-- New Jersey Devils
defenseman Andy Greene
can recall the good old days when getting up early meant freezing your tail off.
"It's 5 a.m. and you're dead tired and still trying to wake up for Mites practice," Greene told NHL.com. "It's so cold outside ... that's what you remember most. Your hands and feet are numb because the rink is so cold that early in the morning."
Occasionally after a good workout, Greene would be treated to a good breakfast in downtown Trenton, Mich., by his father, Dave.
"You feel great because there's only 15 or 20 other people there with you and you have all your friends and then going to breakfast with dad was cool," he recalled. "All the kids enjoyed it so much. It was one of those things that we did once or twice a month, but I always kind of wished it would occur every weekend. It was such a fun experience."
Such is the life of an adolescent learning to play hockey.
For players such as Greene, it created a solid family bond and a dream that, one day, he'd make it big in the NHL.
Those thoughts entered his mind while at Miami University, where he spent four seasons. He amassed 27 goals, 87 assists and 114 points in 159 career games with the RedHawks, finishing first among Miami's defensemen in points each of his four seasons.
"I think it wasn't until college that I started thinking going pro might be a possibility," Greene said. "Towards the end of your freshman and sophomore year, you start seeing guys you played against signing contracts and then you watch them play. It was around that time I starting thinking that maybe I had a shot at this. The closer I got to my senior year, the more I thought I could possibly sign. Whether or not I'd play was just another step I'd have to take."
For a guy who went undrafted but later signed as a free agent with the Devils in April 2006, Greene is certainly proving he took all the right steps.
Playing for Detroit's Compuware in 2001-02, when he collected 16 goals, 45 points and a career-high 88 penalty minutes in 53 games, was a huge stepping stone along the way.
"To come right from [Trenton] high school into Tier 2 hockey with Compuware was a great learning experience," Greene said. "We got to play a lot more games than we normally did. I rode the buses and had some good road trips and got the first taste of what it would be like to maybe play college hockey and be on the road a lot. In high school, it's a little 45-minute bus ride here and we never stayed anywhere overnight.
"My time with Compuware was also a time to mature as a person. You had to start learning how to make decisions and manage your time because I was a senior in high school at the time as well. I learned how to balance that."
Greene was also grateful to earn a few bucks instructing roller hockey at the local rink at the age of 14 during the warm summer months.
"It was one of those high school jobs," he said. "I taught from 8 a.m. until 1 pm. It was a way to give back. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of support growing up and it was my turn to give something back. Playing roller hockey in the summer when you're 14-years-old was pretty cool. We got to teach the kids and be on the rink with them, so it was fun."
Since trading in his roller blades for skates, however, he hasn't looked back.
Greene was the recipient of the Devils' Unsung Hero Award as voted by his teammates last season after producing career highs across the board with 6 goals, 31 assists, 37 points, including 7 multiple-point contests, and a plus-9 rating in 78 games.
He would also represent the United States at the World Championships in 2010, marking the first international event he ever participated in.
Now in his fourth season in New Jersey, he's at it again, leading all defensemen on the team with 3 goals, 16 assists and 19 points. He's also one of only two defensemen on the team (along with Henrik Tallinder
) to have played in all 57 games this season.
"As a kid, you dream to be playing and contributing in this League," Greene said. "The longer you move along in your career, you start to realize it could become a possibility."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale