Indiana University, a college that’s best known for its basketball team resides in Bloomington, IN, just south of Indianapolis. What the school is not known for is having a hockey team that plays in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), even though the university has fielded a team since the early 1960’s.
Since Indiana University Hockey Club seems to fly under people’s radar, many its players are students who picked the school for its academics or the fact that it’s one of fourteen schools in the Big 10 athletic conference. What they did not know when choosing to come to the land of corn fields was that they could become college hockey players.
This unique fact allows for the team to receive some unconventional players to add to the roster. One of the most interesting player stories of the Hoosiers this season is unconventional rookie Mike Merritt. At the age of 31, Merritt became one of eight rookies on the Hoosiers roster this season. Mike, an Indiana state native is not only a rookie college hockey player, but he’s also a former United States Marine. And if that isn’t enough for uniqueness, he is also married with two kids.
After losing in the high school state championship Mike hung up his skates, graduated high school, and began his journey in the United States Marine Corps. His motivation to join the Marines? The September 11th attacks of the World Trade Center and the nation’s capital. Merritt forgot about hockey for the five years he served in the Marine Corps (2004-2009) as an Aviation Ordnance man and later Aero Observer. In those five years Mike was deployed three times and moved up the ladder to the rank of Sergeant.
After leaving the Marines with an honorable discharge, Mike soon realized how much he missed playing the game of hockey. Merritt began skating again in various pick-up games and beer leagues. Even going as far as driving over an hour to Indianapolis for 6 am skates before he’d go to work. For most people who stop playing for that long, they lose a step or two and never seem to be able to recapture the abilities they had when they were younger. But not Mike! No, apparently Merritt was a late bloomer and after taking years off, he matured like a fine wine and found another level to his game. Even Mike’s friends would tell him that he’s way better now than he was in high school. Now, in 2017 Mike believed he had enough left in the tank to play with guys who are mostly 8-10 years younger than him. He was right, Mike is more than keeping up, he’s excelling and playing regular minutes for the Hoosiers.
It took Mike a few games to catch up to the speed in which college hockey is played but it didn’t take himthat long to fit in with the team. The coaching staff was curious if a 31-year-old man with a wife and two kids would fit in with a bunch of 18 to 20-something college kids. But his training as a Marine taught him to be a good teammate. Mike’s positive outlook and leadership qualities soon rubbed off on his teammates. Phrases like “Mike’s a great guy!”, “I’m so glad Mike is on this team!”, and “I love Mike!” are just some of the never-ending reign of praise delivered by his teammates to the coaching staff. It has been made abundantly clear by his teammates and the smile on his face, Mike Merritt is now a Hoosier and a college hockey player.
Father, husband, Marine, student-athlete, rookie, yes Mr. Merritt holds all of these titles and he does it with the most humbling of attitudes. When I asked Mike, if he rubs it in the faces of his friends that he’s a college hockey player, after they told him originally that he should just play beer league with them. He responded with, “No, that’s not my style”. He did mention though, that his friends are very supportive now that he’s made the team. But Mike being the great man that he is, gives the most credit to the support that he receives from his wife and two daughters. He says that he wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of this without their love and support. I concluded by asking him if he had any advice for someone who might be in a similar situation but would be afraid to try out for a college sports team laterin life. He said, “If you love doing it, there’s a good chance it will work out”. I believe those are words of wisdom we can all find to be applicable in different facets of our lives.