Proving Critics Wrong is Nothing New for Andy Miele

Author: Adam Reid, for PHPA.com
Date: Jan 27, 2017

Too often in hockey history have players been underestimated due to their size. Listed at 5 feet 8 inches tall, Andy Miele of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms is one those players who has had to deal with similar critics. “They told me I wouldn’t play competitively, then they told me I couldn’t play in college, then they told me I couldn’t play professionally,” said Miele as he described the skepticism he has faced throughout his career.  “At 5’8 you often have to exceed more at some things than a player who is 6’0 might not have to.”  Although Miele has proved those critics wrong, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t faced challenges along the way.

Miele grew up in Grosse Point, Michigan, the waterfront city adjacent to the home of the Detroit Red Wings. Naturally, Miele’s father and grandfather turned him into a Red Wings fan pretty quick. “I probably would have loved them anyways because of their stacked lineup of all-stars at the time,” Miele said, referring to the 1997, 1998 and 2002 Stanley Cup Championship teams lead by the likes of Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and many others who served as great role models to Miele. “As a young hockey player, it is hard to argue a better team to model your game after in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.”

For Miele, playing college hockey was always the route he wanted to take for reasons beyond playing at a high level.  In 2007, he attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where he played for the Division I varsity hockey team while majoring in American Studies with a minor in Coaching, a way he hopes to stay involved in the game following his playing career.  For Miele, the academic transition was not the easiest, and at one point had reconsidered taking the Major Junior hockey route through the Canadian Hockey League. “The coaches at Miami really stood by me and convinced me to stay.  They gave me the confidence academically to finish my degree while playing DI hockey.”

Getting a degree was important to Miele.  He understood the risks associated with a contact sport like hockey, and without an education “there’s pretty much nothing after hockey.” Miele acknowledged that “playing at the college level allows you to prepare for professional hockey while still setting yourself up for long-term success.”

Through his coaching program at Miami, Miele was enthralled with the psychological side of sport. He believes this knowledge will not only help him become a coach following his playing career, but has been a significant help for managing his own cognitive and emotional function on and off the ice.

Taking the NCAA Division I route turned out to be the right decision for Miele in terms of his hockey career. In four years at Miami University, he put up 160 points in just 141 games, an average of 1.14 points per game.  During the 2010-11 season, his senior year, Miele lead the nation in scoring recording 71 points in just 39 games. Those numbers were good enough to earn him the Hobey Baker Award, honoring the top NCAA men’s ice hockey player. “I didn’t realize how much the award would stick with me and how beneficial it would be moving forward,” said Miele. “When you’re young you get caught up with everything going on around you, but now that I have had years to reflect on it I realize how many little things had to go right for me to be the single player in a year selected for the award.”

After four successful seasons and the completion of his degree, Miele knew the next step for him was professional hockey. “I went out to Laguna Beach for a couple days to stay with my agent, which was a nice break getting to enjoy the warm weather.” Miele recalls the contract holdout at the time between the Phoenix Coyotes and Kyle Turris being the catalyst to him signing his first professional contract.  “Phoenix needed a skilled young center since they were unsure about Turris signing, which is ultimately what lead to my first pro contract.”

Although thrilled about signing his first professional contract with Phoenix, Miele was assigned to the Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate in Portland to begin the 2011-12 season, and struggled with the transition to the pro game for reasons many people may not expect. “In college, something was always going on whether it was playing a game, practicing, working out, going to class or studying, you always had something on your plate” Miele recalls. “In pro hockey, you just play three games a week and if you’re not practicing, there isn’t much else to do. It was nice to have some down time at the start, but there is only so much TV you can watch, I had to find new ways to keep my brain active.”

Fortunately, Miele’s on-ice transition to the AHL was much smoother than his off ice transition.  So smooth in fact that less than a month into the season, Miele received a call from the Coyotes informing him that he would be making his NHL debut in Anaheim against the Ducks on October 23rd, 2011.

“It’s a funny story actually,” Miele recalls, “My parents were in hour number 12 of 14 on their drive from Detroit to visit me (in Portland, Maine), and my grandparents were just boarding a flight from Florida to visit me as well. That’s when I got the call from the Coyotes, so I let them know I had some good and bad news.”  The extent of Miele’s family visit that day in Portland was his parents and grandparents driving him to the airport for his flight to Anaheim. Fortunately for them, immediate family members are flown out to wherever players on NHL Entry Level contracts are making their NHL debut.  So his family flew all the way back across the country to see Miele make his debut on the west coast.

Although he has only seen action in 15 NHL games to date, Miele has been consistently put up big numbers in the AHL.  He has registered more than 50 points in each of his first five complete professional seasons, highlighted by his career high 27 goals and 45 assists during the 2013-14 campaign where he was named to the AHL Second All-Star team.  The following year, he was named to the AHL First All-Star team. 

As much as he would like to be an NHL regular, Miele has enjoyed his first season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. “Lehigh Valley has been great, they have a chef at the rink that cooks a great breakfast and lunch, the facilities are awesome, it’s a new arena, and it always helps when your team is having a great year.”  The Phantoms currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference behind the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Miele is hopeful the Phantoms will contend for the Calder Cup this season.

Away from the arena, family is most important to Miele. “My wife and I try to get in a date night at least once a week.” To keep their minds active, they enjoy going to plays and museums, and hope to find time to go a symphony soon. In the offseason, Miele likes to visit his grandparents, who have been huge supporters of his hockey career.  Miele’s wife’s family owns a home that has been passed down through generations in Key West Florida where they enjoy spending time with family whenever an opportunity arises.  Miele is excited for some time off during the AHL All-Star break to catch up with his relatives, as he and his family will be traveling to see his grandparents in Naples.

Miele also referenced the importance that the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA) has meant to him and his teammates off the ice. “It’s definitely reassuring to know that we as AHL players (as well as ECHL players) have a union behind us.  I had a lot of interaction with them before and after my sports hernia surgery.  Larry (Landon) and the others at the PHPA did a lot of running around to ensure I was well taken care of which meant a lot.”

As the game gets faster, players like Andy Miele will thrive. Miele credits the various rule changes to stick infractions and high body contact to the success of smaller, high talent guys like Johnny Gaudreau and Mitch Marner. Miele hopes to bring a similar playing style to the Philadelphia Flyers should the opportunity arise.  Miele says too often talented players give up on their NHL dream and leave for Europe, even though there are guys constantly making NHL debuts in their late 20’s and becoming NHL regulars in their 30’s.  He believes that if he keeps grinding where he is, he will achieve his goal of consistent playing time in the NHL.

 

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