Mike McNeill ’84: Skating to Success

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Kalvin Kerwin, Staff Writer

Saint Joseph High School Alum Mike McNeill started his life journey surrounded by athletes.

Born July 22, 1966 in Winona, Minnesota, his family moved to South Bend, Indiana when Mike was two and a half years old because his father was the assistant coach for the Notre Dame Hockey team in 1968. McNeill involved himself in sports, throughout grade school and high school he played football, baseball, and hockey. He would go on to graduate from St. Joseph High school and attend the University of Notre Dame where he would play hockey in the spring and baseball in the fall. However, his sophomore year, McNeill explains “I was getting ready for my sophomore baseball season in the spring and I was missing a lot of school playing two sports, because of this I wasn’t doing all that great academically.”

I came to a realization that it was time to decide whether I stayed with hockey or baseball. Hockey had always been my first love but it was a hard decision because my father was both a baseball and hockey coach and he wanted me to figure out how to play both. My choice had nothing to do with my future, it was because I was always drawn toward hockey more, and needed to get my grades in order.” McNeill never had a set goal or ambition for his future. He knew he had to take every opportunity he had and work hard for it. He says many times throughout the interview “take advantage of the opportunities you have.”

McNeill decided he wanted to go to Notre Dame, after graduating from St. Joseph High School, not because the university would open the door to the National Hockey League.  He knew it was a good school but knew it would be a challenge academically. McNeill took the academics head on because of the profound confidence he had gained at Saint Joe.

Mike McNeill states, “You’re a student before you are an athlete.”

Going from high school to Notre Dame to then go into something called the supplemental draft was where the new graduate’s professional career started. “The supplemental draft was a draft for seniors in college that hadn’t been drafted yet,” he stated. The Saint Louis Blues picked him up in the first round which gave him the opportunity to go to their training camp the next summer. McNeill spent that summer with his uncle in Minnesota in a league with National Hockey Players and realized that he could actually skate with these guys.  This gave him the confidence that one day he would lace up his skates against them in the NHL. At one of those pick up games, he met a scout for the Blues and created a bond with him that would shape his journey significantly. Soon the scout found him a spot with the Fort Wayne Comets in the International Hockey League – a premier development league for professional franchises. This was a huge opportunity that furthered his professional career and his development as a player.

The Saint Joseph High School program played significant roles in McNeill’s future both athletically and academically.  Encouraged to play multiple sports, McNeill gained the chance to be involved with team activities – much more. common in that era.  “The coaches of the various teams worked together and now it seems students have hard times playing multiple sports because they overlap seasons.” He remains thankful for his coaches and their advice.

“Value a friendship,” says McNeil offering his own advice.

He is grateful for his group of friends that have all stayed around the same area connected to hockey, whether that be current Saint Joseph High School Head Hockey Coach Chris Kleva, or Coach Brian Troester who both played with McNeill in high school as well as so many more buddies connected around the rink. McNeill lives for the passion of hockey and has witnessed many families grow in this community.

Great Accomplishments

Always humble Mike McNeill would never tout his own accomplishments despite being captain for the Saint Joe icers or later the Notre Dame hockey team. Not even tallying 83 goals, 115 assists, and 198 points in 124 games for his college head coach the legendary Lefty Smith and Ric Schafer. Nor playing 63 games in the National Hockey League,  or having a 12 year professional career and becoming a member of the Indiana State High School Hockey League Hall of Fame. To McNeill these things were just tag alongs to his success.

Associate Head Coach for Notre Dame Hockey, Andy Slaggert explains, “as a player he was a great captain and leader. It’s remarkable that someone who never played on an elite team or junior program, who played high school hockey in South Bend, would go on to play in the NHL. That speaks of his talents, but you’d never know it, he is incredibly humble.”

To Mike McNeill his greatest accomplishments would be meeting his wife, and having a son which wasn’t an easy accomplishment but a blessing to the McNeill Family. He exaggerates that “Being in the position he’s in, to be able to help the youth hockey league and high schools,” is his dream and graduating from St. Joe and getting “The Notre Dame Degree,” was the root of his career.

“Life has an interesting way of sorting its’ self out,” says McNeill. “For example meeting people like the guy in Minnesota, and taking advantage of the opportunity he gave me, you never know when things are going to cycle back around. Take your chances, and have the confidence in your self to go after it.”

“Build off of the love you have for that thing, work hard for it, put the work in, and little by little build your confidence. You can prepare the best you possibly can, know that not every time is going to be the success you wanted, but have a passion and be positive.”

“It’s your own little story, steer it in your own way.”

Currently McNeill serves as the Programming and Instruction Program Manager for the Compton Family Ice Area.