By Kinsey Janke / SARampage.com
Despite the fervent stat keeping and updating done by fans, journalists and PR staffs throughout the hockey world, the actual players who are achieving milestones or breaking records aren’t as dialed in as many may assume.
For Mike Mottau, a 14-year veteran who has 814 professional hockey games under his belt, lacing up the skates for his 500th career American Hockey League game on Oct. 12 was just like any another game.
“I actually didn’t know about it,” Mottau said. “Someone in the locker room mentioned it before the game. You don’t really keep track as they come. When my career is over, it will be nice to be able to look back and see how many games I played, and see my statistics. But when you’re in it, you just stay in the present and focus on what needs to be done.”
With all the awards Mottau has bagged throughout his career, it’s easy to understand why his 500th AHL game may have slipped through the cracks.
The Boston native won the Hobey Baker Award in 2000, college hockey’s highest honor, following his senior season at Boston College. The veteran defenseman is also a three-time AHL All-Star and has suited up in 313 NHL games, tallying 58 points (seven goals, 51 assists).
Mottau was drafted 182nd overall by the New York Rangers in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, and made his NHL debut with the Rangers during the 2000-01 season. In addition to his professional career in North America, Mottau has also represented the United States four times in international play.
It’s this experience in all aspects and levels of the game that made the Rampage brass happy to see Mottau return to the Panthers organization this offseason. Last year, Mottau played 16 games in San Antonio after signing a professional tryout contract with the club in December.
“He’s a very good experienced leader that can play power play, penalty kill, five on five, and has experience late in games,” said Rampage head coach Pete Horachek. “He’s not easily rattled, and he’s very composed. He’s a smart player, and when we have meetings, he’s not afraid to speak up.”
On a roster that features a handful of players under the age of 25 – and many with only a few years of professional hockey to their names – experience like Mottau’s is priceless.
“He brings a lot to this team,” said Rampage defenseman Alex Petrovic. “He’s a really good role model for all of us. Whether we have a work out or just practice, he’s always going hard. He pushes me; he pushes everyone…He’s almost like a father figure to all of us. He’s a great guy to have on the team.”
Despite being 14 years his elder, Petrovic cites how easy Mottau is to play alongside, having been his defensive partner for parts of the last two seasons. His propensity for making good, smart plays on the ice keeps it simple for the rest of his teammates. This sentiment was echoed whole-heartedly by San Antonio’s netminder, Dov Grumet-Morris.
“He brings consistency, and that’s essentially what you want out of your defensive core and that’s what you want out of your leader because it allows everyone to play off of that,” said Grumet-Morris. “I don’t have to worry about the what-ifs. I have full confidence that he can do exactly what is asked of him.”
Mottau’s composure and killer work ethic both on and off the ice – in preparation for life after hockey, he’s been interning in personal finance firms like Morgan Stanley for the past eight off seasons – are the intangibles that often make a good hockey player a great one.
“He’s well respected in the locker room, and he’s respected on the bench,” said Horachek. “When I’m out of the room, that’s the voice the players want to hear.”
Like most players, the cup at the end of the road is always the endgame, whether it bears the name Kelly, Calder, or Stanley. But even after almost a decade and a half, Mottau is still focused on the here and now.
“The work that needs to be done before you get there is the exciting part,” he said. “Just having that goal in mind is great, but the work you need to put in to get it done is really the key. I just try to be the best player I can be day in and day out, year after year. It’s gotten me to this point, so it’s been somewhat successful and I’m proud of it so far.”