George Mika discovered college hockey during two years playing in the Boston Junior Bruins program.
The Amarillo Bulls center is happy a Massachusetts school found him before it was time to make a college decision.
The Naples, Florida, native will return to the northeast next year to play hockey and study finance at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
“It felt everything kind of fit into place and felt like it was the right place for me,” said Mika, who attended college hockey games at UMass, Boston College and Merrimack, and played at the home rinks of Quinnipiac, New Hampshire and Yale during his time with the Junior Bruins. “I did play in Boston. I do have a special connection there.
“I know some kids who go to the school. I knew a couple of guys on the team.”
Mika, who left Florida as a 14-year-old high school freshman to begin his higher-level hockey pursuits, said his best high school experience was the two years he was settled in Boston living with a billet family.
Although he also seriously considered St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, returning to Massachusetts made sense.
Mika also had hockey success there. He split time with the Bruins 18U and Eastern Junior Hockey League teams in his first season, then was a United States Premier Hockey League Premier Division all-star as a member of the Junior Bruins team that won the 2014 USA Hockey Tier III Junior national title.
The college offers piled up for the North American Hockey League scoring leader this season when he added more versatility to his game.
“The bigger picture for George is the all-around player he has become,” Amarillo head coach Matt Nicholson said, according to a story on the NAHL website. “He plays at both ends of the ice, he plays on special teams, he is our best face-off man and he provides us with the leadership we need.”
Mika began the season as the NAHL Forward of the Month for September and kept rolling, earning South Division Player of the Week honors in December for his performance in the week after finalizing his college decision.
The 20-year-old leads the league in points (50), is second in points per game (1.16) among those with 20 or more games, tied for third in power-play goals (10), fourth in goals (23) and tied for sixth in assists (27).
“I think I’ve gotten the time now to mature as a player and a person,” said Mika, who played briefly in the Tier I United States Hockey League and is in his third season in the Tier II NAHL. “I’ve worked on my strengths, but also worked on making my weaknesses [into] strengths as well.
“I’ve gotten to where I can play on the penalty kill, play on the power play, win faceoffs. I can be counted on and relied on in any situation of the game whether it’s the opening draw or the last five minutes of the game.”
Mika said the most important part of the improvement is his play away from the puck in both zones.
That progress completes a process that began as a 3-year-old in Florida. He worked his way through learn-to-skate, learn-to-play and into youth hockey.
Playing with a talented group of Naples-area players in his age range, including Colorado College forward Trey Bradley, Mika was coached for five years by Trey’s father Brian Bradley.
Brian Bradley, a 503-point career scorer in the National Hockey League and member of the 1988 Canadian Olympic team, encouraged Mika to join Trey at 14 for a year of Triple-A hockey in Ontario.
Mika credits Brian Bradley for recognizing a development path that helped lead him to NCAA Division I hockey. It was the path that led Mika to Boston a year later and will send him back to the northeast again next year.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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