At the end of November the Nashville Predators recalled four players to their roster during a tough injury stretch. Kevin Fiala and Petter Granberg have been in the mix before but seeing the names Frédérick Gaudreau and Mike Liambas as part of that day’s call-ups from the Milwaukee Admirals was a pleasant surprise. Gaudreau’s story and emergence has been rather well documented. As for the journey that Liambas had to take before reaching the NHL? It’s a long story.
Liambas is a native of Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada. In his junior playing career he suited up for the Erie Otters in the OHL. Originally, Liambas was a defenseman but the main characteristic of his play from the word “GO” has always been his physicality. There are very few players in hockey with the fearlessness and determination that Liambas brings on the ice with every shift and his willingness to drop the gloves for his teammates, regardless of being a smaller skater on the ice than some heavyweights he will duke it out with, only serves to remind people in broad daylight of the heart he has.
What is unfortunate is that for many, still to this day, Liambas is known for a single moment in his junior playing career. In 2009, on Halloween, Liambas’ Otters were matched up against the Kitchener Rangers. The play itself was incredibly simple and happens, or can happen, numerous times in a given hockey game. The Otters chipped a puck deep from the neutral zone, went for a change, but left Liambas out to press deep against the puck carrier. The man tasked with puck retrieval on the dump-in was Rangers defenseman Ben Fanelli. What happened next would impact both of their lives.
After getting a quick stop behind the net by the goaltender, Liambas saw Fanelli gathering up the puck and cycling back around the net with his head down. The natural instinct would be to follow through with a check, which Liambas did, and the two came together with astonishing force. Fanelli saw Liambas at the last second, started to rotate out of the incoming check, but he was always getting leveled from the check. Fanelli was hit so hard by Liambas that his helmet came off prior to his head catching the metal stanchion separating the glass panels and then crashing to the ice. He would remain motionless as the medical staff rushed to the ice. He required to be stretchered off the ice and would later be diagnosed with a skull fracture and concussion. Fanelli would return to complete his junior playing career in Kitchener but the hit would effectively be the end of his hockey playing caeer.
That incident came at the beginning of Liambas’ fourth junior playing season in the OHL. He would be suspended for the rest of the season as well as that year’s playoffs as a result of the boarding penalty against Fanelli. The hit was the end of Liambas’ junior playing career. What came next was the true test of whether or not he would ever be able to make a career out of playing the game as a professional hockey player.
Liambas’ first step from that moment involved going back to the IHL with the Bloomington PrairieThunder. He had played briefly with the outfit in the previous season in 2008-09. By the end of that 2009-10 season he had logged more games in the IHL (25) than he did in the OHL his final two junior playing seasons (9).
His next step came at the University of British Columbia playing in the CIS. At the end of the 2010-11 season he would officially join the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL to become a professional hockey player. His time with the Cyclones would last through to the 2012-13 season which saw a spell with the Orlando SolarBears. Where he would go next is where this journey really starts to go onwards and upwards.
At the end of the 2012-13 season a scrappy young Liambas showed up on a PTO Contract with the Admirals. His AHL debut came eight days prior to his twenty-fourth birthday in Milwaukee against the Houston Aeros. I suppose you can say for Admirals fans it was love at first fight. The 5-10 Liambas paired up to fight 6-3 forward Ryley Grantham. Liambas from his first ever AHL experience showed Milwaukee his greatest attribute: it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog. Liambas is as fearless as they come.
From that moment since Liambas has been a staple in the AHL. The very first full-season he had as a member of the Admirals came in 2013-14 and saw him break Jordin Tootoo‘s Admirals record for penalty minutes accumulated in a single season. He fought twenty-five times that season.
Yet, looking past fighting majors, Liambas has fought his way from that fateful night in 2009 to get to where he is today. His evolution as a player through the tutelage of Admirals head coach Dean Evason as well as Admirals assistant coach Stan Drulia has been one of the most fun developments I’ve had the chance to watch in my time around the organization. It isn’t just about fighting. The days of the out-and-out enforcer aren’t there anymore. You need to play. And, make no mistake about it, the day the Liambas was officially given the call by the Predators organization it came as a result of having established himself as a well rounded player.
Liambas’ game has matured with time on and especially off the ice. He displays great leadership qualities and players in Nashville such as Anthony Bitetto and Colton Sissons would be quick to credit him for his guidance along their individual journeys as well.. That recall wasn’t a reward for service time by the Predators or a simple pat on the back. He earned it.
Cheers to Mike Liambas on taking the time out after practice last week to chat at such length. Tomorrow Admirals Roundtable will be covering the Milwaukee Admirals road game against the Rockford IceHogs at the BMO Harris Bank Center. On Wednesday we will be hoping to get you the next installment of Fifteen which features Derek Army.
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