Grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, an only child, so with no older siblings to get me in the games, and the neighborhood bully Chris Berger saying I couldn’t play, limited my time in the local street hockey games that were so evident for all Canadian kids.
I used to just sit there, and when the ball went into the snow, I’d go get it for them. What changed it all was when Chris went on vacation somewhere for a week or two, and the other guys told me I could join in the game.
When Chris returned it was back to picking on me, and saying that I couldn’t join in, and my buddy O’Connell from across the street said I wasn’t bad, and that I should be allowed to join in. Chris says no, and asks me what I’m going to do about it, so I decided to stand up for myself, and smacked him across the head with my stick.
It was a good lesson though, in that sometimes when you want something bad enough, you have to impose your will.
Kelowna and Spokane in Junior “A” was not an easy adjustment. You go there trying to make the team and fit in, I just wanted to play hockey, The guys were bigger and stronger than me, and there are many job descriptions on each team, the scorers, the power play guys, the penalty kill guys, the defensive forwards, and they had them all.
I knew what I had to do to make the team, and that was fight. In my first year I had a captain in Kelowna named Randy Cameron, who was my mentor, and I’ll never forget his speech before our first game against our biggest rival Kamloops, a team that had Rudy Poeschek, Marc Recchi, Rob Brown, amongst others, when he walks in the room, and announces, “My grandfather was a captain of a steam ship, My father was a captain on a train, or an engineer, and I’m a captain of a hockey team.
He then proceeds to spear the punching bag we had in the room, there was sawdust all over the place, and then he gets so riled up he rips the bag completely off the rafter and then says “If I tell you we’re gonna fight, then we’re gonna fight” and then he walks out of the room.
Mick talked quite often through our interview about the pride in being part of the team, and in some guys cases that meant having the role of “Tough Guy” There was tremendous pressure on the guys that played this role, because if you were a scorer let’s say, and you went through a drought for a few games with out a goal, you’d still play, but if you lost a fight, and weren’t willing to get back on the horse, there’s some young guy down in the minors, who can come up and is willing to do it, and take your job.
The first game as a NY Islander was one of epic lore. I’m still laughing as I write this. It all played out in this hilarious fashion. As he arrives back home from a minor league road trip, he’s informed that it’s up to the big club to play against the Hartford Whalers the next night, so he informs his folks who were in Springfield on vacation, that he’d be playing.
As he arrives, Coach Terry Simpson tells him that he’ll be playing with Brent Sutter, and Greg Gilbert on the checking line…and that his line will START!!!
After 2 periods we were up 3-2, and then there’s an offside in the 3rd period, so there’s a face off in front of the Hartford bench, so over the boards for Hartford comes resident pugilist, and all-time penalty minute leader Dave ”Tiger” Williams. I knew why I was called up, so I’m ready to get physical, and he taps me on the shoulder and asks me “If I want to go” (Have a fight, for the non-hockey fans)
I don’t even look at him and just say yep. I shifted my pads, and started thinking that all my boys back in Saskatchewan are going to die that I’m fighting Dave “Tiger” Williams in my first fight. So I think the linesman flinched a little and didn’t drop the puck, but I literally threw my gloves off in anticipation. Not dropped them mind you, but threw them off, and turned around, and then Tiger skates right by me.
One of the gloves landed by our bench, and the other by the penalty box, and as there’s no fight about to happen, I have to go grab my equipment, and Hartford goes down ice and scores the tying goal, and Tiger scored it. I’m outside the blue line while they score, and I’m picking up my gloves. I got sent back down after the bus ride back, and was told to go back down and do what I do. In my career,
I had a great thing happen which all role players love, which is scoring a goal, but this night turned out to extra special as I scored three times in a short span in a game against the Washington Capitals for a natural hat trick, The thing was that Karma was on my side that night, as before I had signed with the Islanders, Washington was the team I wanted to play for.
As a 19 year-old they were the only team that invited me to Camp. As Joe Kocur told me “Go there and fight everyone because you’re not a draft pick, and your number 72 out of 74 guys” I hung in for a while through camp, but then in the end they sent ne back to Juniors, and never offered me a contract at all.
They thought I was bluffing when I told them that I had 3 offers on the table from the Flyers, Islanders, and Blues. It is a strange thing how sports work. I have this special game against the Capitals, of all teams.
In quite a few articles I read about Mick, the same comment kept appearing so I asked him about the meaning of “A GREAT TEAM MAN” he made it real clear that there is a pride in wanting to do your part so your teammates can have some great experiences in their careers, and that if a coach can create that environment where guys want to play for each other instead of some self-gratification, that’s how Championships are won no matter at what level you’re competing at.
This attitude was quite evident in 92-93 where the Islanders lost in the Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Montreal, where he said that all members had bought in to the messages, and believed in the system, through some good guys like Steve Thomas, and Pat Flatley.