Pride in the Pages.
Name: Andy Miele
Hometown: Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan
Professional Sports: Phoenix Coyotes (NHL), Portland Pirates (AHL), Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL), Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL), Malmo Redhawks (SweHL)
“Andy, did you remember to lock the door behind you?” asked Hilary, my wife.
“Yep, all set. They sent you the plane tickets, right? Let’s go.”
“Europe here we come.”
It was the end of July and the time had finally come. My wife and I were heading to the airport to fly across “the pond” and start a new chapter in our lives. This chapter, in my metaphorical “book,” I was somewhat tentative to write. You see, ever since I was a little kid, I envisioned that the previous chapter, a chapter of professional hockey in North America, would add a lot more to the plot of my hockey story. I pictured myself playing for my favorite team. I felt the glory and the raw emotion of scoring the game seven overtime goal to win the Cup, over and over in my head. These were the things that were supposed to fill the previous pages of my novel.
I am now 29, married to the most amazing woman. I have the best dog, Hobey, a name you may judge me for, but I love it. My story has now turned into “our story”. We were given an opportunity to experience Europe and a new lifestyle. Please don’t misunderstand, I still want to get better every year and win; sometimes things just take a back seat when life doesn’t go exactly how you expected.
It was the summer before my senior year at Miami University. I had just completed three solid seasons at school, and the Washington Capitals had invited me to their development camp. It was the first time this dream of mine started to feel real. Camp went really well. In my exit meeting, Steve Richmond looked me in the eye and stated, “You’re my pick to win the Hobey Baker this year.” I was extremely grateful for that, but I didn’t think it would ever happen. Too many things would have had to go right to win something like that. Steve must have known me better than I knew myself. My senior year was my best year by far, and after a deep playoff run by the RedHawks, I was awarded the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
(Andy accompanied by his Miami teammates Vincent LoVerde, Chris Wideman, and Trent Vogelhuber)
Growing up as a kid, there was no question if I was going to play in the NHL; it was a given in my mind. I used to debate whether it was possible for me to play on the same team as Steve Yzerman and Sergei Federov. For that to happen, I would have to be 18 years old playing in the NHL; so even though that dream wasn’t going to come true, I still knew that I would make it. When I won the Hobey Baker, I could feel my dream of playing in the NHL start to become a reality.
I came out of college as an undrafted free agent, so I decided to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes. Their top center hadn't resigned with them, so in my eyes and my agent’s, that was the best situation for me. As chance would have it, my family and I vacationed in Phoenix the summer of the Coyotes inaugural season, so we thought it was quite the cool coincidence.
And then the next few years went like this:
I was up and down for three years between Phoenix and Portland, Maine. When I say up and down, I mean over the three years I was with the organization, I had 15 games with the NHL club, so I was pretty much down the whole time in Portland. I spent three years with Phoenix, two years with Detroit, and one with Philadelphia. I was able to have a very successful career in the AHL. However, it was not the NHL chapter that I had drafted in my head since I was a young boy.
I always looked back on every season, and the further my career went on, the more mixed all the seasons became. But one thing stayed clear: my goal to be a full time NHLer. The thought of me never making it full-time in the NHL gave me horrible feelings of failure. Every year, you know it’s going to be nothing but hard work to get a chance… and even more hard work to keep your place. That should never stop you from having that hope every year that it’s going to happen. You train like it will happen. I think back to when I was just a cocky rookie being sent down from NHL camp.
“I’m going to tear the AHL up and be right back,” I remember leaving Portland each year saying, “This is my last time coming back to this city.” I truly believed I was going to be in the NHL. Full time.
During my 2016-2017 season in the AHL, I struggled coming to terms with my NHL dream and heading over to Europe. Some might say sarcastically, “poor guy, now you have to do what you love in a European country.” I agree that this is an amazing experience that my wife and I were given, but the hard part isn’t the opportunity that we have been blessed with. The hard part is giving up the only thing I saw as my future and my true love since I put on skates for the first time. That was 24 years ago. 24 years of loving one thing and expecting nothing but that one thing to happen in your life. Yes, I still have hockey and for that I am very fortunate. But with one stroke of a pen this past summer, I put my dream on hold and changed my focus.
After I made my decision, I continued to struggle. July 1st came around and I saw the signings for the upcoming year. I kept hearing about who was going to what camp, and who made which teams. “So and so” scored two goals for the ‘big club’ last night. I was constantly hearing and reading about people I’ve played with or against that were getting opportunities, so why wasn’t I getting that chance? This question weighed me down every day.
As the saying goes, “All wounds heal.” With the help of my wife, I have been finding the positives as I write my new chapter. I am living in an amazing city with a great coaching staff who demands a lot from my team. I am able to continue to develop my game and grow as a player, but am still determined to be the best player I can be. I always put in the hard work for any new opportunities that arise. You can always hope that one of those opportunities could be a return to the NHL. Even though that chance may seem out of grasp right now, I still get fired up knowing there is still the slightest chance.
Reflecting on my time up and down between the NHL and AHL, I may not have fulfilled my goal of being a full time NHLer, but if you look at my numbers and the fight I had in me every season, I know that I did everything I could to be who I am today. Everything happens for a reason. Who knows, maybe my NHL dreams will be fulfilled another way. Maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Either way, I will continue to enjoy pushing myself, playing a game I love, and writing a new chapter exploring the world.
My message to you is this. Set your standards high. When doors open, barge through. And even if you may not achieve your ultimate goal, take pride in the pages of your story, knowing you gave it your very best along the way.