“My first pro game [in Bloomington] in the IHL we were playing against Port Huron,” said Milwaukee Admirals forward Mike Liambas. “I came in there and I fought the biggest guy there, Derek Merlini, and then my coach asked me why I fought him. I just said because he was the biggest guy out there.”
It has only been eleven months since Mike Liambas joined the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League (AHL). For such a short time span his impact on and off the ice has been outstanding. Yet, it’s his road to this point which can be considered even more remarkable.
The native of Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada comes from a big family with European roots. His dad was born in Greece. His mother was born in Italy. And he is the middle-child of a very tightly knit group of brothers.
“I am a big family guy,” smiled Liambas. “My bros are like my best friends. I wish sometimes that I could spend more time at home so I could hang out with them, but that’s why in the summer I like to get home and hang out with them. Just to be around them. I wouldn’t be here today without my family.”
Liambas’ junior hockey career started with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). His first season (2006-07) he suited up for fifty-five games and scored five points (four goals, one assist). He also recorded 169 penalty minutes in his first junior hockey season – a feat that would be repeated in his second junior season with the Otters.
Where this story goes downhill comes from a game against the Kitchener Rangers on Halloween of 2009.
This might be the moment where most people around the game of hockey recognize the name Mike Liambas. As the Otters dumped the puck into the Rangers zone for a line change – defenseman Ben Fanelli went around the cage to cycle the play forward. He had his head down. Liambas was racing in on the forecheck and squared him up. Fanelli looked up at the last moment, saw a charging forechecker, and tried to whirl a pass behind his net. By the time he threw the puck off his tape Liambas had caught him high to the body with a heavy hit into the glass partition. Fanelli was taken immediately to a local hospital before getting airlifted to a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. He remained in an intensive care unit for a considerable amount of time with skull and facial fractures.
Four days after the incident, Liambas was suspended for the remainder of the OHL season – effectively ending his junior playing career. This was the beginning of a label against him that he was the bad-boy.
“It wasn’t me that was my doppelganger,” said Liambas of his past bad-boy reputation. “I don’t know who he is or what it was but everyone seems to think that that was me back in the day but it really wasn’t.”
By present day standards, most can view a player such as Liambas as your prototypical team enforcer. He’s the man you don’t want to play against but would love to have on your hockey team. While the bad-boy wrap may stick as a consequence to playing such a role in the game, to him, all that really matters is the people who know him for being him.
“I might as well use my reputation to my advantage,” smiled Liambas. “Everyone that knows me, the people that I care about, and people that care about me know the real me. I could really care less about what others think on the internet because they don’t know me. They see what I do on the ice but that’s my job.”
After his time in the OHL he played with the Bloomington PrairieThunder of the International Hockey League (IHL) before finding his way onto the Cincinnati Cyclones of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). He played forty-games between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons: no goals, ten assists, and 180 penalty minutes. Next stop, the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL where he would dress for thirty-two games, score nine points (two goals, seven assists), and pick up 151 penalty minutes.
Then, in February of 2013, Liambas was signed to a professional try-out (PTO) by the Milwaukee Admirals. In the final stretch of the 2012-13 season he played twenty-seven games, scored a goal, and earned 74 penalty minutes. He also played in two-games during the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs: one assist and 32 penalty minutes. While working hard to earn his place on his first ever AHL team – one thing became very evident in Mike’s first season as an Admiral: he had found a home.
“I’ve learned a lot,” said Liambas. “In order to appreciate the top of the mountain you’ve got to hit the very lowest of the lows or else you don’t really know where you are. I wouldn’t change a thing that’s happened because I have learned so much from all the bad things that have happened in my life.”
This season Liambas’ game has taken a big step forward. His forechecking, backchecking, offensive game, defensive awareness, and all-around ability have made monumental leaps over the Mike Liambas that first suited up for the Admirals on Feb. 8th 2013 against the Houston Aeros. That kind of development stems from a student willing and ready to learn and apply. His teachers: anyone willing to offer advice.
“The coaches have been helping me a lot,” said Liambas. “As well with my teammates like [Taylor Beck] or [Mark] Van Guilder. They’ve helped me a lot. I was working with Van again today at practice and I talk to Beck all the time. I know I’m a totally different player from them but I still want to round up my game. Everyone is trying to help me succeed and they are giving me all the tools to succeed.”
While Liambas’ on ice ability continues to grow – it is his off ice personality that makes him one of the most magnetic players in the Admirals locker room. He can be the go-to guy to get anyone around him laughing. He’ll do little things such as nudging himself between Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dave Boehler and myself to ask his own teammates post-game questions. Yet, he knows that off-ice atmosphere isn’t all about fun and jokes. He is completely aware of where the line between keeping things light and getting serious is. He is very accountable for himself and his teammates. His relationships with members of his team, both professionally and personally, mean a tremendous amount to him. And, as I’m sure the Milwaukee Admirals front office would be quick to point out, he is a fantastic individual when it comes to dealing with the fans and the getting out in the local community. It’s this personality, on and off the ice, that has made a lasting impression on his teammates and those who get to know him.
Anthony Bitetto’s first Mike “Bus-y” Liambas experience:
Bitetto describes his importance to the Admirals and development:
Colton Sissons talks about his relationship with Liambas:
Sissons on the prankster side of Bus-y:
Scott Valentine discusses Mike’s on and off ice personality:
Valentine on Liambas’ development since joining the Admirals:
Taylor Beck describes the ultimate team player and greatest guy, Liambas:
As for my time being around Mike Liambas as a reporter: he has always been up to answering any question that I can throw at him. He is always honest with me. Sometimes he will be very blunt and to the point. Other times he provides me with an answer that goes far beyond my expectations. To provide you with a taste of precisely what I mean I decided to ask him a very frequently asked question that I receive when it comes to his game. Something that most fans always think of when it comes to the game of hockey.
What goes through your mind as you drop the gloves?
Simply put: he is one of a kind.
The continued development for Liambas this season speaks to exactly what we’re used to seeing out of Admirals players: work hard, learn, and work even harder. There is no telling where this story is heading. All that I know is, for my money, that it keeps getting better and better.