Keep the Change

Despite Getting A Late Start In Goal, Hunter Miska Has Found His Rightful Place Between The Pipes

Growing up in Minnesota, Hunter Miska always knew he was a goalie trapped in a forward's body.

His mother thought skating with the puck was better than having pucks shot at him, so she encouraged Hunter to follow his brother, Cal by skating out. But once given a chance to strap on the pads and slip between the pipes, he was determined to prove her wrong. 

After learning that fellow Minnesotan Josh Harding followed a similar career path, the 14-year-old made the move and never looked back. 

"Once I finally jumped the gun and did it, I was super happy," recalled the Stacy, Minn., native who made the North Branch High School team as a freshman.

Adding to his inspiration, Miska's father, Todd, was in the business of painting goalie masks. Among his clients was none other than Harding, who would go on to suit up for the Minnesota Wild, along with Hall of Fame netminder Ed Belfour and Miikka Kiprusoff. He was also hired to paint masks for the Mighty Ducks movie sequels. 

"Having my dad be a mask painter and paint my mask, it's unbelievable. I don't think there's any other professional goalies that can say that," Miska said.

"I can always show who I am through my mask and my gear. I think that's the best part about being a goalie, you get to customize all your own stuff. The forwards have to wear the same stuff, but we get to go our own way with our masks and our gear, and I think that's pretty sweet."

Despite getting a late start between the pipes, Miska kicked his game into overdrive when he moved to Michigan to play with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program. It was quite the leap from high school hockey, especially with only a brief introduction to the position, but Miska made the most of it by starting a team-high 41 games.

"The biggest part for me was moving away from my family and being away from Minnesota because I'd never left the state before to play," he said. "That was really difficult making the transition, but I think it was really good because I realized you can't try to live in two places at once when you're playing. You need to have both feet wherever you're at and just be where you're at."

That mindset helped Miska with his ensuing journey to Penticton, British Columbia, and then the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL.

The next stop in his hockey odyssey came closer to home as he played one season at Minnesota Duluth, leading the Bulldogs to the national championship game. 

Despite the lack of experience and technique still being refined, Miska relied on his athleticism and his passion for stopping the puck to get him through.

"It's clear to me how much he loved the position of goaltender and how he can embrace a challenge," said Don Granato, who coached Miska for two seasons at the NTDP. 

"If he didn't perform well, he didn't run from it, he didn't hide from it. That was something that was very, very special at that age. There was a trait where you saw that he has a legitimate chance."

After one season in college, Miska took his talents to the next level, signing with the Arizona Coyotes organization. Like most professional athletes, it comes down to playing the waiting game to show what you can do against the best players in the world.

In the meantime, Miska continues to work on his game with the Coyotes' American Hockey League affiliate in Tucson. The condensed AHL schedule with so many back-to-back games can make it difficult for goaltenders to find their rhythm as they share time between the pipes, as Miska does with fellow NHL hopeful Adin Hill.

Despite seeing the number of games played slip from 36 in the 2017-18 campaign to 25 games this season, Miska looks at the strides he's made with the Roadrunners more in terms of quality over quantity.

"You just have to come in there with a good mentality, come to win every day and show up to work," Miska said. "It starts with your practice habits. If you come to practice and don't work hard or are lazy, it'll carry over into the game."

With the Coyotes racked by injuries this year, a number of players made the trek from Tucson to Glendale to bolster the Coyotes ranks, including Miska who made his NHL debut in relief on Nov. 13 against w. The 23-year-old stopped 8-of-9 shots against Detroit in a period of play.

"It's nice to get that experience, even though I didn't play a lot, I got to practice with the guys and be around the atmosphere and get to know that NHL lifestyle," he said of his 14-game call up. 

"It's like a nice carrot dangling in front of your face because it makes you want to work that much harder so that hopefully you can be there in the next couple of years full-time."

Granato has been happy to see his former player's success, and has reached out to him several times along his journey. He certainly isn't surprised at how far Miska has taken his game.

"He had some of the biggest predictors of success," Granato said. "He had the athleticism. The intangibles he had, a deep love for the game. The other intangible was the ability to focus his energy and effort on improving. When he was faced with adversity, he tried to be more resourceful to resolve the challenge. Those ingredients are why he's at where he's at right now."

Looking at how far he's come in such a relatively short amount of time, it's safe to say that Miska made the right choice in switching positions.

And as he waits for the next chapter in his blossoming career, his drive, determination and continued development should result in more opportunities in the near future. And when they come, he will be ready. 

 

Issue: 
2019-06

Poll

Who is your favorite American NHL player?: