There’s a pretty good reason as to why Tampa Bay Lightning forward prospect Mike Angelidis wears a “C” on his jersey, denoting his role of captain for the team’s top affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League.
“He earned it,” Crunch head coach Jon Cooper said. “He has worked as hard as he possibly could.”
Both on, and off the ice, that is.
It is the primary storyline that has defined Angelidis’ hockey career, which to date, has seen its fair share of ups and downs.
An undrafted forward out of Woodbridge, Ontario, Angelidis recorded a combined total of just 25 goals and 54 points throughout his first three seasons of junior hockey with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League.
Then things got weird.
Left Wing - TBL
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 8 | +/-: -1
The very next season, in 2005-06, he exploded for 53 goals – 44 more than his previous AHL career-high total of nine – to finish third in the OHL for goals among all league skaters.
Although it proved to be his only true breakout season, it was good enough to earn him a promotion to the professional ranks the following year, during which he split time with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL and the Albany River Rats of the AHL.
The only trouble is, that for the most part, he’s been there ever since.
“It can get frustrating,” Angelidis said, “but everyone takes a different path.”
“I’ve always thought it’s never good to be jealous of the guys who are getting called up,” he added, “and I know that if I want to be that next guy, I have to work hard, and if it’s meant to be then it’s meant to be.”
After drudging his way through 375 career minor-league games, Angelidis finally received the call from Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman that he’d be joining the big club. On January 24 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Angelidis made his NHL debut, and the most of his opportunity.
“The whole season I had been working,” Angelidis recalled, “just to get that one shot.”
Turns out, that’s all Angelidis would need.
Literally, as his only shot of the game that night found the back of the net and ignited the Lightning offense in a 4-2 win that, at the time, was the club’s fourth straight.
Although his smile from ear to ear left no one in attendance at the Tampa Bay Times Forum that night in doubt of his elation, perhaps only Angelidis himself could truly appreciate the moment more, realizing the long, hard-fought road it took to get there.
“It was truly a dream come true,” he said following the game in which he scored his first career NHL goal. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Prior to his first-ever NHL call-up, Angelidis had spent the entirety of his five-and-a-half-year professional career in the minor leagues. Unlike the NHL, where chartered flights, five-star hotels and high salaries come standard, minor-league players mostly travel overnight on tight-quartered buses, while earning an average salary that’s merely one-eighth of the NHL minimum.
“That’s the rollercoaster ride that is professional hockey,” Angelidis said. “There a lot of high points and low points. It’s a wild ride.”
Perhaps it is nothing, though, in comparison to the ride he took on the night of Feb. 18, 2009 while with Albany.
That’s the rollercoaster ride that is professional hockey. There a lot of high points and low points. It’s a wild ride. - Mike Angelidis
Then a third-year pro, Angelidis and his River Rats teammates were returning home from Lowell, Massachusetts just before 3 a.m. when the driver lost control on a slippery highway, causing the vehicle to flip on its side and smack into the road’s guardrail, thus leaving half the bus protruding out into the middle of the highway during the pitch black of a winter night.
No one died, thankfully, but several of his teammates did suffer severe concussions, while one even sustained a broken neck. Angelidis, meanwhile, was fortunate enough to emerge with just some bumps and bruises.
“I remember guys crawling out of the hatch on our bus,” Angelidis said. “I ended up being one of the lucky ones.”
Before no time, Angelidis was back in the lineup, again paving his path to the NHL.
Although he ended up only staying there for six games, he took the experience back with him to Norfolk last season where he helped lead the Admirals to not only a second consecutive playoff appearance, but also the Calder Cup championship.
Of course, it was only natural that Angelidis did so after missing a portion of the season due to a knee injury and working his way back.
“He was one guy who I was really and truly happy for,” Cooper said. “Because I know and he knows how hard he’s worked to get where he is. He’s one of those guys who will give it to you every single night.”