A native of Indianapolis, Indiana, John-Michael Liles started on the path to the NHL by way of the U.S. National Team Development Program based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in which he was an integral part of the blueline in both the Under 17s and Under 18s. In the 1999–00 season, he was recruited to play college hockey with Michigan State University of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), and as a freshman, led conference defensemen in scoring with an impressive 28 points in 40 games.
Alongside Spartans teammate Brad Fast, Liles formed a star offensive duo among Spartan defensemen, and in his sophomore year, scored 25 points in 42 contests to be named to the All-CCHA Second Team. In the 2001–02 season, Liles led Michigan State in scoring with 35 points to be selected to the All-CCHA First Team and Second All-American Team. On October 6, 2001, he also took part in the famous Cold War outdoor game against the University of Michigan, which at that time held the attendance record for an outdoor ice hockey game.
During his senior season with the Spartans, Liles again led the team in scoring with 50 points in just 39 games while helping Michigan State to a 23–14–2 record. Earning the CCHA Best Offensive Defensemen Award for the second consecutive year, he scored an average of 1.28 points per game for Michigan State and was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Emerging as an offensive talent, Liles was drafted in the fifth round, 159th overall, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Colorado Avalanche.
The Experience: “It was a great experience. It was a fantastic year all around and obviously to make it to the Frozen Four was a big achievement for us as a team. A lot of great guys on that team, a lot of great players. Unfortunately we didn’t win it, but at the same time, we still talk about that year and the fun we had and how successful we were. We were close, but just couldn’t win that first game of the Frozen Four.”
College Hockey Rivalries: “It plays a lot into it. When you’re at those big schools like Michigan or Michigan State, it feels like every weekend’s a rivalry game. It always seems like it always brings out the best in both teams. You know so many guys on the other team, but at the same time, you’re programmed to play your best games against the other team and develop that hatred for that other team. It was always two great programs battling it out.”
What To Expect In Tampa: “It’s a great place. Obviously the weather is a big change in the middle of winter. It’s a place to enjoy the scenery, enjoy the weather and at the same time, see some good hockey.”