My story begins at age 3 in Grand Ledge, Michigan....
I have an older brother and an older sister who were into hockey, so I got pushed into it pretty young. In the beginning I took learn-to-skate classes, and spent time at the rink watching them play.
For me, hockey was just something that was a lot of fun. I always enjoyed going to the rink. When I was young I actually think I liked the aspect of being at the rink a little bit more than playing. It was almost like a second home. We would go there and I practiced first, and next my brother would go on for an hour, and then my sister would go on for an hour after that, so by the end of the day you’re spending about four hours at the rink. You just kind of grow up around the game. It was always fun going around the rink, whether it was hunting for pucks or playing video games.
|Matt Greene keeps the puck out of the way of Drew Miller. Many of Miller's family members played at Michigan State, the school Greene grew up cheering for. |
Where I am from the Michigan State Spartans are king. It was, and still is a great program. It became my family’s team because both my parents went to MSU, and my mom was teaching there. The Spartans played on Friday and Saturday nights, and usually we would go to at least one game one of those nights. It was awesome watching those guys play. I mean, everybody from Lansing wanted to be a Spartan. For me Spartan hockey was the end-all be-all. To me even the Red Wings were second-fiddle to Michigan State.
One thing that is cool is I have an NHL association from my hometown: the Miller family. The Millers produced a bunch of NHLers and even more Michigan State players; there is Kelly, Kevin and Kip Miller. That family also has gone on to produce Ryan Miller with the Buffalo Sabres and Drew Miller with the Red Wings. Also there’s another guy, Danton Cole, who I looked up to, and was from the Lansing area. Those were our heroes growing up.
When I was growing up the Millers ran a hockey camp. I was 8 or 9 years old around the time I went through it. It again was one of those situations where my brother and I would get dropped off by 8 a.m. and get picked up around 4 p.m. He skated half the time and I skated half the time. During the camp we hung out with the Millers and Cole, and at the end of the week we got autographs. I actually developed a close relationship with those guys because I was a kid who had nothing to do while my brother was on the ice. I think they kind of had to babysit me more than actually teach me about hockey.
Hockey was a pretty foreign game in Grand Ledge. There were rinks about 25 minutes away in East Lansing, and that’s where we learned to play. I think it was only my brother, my sister and I who were actually playing hockey at the time, and a few other families that would go with us. The town is a much bigger baseball and football town, which is what all my friends played growing up. I never really had a lot of hockey friends.
I don’t think that there was really a goal for myself when I was playing growing up. I wasn’t dreaming about the NHL the entire time I was playing, it was just something that happened naturally. And I think that was the best way to do it. I think if you start setting lofty goals for yourself at a young age, I think you maybe get burnt out, or just mentally can’t handle it. I think as long as you have fun and work on making that next step in your development, it’s an easier way to do it.
I was a forward, but obviously not a very good one because they switched me back to ‘D’ when I was 15. As a player you realize what kind of skills you have, and if you are not putting the puck in the net then you better do something else. I liken it to a process of elimination. I don’t think any defensive-defenseman starts off thinking that is exactly what they want to do — be a shot blocker or a hitter or anything like that. I think everybody wants to score goals, but as you get older you realize what you have to do to help out your team.
Before college, I played travel hockey for the West Michigan Warriors for a long time. That’s when I was 16. I also moved to Detroit to play for the Little Caesars program. And then when I was 17, I went to Ann Arbor and played in the U.S. National program.
|Matt Greene was a captain for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux in college. |
My rise in hockey was a whirlwind. I just always wanted to play at the next level. When I was growing up I wanted to play juniors because I figured I might have a chance to get a partial scholarship or something. That worked out and then all of a sudden I’m committing to North Dakota. Then the next thing I know I was invited to the NHL combine and the NHL Draft. Then I got drafted and figured, ‘Well hey, maybe if you work hard and maybe you could do something about this.’
When it came time for the Draft, Edmonton was a pretty far cry from where I was when I got drafted. I was more excited to play college hockey than to even think about playing for the Oilers at that time. North Dakota is such a great program; it’s amazing. It’s hard to describe to people who haven’t actually seen it. The town completely rallies around this team. The town lives and breathes North Dakota hockey, almost like the Packers and Green Bay. So for me that was my NHL at the time. I was more focused on getting a regular shift and playing every game with North Dakota than I was even thinking about what was going to happen with me in Edmonton.
As time went on I started thinking more about it with prospect camps in Edmonton, and I started talking with them about signing early. Then I started to think more about playing with Edmonton. However, I ultimately ended up staying in college. During my three years in school, the Oilers did a great job of making sure that North Dakota was the only thought on my mind rather than have me wondering what was going to happen with Edmonton.