was the leading goal scorer for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers, tallying 12 goals. By the end of the night, he had scored his first NHL goal, amassed 39 penalty minutes in 5:31 of ice time, and was the newest fan favorite on Long Island. The crowd of nearly 13,000 at the Nassau Coliseum chanted his name in unison as he traded punches not once, but twice in the game, defending the team he had joined only hours earlier.
At daybreak on Feb. 11,
“It’s a good feeling, it just gives you goosebumps,” said Haley. “Especially when – not just the fans, but your teammates too – when they get up and congratulate you, it makes you feel good.”
Hockey was a passion of Haley’s since his days as a toddler growing up outside Toronto. On skates since age three, Haley developed an attachment to the game thanks to his hockey-obsessed family. He quickly learned that toughness and tenacity would help him elevate his game.
|Micheal Haley #59 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 30, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) |
“When I played with my uncles and everybody, you couldn’t try to run away,” said Haley. “You had to play whatever they were playing, and I always had this mentality. The year in Juniors when I had (30) goals, I think I still had (174) PIMs or something.”
He joined the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) as a 16-year old, and was thrust into a position with which he was not familiar.
“Even though I was a second round pick, I was put on the fourth line,” said Haley. “I had to learn what that role was. I learned that you can grind it out and get ice time that way. As your role develops, you just do whatever they allow you to do.”
As a 20-year old with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL, Haley had his best season of Major Junior hockey, with 30 goals and 24 assists. Despite his best efforts, Haley was undrafted in the NHL Entry Draft, leaving him with an important decision to make.
“I had some offers from some schools to play hockey,” said Haley. “That was an option, and I was debating whether or not to go to school. After my last Junior-A year, I went to play for South Carolina in the ECHL. I did really well and I liked it. I decided that’s where I wanted to be. I never thought of leaving the game.”
Just as a number of other current Islanders have done, Haley has traversed the long, torturous road to the NHL by way of the ECHL and AHL.
“The goal is always to be in the NHL, but those are life experiences,” said Haley. “They’re good times and great people. I played with A-Mac in Utah (ECHL), Bridgeport (AHL), and now here. It’s quite amazing – the road we’ve had to take, but I don’t think I’d change it.”
After three seasons of bouncing between the ECHL and AHL, Haley was called up for two games in the 2009-2010 NHL season, playing just 15 total minutes before being returned to Bridgeport. When he received the call from the Islanders this past February, Haley had no idea for how long his second tour in the NHL would last.
“When I got those two games last year, I was just happy to be here,” said Haley. “This time when I got called up, I was more focused on staying here. My mentality is that I wanted to play well and not get sent back down. All I can control is how I play and what I do.”
Just over 10 minutes into his season debut, Haley squared off at center ice with Craig Adams of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s kind of like time stops,” said Haley. “I don’t really think, or do anything. It just kind of happens. Afterwards, I’ll watch it and be like, ‘Oh, I don’t remember that.’ It’s like you’re somewhere else.”
Four minutes into the second period, Haley found himself alone on a breakaway with only the goaltender Brent Johnson to beat. He deked, and scored his first NHL goal, using those same destructive hands to create a scoring opportunity. He would later find himself one-on-one with Johnson again, with gloves removed and the crowd standing.
“If you miss the goal, you’re still OK,” said Haley. “If you mess up in the fight, you may not be OK for a while.”
Perhaps the only person who thought Haley would remain with the NHL club through the rest of the NHL season was Haley himself. Now, there are not many who would say his time with the Islanders is undeserved. His road to the Coliseum was certainly the one less traveled, making the reward that much sweeter.
“I wouldn’t say it was tough,” said Haley. “It was just the road I took. You do what you can to make sure you’re going in the right direction. I don’t think I’d change it.”