June 16, 2011

By Josh Reeher

OXFORD, Ohio - The last month of school for most college seniors consists of looking for a job, saying their last goodbyes, and graduation day. Andy Miele is no ordinary college senior. Ever since Miami University's exit from the NCAA Ice Hockey Tournament on March 26, Miele's last month was nothing short of a story-book ending to college.

Despite falling short of a national championship, Miele individually continued to prove his doubters wrong, as he has been doing his entire life. At just 5-feet, 8-inches, Miele has always been downgraded for his lack of size, but it's something he has dealt with since he started playing hockey.

"Don't let anyone change my game," Miele says of overcoming his size and answering his critics. "Don't let any coach change me into a player that I'm not. I just need to keep doing what I've been doing my whole life, because that's what's been working best."

The Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. native certainly played his style of hockey as a RedHawk, leading the nation in scoring by 11 points as a senior. He finished with 71 points (24 goals and 47 assists), the most by any player in Division I hockey since 2002-03 and the most by a Miami player since 1978-79 (Miami's first varsity season).

As soon as Miele's record-breaking senior season was over, his phone began ringing non-stop from NHL teams looking to sign the free agent to a contract. Thus began one of the busiest months of April for any college senior. Just one week after lacing up his skates for the last time for Miami, Miele signed a free-agent contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.

"I felt it was the best opportunity for me to get to play next year," Miele says of his decision to sign with the Coyotes. "They have a great coaching staff and organization out there, and you can't really complain about the weather in Phoenix."

The very next day after signing (April 3), Miele was headed out to Phoenix to practice with the Coyotes, as they began to prepare for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It had only been one week ago that Miele was playing college hockey and now he was helping to prepare a professional team for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Going from college to the NHL was definitely not an easy transition. If it was, I would have probably gotten to dress for a game," says Miele, who was a scratch for all of Phoenix' remaining games. "It's such a big jump in all aspects of the game: speed, intelligence, and the strength of the players. It was good to get there and get that experience and practice, and hopefully it will lead to good things next year."

Miele spent a week practicing with the Coyotes before traveling with the team to Detroit for its first-round playoff series against the Red Wings. Miele quickly witnessed the mental preparation and physical grind that was involved in playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and credits that series with helping him continue to learn and grow as a young player in the NHL.

In between all of the excitement of the Coyotes' practices and playoff run, Miele headed to St. Paul, Minn. where he was a Hobey Hat Trick finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the nation's top college hockey player. Miele's 71-point season and jaw-dropping plays helped him win the 2011 Hobey Baker Memorial Award on April 8. Miele became the first player in Miami history to capture the prestigious honor and was not shy to credit the Miami Brotherhood for the award, saying he wished he could split the award with all of his teammates during his acceptance speech.

As if jumping from college to the NHL wasn't tough enough, on April 14 Miele was named to the 2011 U.S. National Team, giving him a chance to take his game to the international stage. He represented the United States at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Men's World Championship in Slovakia. He would spend the next three weeks in Bratislava training and playing with the U.S. National Team.

On May 7, the same day his classmates and teammates were graduating and receiving their diplomas, Miele was nearly 5,000 miles across the world in Slovakia taking the ice for the first time in a Team USA jersey in a Qualification Round game against France. Miele saw the ice for more than 11 minutes, especially on power plays, and in the second period fed an assist to Chris Kreider, which resulted in the game-winning goal in a 3-2 USA victory over France. Miele would play in the next game against Switzerland as well and recorded another assist, as he dressed for just two of Team USA's seven games.

Upon arriving back in the United States, Miele's life did not slow down one bit. Determined to earn his degree after enrolling at Miami a semester late as a freshman, the American studies major with a coaching minor is taking summer classes at Miami to make up for lost time.

As soon as his summer classes end, Miele heads back to St. Paul, Minn. for the Hobey Baker banquet June 23 and then home to Michigan to train and put his coaching minor to work. While in Michigan, he will coach at the Top Shelf Hockey Elite Summer Camp, offering campers advice and techniques to be a better hockey player.

Once his camp coaching is done for the summer, there is no time for rest as Miele will return to Phoenix for rookie and development camps in July and August, when he prepares himself to battle for a spot on the Phoenix Coyotes roster in the fall. After overcoming his lack of height all of his life and a hectic but rewarding last few months, making Phoenix' roster is just one more thing he's determined to accomplish.

--MURedHawks.com--