We're starting a new series called "AHL Player Profile." This is your basic getting-to-know piece in which JFTC asks a player things about his life and what he likes. Given the amount of time Michael Mersch is not likely to spend in the AHL, he is up first.
Jewels from the Crown: What is your favorite sport to watch/play outside of football (outside of hockey)?
Michael Mersch: Right now it's football. (JFTC: Who do you root for?) The Bears. Unfortunately right now they're terrible. I'm a Bears fan and been one all my life. It's rough right now, but it's okay.
JFTC: Were you rooting for the Cubbies?
MM: Yes, I was. Yeah, that was fun to watch. It's always exciting, there's a lot more buzz around Chicago when the Cubs are winning so it's fun.
JFTC: Arrieta had a hell of a year. Do you think he'll win the Cy Young?
MM: I don't know, I hope so. He's a young pitcher. My parents went to a few playoff games and saw him pitch. He's a stud. They saw him actually after dinner. After the game he was at dinner and they were at the same spot, so that's a little neat story and they were sending pictures and stuff. So. Huge Cubs fan. They got a lot of good young pieces so it'll be exciting to watch them.
JFTC: What are you watching on TV right now?
MM: Show wise? I know this may sound funny but I've actually been watching a lot of animated movies, like Pixar movies and stuff. I think those are pretty cool, I'm kinda into those right now. Show wise, I'm watching Homeland. That's my show right now.
JFTC: What's your favorite guilty pleasure food?
MM: I would say right now it's ice cream. The ice cream I have in my freezer is ice cream Snickers bars. Like, instead of the filling they have ice cream inside of them. That's what I got in the freezer right now, so that's probably it.
JFTC: What was your favorite subject when you were in school?
MM: I would say... The classes I really liked actually, which I started to take at the end of my senior year, I think... I really like the comm arts classes and like all those classes about persuasion and that type of stuff. I didn't major in that but looking back on it, I kinda wish I did, but that's okay. (JFTC: What did you major in?) My major was called consumer science so it's kinda similar to that persuasion stuff, where it's like marketing but you focus more on the consumer, though, and like consumer decisions.
JFTC: What are you listening to right now?
MM: Like music wise? (JFTC: Yes. Do you have like a favorite artist or anything? I know a lot of people like Drake, Meek Mill.) Drake's a popular guy in the locker room right now, probably. I like everything, though. It doesn't really matter which genre is in - rock, hip-hop, country - I like it all. Starting to get more into talk radio, too, like ESPN Radio and stuff. That's what I like to listen in the morning. Still trying to find the stations out here, though.
JFTC: Of the "big seven" schools, why did you choose Wisconsin over Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, DU, BC or BU?
MM: First of all, my home is two hours away from Madison, so that was a big factor. I committed there when I was young, like 15-years-old, so like at that time, that's like you know, "alright, I can be close to home" and that's one of the most important things to you at the time. I really liked the school. I was really impressed with the way they recruited me and brought me out for a game and everything, it was awesome. It was between there and Miami-Ohio. Miami-Ohio had a great program. I think Vinny might have been at that school there at the time, Loverde. It's just awesome and they have a great hockey history and all athletics in general there and it's just a class act, they got a lot of money in the athletic department, so they do a good job.
JFTC: Yeah, their women's program is one of the top three in the country as well.
MM: Oh yeah, they're great every year. (JFTC: They're always competing with Minnesota to be number one.) Yeah, Mark Johnson, the coach there, is a 1980 Gold medal team, which obviously, Miracle on Ice, the history. They got a great program. We were around the rink together so I was able to become friends with some of the girls on the team.
JFTC: That's cool. Do you know any if any of the girls you were at school with, do you know if they got recruited by the CWHL or NWHL?
MM: Yeah, there's Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker... I'm missing out on a bunch of people. Vetter wasn't there at the time, you know the goalie. But I was able meet her a few times. She skated with us in a charity game and stuff, so that was pretty cool. There's obviously plenty more because they got a great program, like you said.
JFTC: Why did you decide to start playing hockey, like even when you were a kid?
MM: My dad put hockey... (JFTC: Runs in your blood). Yeah. He actually passed away when I was 7-years-old, but he played minor league hockey professionally, in the IHL and the AHL. So, he was the first one to put me in skates, and obviously did while my dad was playing hockey and had a hockey mom ever since I was born, so she's been around the game and kept me involved.
JFTC: That's nice. Must be nice to have all that support from your family.
MM: Yeah, absolutely. My little brother plays in the USHL for the Lincoln Stars. He's going to Wisconsin, too, so it kinda speaks volumes of what I thought of the program there and everybody around there, so I influenced my brother to go there.
JFTC: Weren't you briefly with the NTDP [National Team Development Program]?
MM: I played actually with Derek Forbort and Nick Shore and Kevin Gravel played a few tournaments with us as well, so I got a little bit of history with these guys.
JFTC: Who are you closest with on the team?
MM: My roommate is Kevin Gravel, I lived with Nic Dowd as well last year, so I would say Kevin is probably my closest guy. We drive to the rink together, hang out. We both like the same things, watching hockey games at night... We just have similar interests, makes things easy when we're spending time together.
JFTC: Who helped you most transition from college to pro?
MM: That's a good question. When I was in college, I'd say is my coaches. They obviously, they're working on developing players and they want to get you to that next level. And here, the development staff has done a great job. We have them and Coach Stothers and Hajter (assistant coach Chris Hajt). They really have your best interests and want to get you to that next level because the end result, it makes everybody successful and you're moving on, so they always have the best interests for you. There's one thing I always say about Stutsy, is he always gives his players confidence. Say, my first year I made a mistake or maybe didn't get a puck out right away and had to spend a little more time in our zone, he realized that's part of the learning process and just doesn't sit a player. He gives them that opportunity next shift to go out and redeem themselves and... that helps the team win because all your players have confidence come end of the season and allows them to be the best they can. It's something that I've kind of learned from him, it's pretty unique and pretty special.
JFTC: Who do you model your game after, if anyone?
MM: I like watching hockey. Some hockey players don't, which I find kind of weird, but I think that by watching the game just on TV at night or whatever, you can pick up what other guys do and kind of implement that in your game, maybe work on it in practice, stuff like that, so I like doing that. I play in front of the net. I think Justin Abdelkader plays in front of the net for the Detroit Red Wings, Tomas Holmstrom did it in the past. I watch guys. When I'm watching a game, I watch the guys around the net so those are a few guys off the top of my head, who come to mind. Obviously Tomas Holmstrom is the best net-front player to ever play so I try to watch him a little bit and see what he does.
JFTC: If you were not a hockey player, what do you think you would be doing? Do you think you'd be another athlete, a CPA, a business guy?
MM: Probably business. It's funny, my girlfriend always says "I wish you didn't play hockey" because we live in Chicago. I'd probably be working, just like all the rest of my friends, all working hard. I'd probably be living in Chicago, working in a business job, hopefully living downtown. That's what I see myself doing after hockey.
MM: It's fun to watch. I think the Cup the Blackhawks won, I wasn't drafted yet, so I was able to root for them a little bit then. All my friends are Blackhawks fans so when I'm home we usually watch the Hawks. I just like watching hockey in general. That was a fun series to watch, though. I didn't really have any feelings. Hopefully guys I'll be playing against someday.
JFTC: If you could have a walk-out or walk-up song, similar to baseball, or a song that's played when you score a goal, what would it be?
MM: I'd probably let someone else pick for me, or bounce a few ideas off someone else because it'd be kind of weird if I just said, "alright, I want this song to be my goal song." [JFTC: Well if you had like a walk-out song, like when they introduce you...] I don't know. That's a good question. I'd probably go with something more traditional, like a rock song or something like that. I don't know. AC/DC, maybe. Something that just kind of blends in, something that's not noticed too much.
JFTC: Do you have any nicknames besides Mike?
MM: The guys call me "Big Mike" around the locker room.
JFTC: At what point did you realize you had a legitimate shot at going pro?
MM: When I was drafted, the process is always keep working hard and getting better... [JFTC: But when you were 15, did you look around and realize you're much better than your teammates?] Well when you go to the NTDP program, that's one of the elite programs and then you go to college, you just go from there and see how you fit in.
JFTC: Some of the guys that you played against in college are now your teammates. What was that transition like for you?
MM: It was interesting, because I've had a lot of battles with Forbs [Derek Forbort] in North Dakota... well Nick Shore's not on the team anymore, at Denver and then the St. Cloud guys - Kevin Gravel, Dowd, and Brodzinski. It was fun. You know each other, though, you know playing against each other, you know each other's names. You kind of become a little bit better friends with those guys because you kind of know them and know guys you've played against and can talk about college and just have similar backgrounds. It's not that weird when you come on a team with them. But we like to give each other a hard time.
JFTC: Is there a lot of chirping?
MM: Oh yeah. There's a good video of me dancing Gravs in college and he likes to blame it on the backchecker not getting back. We give each other a hard time but in the end it's all fun and games. We're teammates now and we're good friends.
JFTC: Is there still a little bit of a competitive battle even in practice when you're going up against a guy?
MM: I think practices are always competitive, I don't think that really plays into it.