Fireside Chats: Mickey Rhodes of the San Jose State Spartans

Rhodes in action for the Spartans.

Mickey Rhodes is the current Captain of the San Jose State Spartans hockey team, which finished 10th (3-2-0 overall) at the American College Hockey Association Division II National Championships in Connecticut last season. Although they were the lowest Western seed in the tournament, they took top ranked Ohio State to overtime in the first round, losing 4-5. They also played well in a 3-5 loss to the two seed Michigan State, and defeated last year's National runner up Central Connecticut State by a score of 4-2 in their final game.

Fear The Fin had an opportunity yesterday to talk to the senior winger over the phone. Rhodes was a standout offensive performer last year for the Spartans, scoring 32 goals (2nd on the team), 26 assists (6th), and 58 points (3rd) in 38 regular season games. He also holds the University's record for most all-time penalty minutes, with 388.

The San Jose State Spartans play their home games at Logitech Ice in San Jose, and open up their season this Friday at 7:45. They are a club team, and donations of any size are always welcome. You can visit their website at SJSUHockey.net and make donations here. The team will be hosting the 2011 Nationals at Logitech Ice from March 15th-19th.

Growing up in the Bay Area, who was your biggest influence in starting to play the game?

I would definitely say my dad-- he really pushed me to be the player I am today. He's still a huge influence on me. He grew up playing sports and I definitely got all of my competitiveness from him. My dad was the quintessential hockey father-- took me to all the games, went on all the road trips, and still goes to every game I play in.

Did you start off playing roller hockey? That seems to be a pretty common transition for kids in California before they start to play on ice.

I never played organized roller hockey, but I learned how to skate on rollers before I moved to ice. My dad worked for Budweiser in the mid-90's and did some jobs for HP Pavilion for events and things like that. He met Owen Nolan through that, became good friends with him, and that offered me a way to move onto the ice scene.

Who was your favorite NHL player growing?

Growing up it was definitely Sergei Federov and Owen Nolan.

How about your favorite current Shark?

Jamie McGinn.

(laughs) You and me both, I love McGinn. It's probably unhealthy. We did an interview with him last season and he seems like a real nice down to Earth guy. Apparently he's been looking great with Couture and Mitchell on the third line during training camp.

I'm really excited for him this season, I think he's going to have a big year. I actually went up to Canada with him this summer and consider him a pretty good friend of mine. We went back to BC and hung out with him and Julian Talbot at Jamie's cabin. It was a lot of fun.

Rhodes as a sophomore delivering a massive hit to a forward from the University of Utah

Touching upon that, considering McGinn is Canadian, the majority of NHL players are from Canada and the Northeastern United States. However, recently California has begun to make some headway. How have guys like Emerson Etem helped to raise the profile of Californian hockey players?

I think it's great to see guys like Etem get drafted, as well as that other guy who went in the first round to Pittsburgh...

Beau Bennett I believe.

Yup, that's it. California kids are beginning to grow up playing and training hard, and while we haven't had a long-term Junior Shark yet, teams like the California Waves and LA Hockey Club have had some success bringing guys to the national level. The high-profile club programs are generally located further down south, but it's still great to see. Growing up we were always looked at as surfers who couldn't play the game, but then we'd go to national tournaments and start beating all these other teams, including Canadian teams.

I think in a few years hockey, especially at the collegiate level, will begin to move towards the West a whole lot more and we'll start getting some Division 1 squads. I think that's the biggest step California could take in producing more hockey players.

Do you have any advice for any young Bay Area kids looking to succeed in what the media loves to label a "non-traditional hockey market"?

Definitely look into the San Jose Junior Sharks. It's a great organization, and I grew up playing for them and learned a lot. Playing club or Triple A/Double A hockey is definitely what I would recommend. That's how a lot of kids get started playing hockey around here, and it's a great area to do that.

Do you think there's something the community, outside of the individual teams, could do to put a bigger spotlight on the sport as a whole?

I think media coverage is huge. The Sharks have an extremely rabid and passionate fanbase to pull from. In our case at San Jose State, a lot of people don't even know we have a team unfortunately. I think the local media could do a lot more in promoting our sport outside of what they already do for the Sharks-- youth hockey, college hockey, et cetera. I think that would definitely be a huge help for all the kids out there looking to lace up the skates.

Last year you guys went to Nationals and played very well. Have you noticed an increase in the interest of SJSU's hockey program since that time?

Definitely. Last year was probably the biggest year we've had in terms of attendance since the lockout when the Sharks weren't playing.

...and everyone was trying to get their hockey fix.

Exactly. Last year we had a few stories done on us that really helped us out in that area. ABC did a couple highlighting our trip to Nationals, and that really helped with companies looking to donate to us. Comcast's spot also helped us raise a lot of money. It's amazing how a quick story here or there can help, and we're always looking for more of that when it comes to the big media.

Let's transition to your daily day as an SJSU hockey player. Run us through the typical day you have during the season.

In the morning we obviously have classes, so we get to all of those. A lot of us also have our own jobs-- I work at the BMW dealership, and other guys are also doing their own things.

We practice Monday and Wednesday during the week, and set up our schedule so we're ready to go at 2:45 for that. Workouts dispersed throughout as well. On the weekends we either play two or three games.

Tell us about the team this year-- who's returning, who's coming in, and how are you guys feeling heading into the season?

First and foremost, our main goal is obviously to get that ring and be number one in the nation. Coming back this year I think we're looking stronger than ever. All of our main guys are all returning players from the team that went to Nationals, and we also have five new guys who joined that we're really excited about. Practices have been very impressive in my opinion-- usually it takes us a a little while to get into the systems and establish chemistry, but there's been almost none of that this year. Everyone has picked it up very quickly. I have a lot of high hopes for this team.

As Captain, you obviously play a big role in the locker room. Since SJSU is a club team, do you think a lot more of the responsibility in this area gets placed upon the players considering you don't receive the majority of your funds from the school?

Our coach is paid, but not nearly as much as he should considering the amount of time and effort he pours into this team. He's great.

As for your question, I definitely think so. We all have to lead by example on and off the ice. We take care of ourselves and watch out for our own on road trips. We get very few funds from the school, everyone is just playing for the love of the game. Dues are a couple thousand dollars a year and that definitely keeps us grounded.

After graduation do you plan on continuing to play hockey, and if you do, where?

I'm currently looking into playing somewhere in either the CHL or ECHL, and will continue training hard after my season with SJSU ends. First things first, I want have to have a good year for the Spartans. That's definitely on the top of my priority list at this time.

You guys open up your season at home this weekend correct?

Yup, 7:45 on Friday night. Tickets are 8 dollars general admission, 4 dollars for students. We also play at 7:00 on Saturday for anyone interested in coming out and supporting us as we look to continue the momentum from last year's Nationals appearance.

Who are you guys playing? How is this weekend stacking up in terms of competition?

CSU Fullerton on Friday. They're a new team, and with all new teams there's going to be some growing pains for them. It's definitely not going to be an easy win, but it should be a good way to start to get our legs underneath us. It will be nice to see how the rookies [on our team] get up and running.

The weekend after that when we play Northern Arizona will definitely be a much tighter matchup. That will definitely be our first big test of the year to see where we stack up.

Good luck in your upcoming season, and I'm sure we'll be talking to you soon.

Thanks man, have a good one.

*****

Go Spartans.

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