Growing up in a small town south of Boston, Islanders defenseman Mike Mottau laced up his first pair of ice skates when he was three. Mike spent his childhood idolizing his older brother Rob, who played hockey for the town team and exemplified everything the younger Mottau wanted to be.
“Rob has been a role model of mine ever since I can remember,” Mottau said, of his five-year elder. “I just wanted to be like him. I was the little brother, just getting out there and trying to make my way with the bigger boys. That was the first exposure I had to the game, through my brother. Ever since, he’s been a role model for me. I owe a lot to him for who I am today.”
As the years passed, Mike grew a little bigger, skated a little faster and wanted to play alongside his older brother. Their father built a rink in the backyard and Mike would watch Rob and his friends play pick-up roller hockey games. Of course, Mike always wanted to play.
|Krystofer Barch #13 of the Dallas Stars is held off by goaltender Rick DiPietro #39 and Mike Mottau #10 of the New York Islanders during the 2010 season opener at the Nassau Coliseum on October 9, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“He (Rob) was a defenseman, so obviously I was going to play defense,” Mottau said. “I modeled my game right after him. He’s probably a little faster, tougher and has a harder shot, but I had to be a little scrappy when I went up against him because he would always make me earn everything I got.”
Keeping up with the big boys wasn’t easy, but it prepared Mike for what would come in the future. In his last year of squirts and made his very first traveling team, the South Shore Kings.
“You could start checking, which was really fun for me because my brother used to always practice checking on me and I always wanted to check someone,” Mottau said with a laugh. “The lifelong friends that I have, I’ve met through youth hockey. It’s one of those things where I grew up playing a sport, but I got so much more out of it than just wins and losses.”
Before he knew it, Mottau completed his youth hockey career with the Kings, went on to play for his high school and was enrolled at Boston College, one of the top NCAA teams in the country.
“I was just excited to get into a school that had great hockey and great academics,” Mottau said. “I was going to school with one of my best friends (Kevin Caulfield) and we were going to be roommates; that was more important to me than anything. We were just going to go play hockey and go to school and have fun with it.”
Mike said he dreamed about playing in the NHL, but that wasn’t his number one focus.
“I honestly didn’t think of pro until well into my college career,” Mottau said. “I just took it as it came. Even after I was drafted and everything, you just take it game by game. It sounds somewhat cliché, but that was my mindset. I didn’t really look to play professional. It was that short-term vision that allowed me to stay focused on my task at hand as far as developing and just being the best player I could be in that moment.”
After his freshman campaign at Boston College, the New York Rangers selected Mottau in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. He remained a BC Eagle through graduation and won the Hobey Baker Award his senior season (2000), as the top U.S. collegiate hockey player.
The summer after graduation, Mottau entered the Rangers system and made his NHL debut that fall.
After eight games, Mottau was sent down to the American Hockey League and wouldn’t receive his next call-up until the end of the season. Calling some of his expectations unrealistic, Mottau said he really wasn’t “ready to be a pro” at 22-years-old.
“I went down to the minors and became the player I knew I could be,” Mottau said. “I was very confident going into training camp my third year, and it just didn’t work out (with the Rangers). They were ready to bring in free agents and didn’t have to promote from within and I kind of got lost in the shuffle.”
From that point forward, Mottau only had one more call-up for the Rangers before they traded him to Calgary a few months prior to the end of his three-year entry-
That was probably the most disappointing time of my career in ‘The A’ because I knew I was ready to make the next step. I played all 80 games down and put up good numbers, but not only that, I became a better player. I knew what it took game-in and game-out to be a consistent contributor to the team. - Mike Mottau
“That was probably the most disappointing time of my career in ‘The A’ because I knew I was ready to make the next step,” Mottau said. “I played all 80 games down and put up good numbers, but not only that, I became a better player. I knew what it took game-in and game-out to be a consistent contributor to the team, wherever it was, in the defensive zone or on the power play, just different situational play.”
Although he was at one of the lowest points of his career, Mottau didn’t let that get him down. He played the next four seasons bouncing around the AHL with the Saint John Flames, Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Worcester IceCats, Peoria Rivermen and Lowell Devils.
“I played in the minors for an extended period of time, but I never reserved myself to being an AHLer,” Mottau said. “I prepared myself every summer going into camp to being an NHLer, to be ready to play and was rewarded for that when I started playing for the (New Jersey) Devils in ’07.”
After seven years as a pro, Mottau finally earned the opportunity he had been waiting for. The Devils promoted him from their AHL squad to the NHL after the team’s training camp.
“I appreciated it more because it was a little later in my career,” Mottau said of his time with the Devils. “I had kids to provide for and I was a more well-rounded person. Whereas some younger kids measure their game by statistics, I measured it by decision-making and adding value to a team on some level, wherever it may be.”
Mottau continued, “Those were characteristics the Devils valued and I was fortunate to fall into that situation. They took me in and allowed me to play in crucial situations over the time I was there. It made me realize what type of player I am. I am very fortunate to have had that opportunity.”
After his third full NHL season, Mottau became a free agent and Islanders General Manager Garth Snow invited him to training camp on Long Island. After many discussions with the Isles GM, Mottau decided to become an Islander, signing a two-year deal last September.
“I decided I wanted to be a part of a team for an extended period of time because I know what I felt as a defenseman playing against this team - the youth and the energy that they had,” Mottau said. “They just needed a little bit more experience and a little bit more confidence.”
Mottau’s first season on Long Island didn’t go exactly how he’d planned. He suffered a serious eye injury and then, during rehabilitation, realized he had a lingering hip flexor injury which required surgery and kept the defenseman sidelined for the remainder of the season.
“This year definitely went as worse as any predictions could have gone,” Mottau said. “But I’m excited about going into next year because I’ve watched these guys develop as players with another year of experience, another year of confidence.”
Mottau continued, “Now with the group in place, with a few more pieces added, there are going to be expectations now, which is I think the best thing that can happen to this team. We’re ready to meet those expectations and exceed them. I have a real excitement and a real confidence going into next year about being a part of this team. Being out in the community, everyone’s excited. There’s just a buzz about the Islanders that maybe hasn’t been there in the past.”
Mottau may have started playing hockey as the pesky little brother, but now he’s got a team full of younger brothers. Now the veteran, Mottau hopes he’ll be able to provide some of that leadership he learned about long ago.