Be like Mike: Mustangs’ rookies
By Aron Yeomanson
Matt Prince & Meghan
YOU EATING EVERYBODY’S LUNCHES? STOP IT! Mustangs’ men’s
hockey teammates Mike Rice (left) and Mike Stathopoulos (right)
are the most physically-mismatched duo since Twins. Either
that or The Gazette has Photoshop. You decide.
A shared first name isn’t the only thing Western hockey
players Mike Rice and Mike Stathopoulos have in common.
Both men had very successful rookie campaigns this year, in which
the pair flourished offensively while playing on the Mustangs’ dynamic
top line with team captain and all-time leading scorer Justin Davis.
By season’s end, the two wingers earned positions on the
Ontario University Athletics West Division All-Rookie team as well
as the OUA West Division All-Star team. In addition, Stathopoulos
was honoured as the league’s Rookie of the Year.
After honing their skills at the minor hockey level in Toronto,
both men joined the ranks of the Ontario Hockey League. Rice was
a member of the Brampton Batallion before eventually winding up
with the Erie Otters. Stathopoulos earned a place on the London
Knights’ roster for four straight seasons.
While playing hockey in the OHL, both men enjoyed a fair amount
of success. Stathopoulos proved himself a viable offensive threat,
scoring 231 points in his final 190 games with the Knights.
“I had a lot of fun ,” Stathopoulos says. “My
second year was when Mark and Dale Hunter took over and the plans
for the [John Labatt Centre] came in. There was a lot of excitement
around the team. I got to play with a lot of great players.”
Rice did not put up the same offensive numbers as Stathopoulos,
but his junior career was impressive nonetheless. He helped the
Otters to a berth in the 2002 Memorial Cup tournament and managed
33 goals in his final campaign in Erie.
“We won the OHL championship, and it was a great experience,” Rice
says. “Unfortunately, we had a tough week at the Memorial
Cup, but the whole experience — especially winning the OHL
championship — was awesome.”
Upon completing their final seasons of junior hockey, it was the
pair’s competitiveness and desire to win that played a large
role in their decision to attend Western.
“Western has always had a great hockey program, and I looked
at the guys coming back this year and I thought we had a great
chance to win,” Rice explains. “As well, Western has
a great tradition academically, and I figure if you get a chance
to play on a top-end hockey team and get a top-end education you
have to take it.”
While both players were used to the hectic schedule involved with
OHL hockey, their first seasons at Western saw them attempt to
adjust to the subtle difference between the OHL and the OUA.
“The big difference is competitiveness,” Rice explains. “In
the OHL it was competitive almost every night, but in the OUA there
are some teams that you should beat 8-0 — it’s hard
to get up for those games.”
“For me, it was more a matter of getting used to living
on your own and having your own place,” Stathopoulos adds. “Getting
used to going to school was a bit of an adjustment as well.”
In their time at Western, Rice and Stathopoulos have shown their
ability to make such adjustments. Both have had impressive rookie
seasons and attribute their offensive output to their teammates.
“The guys I played with had a huge part in my success,” Stathopoulos
says. “The team as a whole really did a good job in making
the first-year guys feel welcome.”
Mustangs’ head coach Clarke Singer notes that it is important
to acknowledge the differences between the two.
“They are both different types of players and they contribute
in different ways,” he explains. “Stathopoulos is a
real skill guy who is very intelligent. We count on him to run
our power play and he has a huge impact on our offense. Rice, however,
is more of a power forward. He’s great around the net.”
With nine players leaving the team this off-season, the 2004/05
Mustangs will no doubt look to Rice and Stathopoulos to play an
“From a leadership perspective, we’re in a situation
where all of our captains are leaving, so we need Stathopoulos
and Rice to step up and provide leadership,” Singer says. “At
the same time, there will be an opportunity for them to step up
and play more of a role on the ice as well. I think this will give
them a chance to be even more effective than they’ve been
for us this year.”
For Rice and Stathopoulos, next year is an opportunity to rectify
the mistakes which caused an earlier than expected summer to occur
“We just have to keep doing what we did in the regular season,” Stathopoulos
says. “In regards to actually filling the spots, I know a
lot of guys across the OHL who want to come play here.”