daughter.
Like mother like daughter, too.
“She has been awesome,” Megan Tancill said of her mother, Jill. “She has always been the rock and a huge supporter, win or lose. She’s always been there saying ‘Good game’ even if you don’t feel like you had a good game. She has been that positive influence that really helped me on and off the field.”
• • • •
Basketball was her passion for the longest time, or until Tancill fell in love with softball. “It just kind of developed from T-ball when I was younger and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “and then I got into the Little League stuff and travel ball over the summer when we moved back here permanently.”
Her interest escalated from there to where she was looking at opportunities to continue playing softball after high school at some smaller Division II and D-III programs, including Washington University in St. Louis. But her heart kept pointing here in the direction of her dad’s alma mater.
“As a student, I wanted to come to Wisconsin,” said Tancill, who was a four-year letterwinner and three-year captain in softball at Edgewood. “Just the legacy of being a Badger is pretty hard to turn down. And they brought me in here for softball, too. It was kind of the best of both worlds.”
The first time that Healy met Tancill, she thought, “She’s a pretty skinny kid.”
The meeting came about because of Shawn Eichorst, a former deputy athletic director under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. Eichorst, who’s now the AD at Nebraska after a short stint in the same capacity at Miami (Fla.), recommended Tancill to Healy.
“Shawn said to give her a look because of how good the family is,” Healy recalled. “He made the connection. He said, ‘Good family, good kid, have lunch with them, I think she’d be a great option.”’
After their first get-together, Healy remembered, “We saw something. We knew that she was fast and from a good family and those two things were enough to catch our eye. So we said, ‘All right, legacy family, fast kid, great grades, good person, let’s see where we can go from here.”’
Tancill, for her part, welcomed the chance to be a walk-on.
“It’s kind of cool starting out as an underdog and trying to work your way up in the program,” she said. “As a Wisconsin kid, there’s sometimes a stereotype if you have a California kid who gets to play all year round. But the Midwest grit that a lot of us have is something we all kind of embrace.”
Speaking for starting centerfielder Maria Van Abel and starting shortstop Ashley Van Zeeland, both of whom are walk-ons from Kaukauna, Wis., Tancill stressed nothing is ever taken for granted. “It’s a pretty amazing opportunity to be from Wisconsin,” she said, “and to be able to call ourselves Badgers.”
Healy can’t stop smiling when talking about her Cheesehead trio of walk-ons.
“They’re all little speedsters, all great students, all good kids,” she said of Van Abel, Van Zeeland and Tancill. “They work really hard and they all live together, they’re all roommates. They meet with me once a week in the morning and they watch film and they create great mayhem (as slap-hitters).”
One of the first things Healy did was convert Van Zeeland and Tancill into left-handed hitters. Both were natural right-handers. Since neither had power, Healy’s thinking was “you might as well be a couple of steps closer” to first. The conversion from one side of the plate to the other wasn’t easy.
“It’s tough to do and it takes a special kid,” Healy said. “You have to have really good vision. It’s what I did as a player (at DePaul). I was right-handed and turned around to the left side. If you get kids who are smart and fast and hardworking, you can do it.”
Tancill was a role player her first two years; she was primarily a pinch-runner. Last season, she saw action in 40 games, stole 10 of 12 bases and scored 14 runs. “It made me that much more hungry,” she said, “to try and expand my role and contribute in more ways than one.”
Healy saw the strides that Tancill made last summer. “That was the turnaround,” Healy said. “She got with Stephanie Housh, our strength coach, and she was here all summer doing sprints and lifting weights. When she got stronger, she got more confident.”
Healy chuckled at the memory of a meeting that she had with Tancill at the end of last season. “She said that she wanted to go into kinesiology,” Healy recounted. “How do you go from not playing for two years to taking a tougher major and missing more practice time?”
Tancill had the answer. “She was committed,” Healy said.
So, obviously, was this Wisconsin softball team, which has endured some rough stretches.
“Coach Healy really motivated us,” Tancill said. “She told us that it was all about when you peak, because if you peak too early in the season, that’s not going to get you to where you need to be in the postseason. We knew the best was yet to come for our team if we strung a few wins together.”
The Badgers have won 10 straight games and the success of Bo Ryan’s basketball team has been a powerful motivator during the streak. Healy said her players got together as a team to watch the NCAA tournament games in UW’s Final Four run. And they drew energy from it.
“They hit that one part of the season (losing five of six games) where they knew that they had a lot of work to do and they hadn’t reached their peak,” said Tancill, a starter in 35 of 39 games. “Their team chemistry was pretty amazing, it was an example of them all embracing a team goal.
“They all bought into what Coach Ryan was putting in front of them and that’s definitely what we try to do with Coach Healy. We’re also really close on and off the field. That makes for a better environment, knowing that your teammates and coaches genuinely care about you.”
The trust factor, she said, helped them “stay together during the hardest times.”
Now the best may be yet to come.