December 29, 2011 at 9:02 a.m.
Sometimes, it's just in the blood, no matter how many times you are told no. Just ask National Team Development Program Under-17 netminder Hunter Miska. After all, he only wanted to play between the pipes, and it took a little convincing before he finally made the permanent switch.
"I started playing hockey when I was three. My two older brothers (Dalton, 20, and Calvin, 17) played so I wanted to play," explained Miska, who also has a younger sister Dakota, a varsity hockey player at Centennial High School. "I started out playing forward and just started playing goalie three years ago. I played in squirts because we didn't have a goalie for our team and I decided I wanted to play for half a season. I threw it on and had a good season, 10 shutouts. I loved it.
"The next year, I wanted to play goalie again but my mom didn't want me to do it. She thought I was a better forward than a goalie. So I played forward again and the next few years after that, I kept trying but she didn't want me to play. My freshman year of high school, we just had our regular goalie but everyone on our team wanted me to switch back to goalie so I just made the switch. It has worked out really good."
For Miska, the 2011-12 season marks just the third season he has been a regular between the pipes. After all, the rest of his family would much rather play forward. No worries though. Out on the pond, the crew always needed someone to play in goal and Miska would be the first one to volunteer for the job.
"I like to play out on the pond and have someone to shoot on me," said the North Branch, Minn. native. "On the weekends, I would throw on the goalie pads and have my brothers and sister shoot on me. I would always practice so when the time came, I would be ready and prepared to play.
"My dad has always supported me and when I didn't play goalie, my dad always had a set of gear so I could play goalie whenever someone from my team couldn't be there or they needed someone. I could throw on the pads and play."
What was it about being a goalie that Miska just loved?
"I like to keep my team in the game and stop some pucks. I had a blast designing my gear. It's fun," he explained.
Speaking of goalie masks, Miska helped design the one he wears for Team USA. After all, his father Todd is a veteran goal mask artist and has painted masks for many of the NHL and AHL netminders.
"On my goalie mask, over my forehead area, I have the Minnesota pine trees and I have snow on them since winter is my favorite season," he explained. "On my chin, I have an outdoor hockey rink since that is where I grew up playing hockey pretty much. I have my number 35 with an American flag in the background of it.
"In addition, I have a quote with fireworks around it. I have two eagles on the side with the USA logo above it. On my back plate, I have my grandpa on there since he passed away in 2009 from cancer and my friend Ian Jenkins [a fellow goaltender who was supposed to play for the London Knights] who passed away this past May. I have a few stars and my last name on the back."
The pride shines through as Miska discusses his specially designed mask, which is made even more special as his dad helped with his personal touch.
"I thought it was cool. I like to design stuff so it was really special being able to design it and have my dad help me out and make it look good," he said.
It is through his dad that Miska met one of his all-time favorite netminders - Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding. Harding is a player that Miska looks up to for a variety of reasons, including a special trait that two of them share-each player started playing in the nets when he was 14 years old.
"My dad paints all the Minnesota Wild masks and Josh Harding is one of my favorite goalies in the NHL," he stated. "He comes out to our house every year to design his helmet. We get to go down to practice and watch him play.
"Josh Harding was the one that made me want to play goalie. He started playing goalie at the age of 14 too. He really influenced me to start playing since he is now in the NHL. I wanted to start being like him and following in his footsteps."
Of course, Harding offered a few words of advice to Miska that he has taken to heart.
"Be confident. Always work hard and never give up. Don't be too cocky and play your game," explained Miska on the advice from Harding.
That advice has turned out pretty well for Miska as he was named the top goaltender at the 2011 Under-17 Four Nations Tournament in Russia. He had two shutouts in the tournament, a 4-0 win over Slovakia (Nov. 11) and a 5-0 win over Russia (Nov. 13).
"It felt good. The last time I had a shutout was my first game playing goalie in high school and two years later to finally get another shutout, it felt great," he said. "The forwards played great; they were back-checking and the defense wouldn't let anybody by them. It was a big honor to be number one out of all the goalies there."
And that confidence between the pipes continues to grow each week with the help of NTDP goaltending coach Mike Ayers.
"He is teaching me some new stuff since I'm still fresh in the game. Making me confident and showing me what to do and what not to do," he explained.
And that's not too bad for Miska, who really just started playing goalie full-time three years ago.