In the State of Hockey, few career journeys are as compelling as that of Nick Michel, a resilient player hailing from Holy Family Catholic. Michel grew up in Waconia, Minn., but played most of his High School hockey with Holy Family Catholic. Nick was lucky enough to play alongside his twin brother Jack Michel as linemates.
“Being on the same team as my brother was great, but to be able to be his linemate too was such a cool experience…even if the coach had to separate us sometimes,” said Nick Michel.
Michel played four seasons with Holy Family Catholic from 2013 to 2017 scoring 43 points. His junior and senior years are where more production came for Nick, especially his senior year where he put up 28 points in 24 games. After High School, Michel was drafted into the NAHL by the Minnesota Wilderness. His first year with the Wilderness Michel played 52 games scoring 6-17-23. Heading into year two of junior hockey, Michel suffered a severe setback in his hockey career.
“During a preseason game I was hit from behind, and blew my knee.”
Michel, who was obviously devastated, would miss his second junior season.
“I ended up having three surgeries, and missed a full year of hockey. It was the hardest time of my life.”
An injury of Michel’s caliber takes multiple months of rehab post-surgery, which is difficult on its own, but that wasn’t the most difficult part of the process for Michel.
“When you can barely walk, you almost have to learn it all over again, and that’s what the rehab was. This was very difficult, but the hardest and one of the worst parts of this was having to watch my teammates, and not being able to play alongside them,” said Michel.
Michel returned to the ice after a season away for his second official year in junior hockey, but with a new team. Michel joined the Janesville Jets for the 2019-20 NAHL season, and would get on the ice just over a year from his severe knee injury. Michel played 32 games for Janesville, scoring 7-7-14 during the campaign and getting enough exposure for college scouts to notice him. Although he was able to get exposure from college teams with just two seasons in the NAHL, the face-to-face visits became difficult.
“There were conversations with colleges after the season, but with Covid going on, teams didn’t drive to as many games so the calls were not coming in as much,” said Michel.
Michel did have a couple of calls from schools, one of the teams calling was from down south in Alabama. The University of Alabama Huntsville was the school that stuck out right away to Michel.
“Huntsville called and I didn’t think twice about it. It was right for me and I wanted to play division one hockey.”
Michel already went through more adversity than most young hockey players, but this may be the most unique cituation. Michel played one season with the Chargers starting just four games, but that would end up being not only Michel’s last season at The University of Alabama Huntsville, but it was the final season of Chargers men’s hockey.
In May of 2020 the hockey program was disbanded as one of several cost-saving measures forced by the financial unknowns that came with Covid-19.
“I loved Huntsville, I loved my season there and was excited to get more playing time but then the program folded out of nowhere,” said Michel.
With Chargers hockey disbanded, the search for a new team began for Michel. With the unfortunate injury, and the unique circumstances that Michel endured in his young hockey career, there weren’t many division one options, but there were still opportunities with hockey teams elsewhere.
“There wasn’t many options D1 wise, so I chose to come back to Minnesota and play D3 for St. Johns University,” said Michel.
2021-22 was his first season with the Johnnys, a season where Michel found his rhythm. He scored 10-10-20 in 25 games, and he improved even more this past season becoming a point per game player at 15-11-26 in 24 games.
“It’s just hockey, I loved playing for St. Johns, my favorite part was being able to play on Hockey Day Minnesota.”
Michel, now 24 years old, coming off his best collegiate season, got a phone call that many Division three hockey players dream of getting and only a few do.
“In the middle of July I got a call from Ben Gorden, and next thing you know I’m visiting the campus at The U and agreeing to play for the Gophers this next season. It all happened so fast,” said Michel.
The Gophers, coming off one of their best seasons of the last decade, lost one of, if not, their best and most talented forward in Logan Cooley to the NHL. Now there was a spot open on the roster and Nick Michel was the perfect fit.
“With Cooley leaving for the NHL there was a spot open for a forward. I’m so excited to meet the guys, and be around them in the locker room during the season.”
Being 24 years old, and experiencing more in his hockey career than most, Michel has a unique opportunity to be a veteran presence in the locker room, while also being able to learn.
“Watching these incredible players in practice and seeing their process on and off the ice will help my game, but on the other side I have a good outlook on everything at this point in my career, I feel I can help guys with stuff off-ice.”
Michel is heading into his fourth college hockey season, and second at the division one level. He’s heading into this season as a graduate student who studied Sports Management.
There aren’t many young hockey players who have faced as much adversity as he has in their career. Nick has been through bad injuries, hockey programs being shut down for a year enrollment, moving down from Division one hockey to getting signed by one of the best Division one hockey programs in the Nation. I would say Nick Michel is the definition of a common phrase “Hard work pays off”