SAULT STE. MARIE – While the 2017-18 Laker hockey season will see several new faces on the bench, fans are well aware of a new face behind the bench.
On July 17th, Mike York was announced as the new assistant coach of the Lakers, joining head coach Damon Whitten and assistant coach Rich Metro. A former NHLer and Michigan State Spartan, York was drafted in 1997 by the New York Rangers. He went on to play over 500 NHL games, and played on Team USA during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, where he won a silver medal.
While much of York’s career is well known or can be easily researched, we at LakerHockeyBlog asked if he would be willing to sit down with us and talk. York obliged.
Mike Barrett: What got you into coaching?
Mike York: I think my last couple years of playing did that, being an older guy and captain of the team [Iserlohn Roosters] I was in the coach’s’ office quite a bit and they would bounce ideas off of me. It’s not necessarily doing the coaching that way, but you’re obviously in with the coaches a lot, and I’ve played hockey my whole life and been involved with it that whole time and just wanted to stay with it. Obviously you can’t play forever, and the next closest thing to playing is coaching.
MB: Talk a bit about your college career at Michigan State. What is your best memory from college?
MY: I think just spending time around the guys, you’re really a family, you’re in classes together, and you’re at the rink together, eating meals together, living together. It’s that family feeling. Especially my junior and senior years, we had some success with a league championship, a playoff championship and going to the frozen four my senior year was a big thrill as well.
MB: Over the course of your career, you played for a number of NHL teams. Where did you enjoy playing the most?
MY: I enjoyed playing everywhere. New York City is New York City and it’s a great place to play. When I was in Edmonton, it was a great experience. Edmonton is a city where hockey is everything, and we were a young team so we spent a lot of time together away from the rink as well, so we were a very tight-knit group in that regard, but every city I played in I enjoyed.
MB: When you first began playing in Germany, what were some of the challenges you faced living over there?
MY: The language barrier. As a pro hockey player, you have a lot of downtime, so you’re watching TV shows. With technology, you can get more English TV shows, so when I first got over there it was a lot of streaming. Getting my daughter to learn the language so she could go to school was challenging. Language is definitely the biggest one.
MB: What brought you to Lake State? And don’t say the weather!
MY: Well, I wanted to get into coaching, college in particular, so last year I went back and finished my degree so I was able to coach college hockey. When this position opened up, I put my resume in and obviously went through the interview process and was able to get hired. I kind of wanted to stay in Michigan, I’m from Michigan [Waterford] and grew up here, so being able to stay in the state of Michigan was huge for me.
MB: What are some of your goals as an assistant coach?
MY: Right now it’s just learning from Damon and Rich. It’s not just throwing on a suit and standing behind a bench. There’s a lot that goes into it, a lot of behind the scenes stuff like putting practice plans together. I think I’m a positive person, so having a positive attitude around the players will go a long ways.
MB: As a player, did you have any memorable trips up to Lake State?
MY: My freshman year [1995-96], Lake State was a really good team. It was always a tough place to come and play. Sault Ste. Marie in general is a hockey town, the community loves their hockey and it was always great coming up here. I think it was my junior year, we came up here and won a game that clinched the CCHA regular season title, so that was definitely memorable thing from a college point of view.
MB: Who are some of the coaches who’ve had the greatest impact on you as a player?
MY: I’ve had all different kinds of coaches. Coach [Ron] Mason in my college days was probably the biggest, with my game evolving into a more complete game. Before I got to college, I was definitely more offensive-minded and offensive focused. As you get older, you realize if you want to be a more complete player, you have to have an all-around game. You look at some of the best players in the game, they’re always working on aspects of their game. It’s not what you’re good at that you need to practice. It’s what you’re not good at.
MB: Kind of like Steve Yzerman. In the first half of his career, he lit up the league with 100+ point seasons all the time, and then became a two-way player.
MY: Exactly, and that’s when they started winning their championships.
MB: After your final season with the Iserlohn Roosters, they retired your jersey. What does that mean to you?
MY: It was a cool feeling. To me, it was the end of my career, closing the chapter of my playing days, and opening up a new chapter in life. It was a huge honor, but it has a little bit of sadness to it as well.
MB: Having played in over 1,000 professional games across different leagues, and six Olympic games (and having won Silver), what advice would you give to the players in the locker room to not only get to the next level, but also for longevity?
MY: First thing is to work hard. You need to put the work in to get to that next level. The second thing is to have fun, because it goes by fast. Yesterday, I was 17 or 18, a freshman or sophomore in college, and before you know it, I’m 40 and on the other side of the bench. So work hard and have fun. At the end of the day, it’s a game. I’ve been privileged to play as long as I did, and to still be in hockey is something I enjoy.