Two years ago, Mike Halmo wasn’t on most NHL teams’ radars, going undrafted after a pair of pedestrian junior hockey campaigns. Today, the late-bloomer is carving out a home in the Islanders organization following a breakout junior season with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League that saw him post 40 goals, 45 assists and 162 penalty minutes in 66 games.
“I think it just took me awhile to understand the game a bit more,” Halmo said. “Each year I just kept getting more and more time to play and during my overage year I got the chance to play in every situation and really put points up.”
In his first two seasons with Owen Sound, the Waterloo, ON native totaled 16 goals and 21 assists in 122 games. Following his uneventful draft year, Halmo erupted for 128 points (60 goals, 68 assists) in 125 contests over his final two junior seasons.
Despite the apparent outburst, some measures of Halmo’s production actually showed steady improvement over his four-year career. His goal totals doubled each season, with five in 2008-09, 11 in 2009-10, 20 in 2010-11 and 40 in 2011-12.
On March 10, near the end of his 40-goal campaign, Halmo was rewarded with an Entry-Level Contract with the Islanders. He reported to Bridgeport at the conclusion of his junior season and skated in five games with the Sound Tigers, scoring his first professional goal on April 14 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Now 12 days into his first pro training camp, Halmo said that the experience of playing with the Sound Tigers last spring has helped prepare him for his first professional season.
“I think going down last year and playing those five games and getting to know the guys really helped,” Halmo said. “This year, I kind of knew what I was getting into heading into camp.”
Despite his ever-increasing production at the amateur level, perhaps Halmo’s most important contribution to the Sound Tigers this season will be his grit. At 5’11, 192-pounds, he isn’t the biggest player on the ice, but he’s also not afraid to make a big hit or drop the gloves.
“It’s important to finish every check and be a pest out there,” Halmo said. “That’s what I do. Scoring is always nice but I think that comes as a second role.”
Sean Backman has skated on a line with Halmo for much of Training Camp, including two preseason games. He understands the benefit of having the hard-nosed forward on his line.
“He gives guys like me more time and space,” Backman said. “He’s going to stand up for himself and create space for the players he’s playing with.”
Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin was a gritty forward himself during his 536-game NHL career. The similarities between Halmo’s style of play and Pellerin’s aren’t lost on the new Head Coach.
“It reminds me a little bit of the way I used to play,” Pellerin said. “He’s physical, he gets in the corners, battles for loose pucks and takes it to the net. I appreciate the work that he’s doing. It’s not an easy job. He’ll stand up for his teammates and do what he has to do.”
Halmo showed his blend of offense and tenacity during the Sound Tigers two preseason games. He scored the game-winner on Oct. 4 at Providence, and dropped the gloves with Manchester forward Andy Andreoff on Oct. 5.
“I was really happy with the way he played in the exhibition games,” Pellerin said. “He makes a lot of room out there for himself. He’s improving his skating and his speed and making that transition to the pros. The good thing here is we have a real solid leadership group here. The guys set the example very high. It’s a great situation for him.”
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