Andy Miele

Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele looks to make NHL this year in Phoenix

Turn back the calendar to twelve months ago. At this time last year, Miami University senior Andy Miele was preparing for his final season with the Redhawks in hopes of capturing a capturing an national title. But unlike most respected players in the junior or collegiate ranks, he wasn’t sure that he’d have a home when his final season was complete. You see—this is the life for an undrafted collegiate athlete.

Little did Miele know last summer that he was about to embark on one of the more dominant CCHA seasons in recent memory. All it took was 24 goals and 71 points in 39 games to get the attention of NHL scouts and general managers. The Hobey Baker Award didn’t hurt either.  In the previous year, he was a point-per-game player—but no one was prepared for the breakout season Miele was about to drop on the hockey world. By the time he was done, he had the teams from all over the league bidding for his services. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t surprising when he chose to take his services to… Phoenix?

In hindsight, Miele’s choice to play in Phoenix shouldn’t be so surprising. For undrafted free agents, one of the most important aspects when choosing a destination is available opportunity. Is there an chance to make the big club at a particular position? In Phoenix’s case, there was a bit of a void at the center position. But it’s been more than just opening for Miele. It’s been the right fit as well.

“I love the staff here in Phoenix,” Miele explained. “It’s been great—it’s a great group of guys. But the opportunity seems to be what caught my eye the most. That’s what you need to look for: the best opportunity to play. I felt like that would be in Phoenix.”

Even though Miele tore though the CCHA all the way to the Frozen Four last season, there was a fairly large reason why he wasn’t originally drafted when he was eligible to be claimed at the Entry Draft. More specifically, there was a “small” problem. The Michigan native is listed at 5’8” and 175 lbs, but the 5’8 listing is unquestionably on the generous side.

If a player with his skill and heart was put in a body that was 6’2,” 210 lbs, he would have been a first round draft pick. Like most vertically challenged players, overcoming questions about his size isn’t anything new.

“It’s been pretty much the same throughout my whole life,” the Hobey Baker winner shared. “People just saying I can’t do it just because of my size. People always think that’s going to hold me back, but that’s just motivate for me to prove people wrong. I do it for myself and I do it to prove people wrong. I’ve had to do it my whole life—it’s nothing different, so it’s not like I’m jumping into something that’s unexpected.

“I’ve always played gritty my whole life. I love to mix it up with guys and get in the corner and play a little bit of a physical game. I feel like that can separate me from other little guys. The determination out there is huge for me.”

source: Getty ImagesObviously for a player to prove scouts wrong that only see his size, he has to make up for it in other areas. Like Miele said, he doesn’t shy away from the tough areas of the ice and doesn’t hesitate to battle to when the game calls for it. The quick comparison for most when they hear about a talented (yet small) offensive dynamo is to go to the Martin St. Louis card. Yet in Miele’s case, there are better comparisons out there.

Phoenix assistant GM Brad Treliving sees a different NHL center with the most similarities: “He reminds me little bit of Derek Roy in Buffalo. He sees people around him. He has the ability to make people around him better. I’m really intrigued to see him with the NHL players [in preseason games]. Some people are going into holes, he can create space. When people talk about [smaller players like] Gerbe or St. Louis, the one thing I say is that those guys have dynamic speed. [Miele’s] quick, but I wouldn’t call him a dynamic skater. But he has the vision.”

There’s no question that Derek Roy is some pretty good company for a guy who is still battling for a spot on an NHL roster. But we’re also talking about a player with world-class skills who has already represented the United States at the IIHF World Championships. For his money, Miele has a different player comparison in mind—one that will hit much closer to home for Coyotes fans.

“I’ve been watching Ray Whitney a lot and I love the way he plays,” Miele said. “I feel like we play a lot of the same style with being a playmaker and really being very strong on the puck. I feel like I want to model my game after him.”

Not surprisingly, he also said he’d like to have the same kind of longevity as Whitney. But before he can jump into a skates of a 39-year-old veteran, Miele understands that the pro game is a completely different animal—both on and off the ice.

“The whole game is different—especially from college,” Miele admitted. “You have to think faster, you have to move faster. Everything you have to do is faster. The work ethic is unbelievable. My first practice, Shane Doan was out there, when everyone was off, working on his stride. The guy’s been in the NHL for how many years? You can never think that you’re at the top of your game and you can’t get better. There’s always something you can improve on. You can always get stronger or fix something in your game. That’s something you always have to do.”

If he’s looking for a mentor to show him what it takes to succeed in the NHL, his captain in Phoenix is one of the best examples in the league. And just like his captain, Miele knows that he’s going to have to have a well-rounded game if he wants to make the NHL roster and stick around for a while. That may mean initially taking on a role that he’s not as familiar with. With Daymond Langkow, Marty Hanzal, and Boyd Gordon taking up three center spots on the roster, Miele may be asked to start his career in a bottom-six role to start his career. Traditionally, those roles are reserved for energy players—not prolific scorers.

“In college, I believe my sophomore year; I think I was a 3rd liner,” the eager Miele confirmed. “But in college it’s a little different—you can roll three ‘skill’ lines. But I have no problem getting the puck in and working the corners, and throwing my little weight around. I’ll do whatever I have to do to be up with the Coyotes. If they want me as a third liner, I’ll do that. I don’t care.”

He sounds like just about any other potential rookie hoping to break into the NHL. The difference is that Miele’s skill, ice-awareness, and vision make him a potential YouTube star on any given night. Teammate Brett Hextall summed up his ability when he simply said, “his skills are pretty outrageous.” The next step is to show the Coyotes management that he can display the dynamic offense on a nightly basis while doing all of the little things that are expected of an NHL center. If the rookie camp and early preseason game are any indicator, he’s going to make it tough on Don Maloney and Co. to send him down to Portland.

Team Europe’s next challenge: Beat the unbeatable

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Team Canada salute the fans following their 5-3 win over Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Team Europe has already done more than anybody expected them to do at the World Cup by reaching the Final thanks to their stunning overtime win against Sweden in the semifinal on Sunday.

Just getting to this point, after beating the United States and Sweden — two of the world’s biggest hockey powers — along the way is a major accomplishment that would have seemed to be a nearly impossible task just two weeks ago.

Now they have one more seemingly impossible task in front of them: Beat Canada.

And not just beat Canada, but beat them twice.

In only three games.

For any team in this tournament that would have been a tall task in the championship round. Not only does Canada bring an insanely deep roster to the table that has multiple MVP candidates, Norris Trophy candidates, and Vezina Trophy candidates on it, but their recent play on the ice matches the absurdity of the roster on paper.

They don’t just win, they dominate teams.

Since the start of the 2014 Olympics this is what Team Canada has done to its opponents in the two major best-on-best tournaments it has played:

  1. They are 10-0
  2. They have outscored teams by a 36-9 margin
  3. They are coming off of a semifinal game against Russia where they nearly put up 50 shots on goal in a regulation game
  4. They have allowed more than one goal in just two of those games, and more than two goals just once

The games haven’t even been as close as the final scores would indicate because the final scores haven’t always reflected the level of dominance on display. A one or two goal deficit against these guys and their style of play usually feels like a 50 goal deficit.

On paper, this seems like it should already be over before it even begins.

But the beauty of a short series is that even when the two teams don’t match up on paper, random things can happen, mostly because of the X-factor that is goaltending.

Right now Europe’s Jaroslav Halak is putting quite a story together in this tournament. He has helped underdogs knock off superior teams in the past when he gets on a roll like the one he is on now.

It is going to take all of that and more to help Europe beat Canada two times over the next week.

They have already done what seemed to be the impossible to get to this point. Now they just have to do what seems to be the impossible again.

Twice.

Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.